Thursday Throwback

This review appeared last year.

electric-sheep

Title: The Android’s Dream

Author: John Scalzi

Format: Audiobook

How did I hear about this book? I liked the author, so I went looking for more

Review:

Let me start by saying that I’ve never read the sci-fi classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which inspired the title and the content of this book, as well as the classic film Blade Runner. This one I picked not because of any fondness for the original, but because I love John Scalzi’s unpredictable plots and dense worldbuilding and because it had Wil Wheaton as the narrator. After a couple of Audible duds, this one seemed like a sure bet.

I was so right. It is really hilarious and twisted. It starts with a prolonged bit about flatulence that was very funny but also sophomoric. That was kind of why it was funny. But it’s not your typical fart joke book, so don’t let that discourage you. See, it’s all about aliens and politics and cloning and religion. I don’t really even know how to explain it all, but I really liked it. This book got me through the 2016 election results, and that’s surprisingly appropriate. Completely recommended. 4.6 rating

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Year in Review, Part 1

I gotta say, I’m not sad to see 2016 go! What a year it’s been. Like a lot of people, it’s been a hard year. The only highlight, and it is a really big one, is that I got a new daughter-in-law.
bench

Will and Brittany, September 2017

But to get back to the books, it’s time for a look back at the best and the worst. Today I’ll review my worst books of 2016, the ones that miss their mark, the ones that are disappointing, the ones that are just plain horrible.

So Much Talk Award

You know the whole “Show Don’t Tell” adage? It’s not always, always true, but when you’ve got a whole book of telling and telling, and practically nothing happens, it’s really time to move on. Plus it was an audiobook, so it stretched the talk out even further. This one goes to The September Society by Charles Finch. Another hint that this is a stinker: the author named his main character after himself.

Boot the Reboot

I’m awarding this one to two Jane Austen reboots. The one I actually finished, Eligible by Curtis Sittinfield, was a modern version of Pride and Prejudice. Set in Cincinnati. About a dad with, you know, 5 daughters. He lives on his “investments” and the girls live off him. Mostly – Jane is a yoga instructor and Liz is a writer. However, the redo is both offensive and boring. Bingley is a reality show star, Jane is pregnant via IVF, Lydia’s bad beau is transgender, and Darcy & Liz jump in bed together with practically no build up. I applaud the effort to bring this story into the 21st century, but I hate it when queer issues are seen as and ‘edgy’ plot point.

Then there’s one I couldn’t finish – A Modern Day Persuasion by Kaitlin Saunders. Honestly, this one was so bad. Our Anne Elliott was heartbroken when her romance with the cute lifeguard at the country club was cut short. Because she was in high school. And her daddy didn’t want them to get married. Seriously? I’m supposed to feel sorry for her? Gave up on this one early.

You Call This Classic?

I had some clunkers in the classic fiction category. The one I kind of liked was The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. The writing was beautiful in parts, but the story was very slow. Normally she’s one of my favorite authors, but this one was definitely her weakest full length story I’ve read.

But I couldn’t even force myself to finish the other two I tried. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens is so full of cliche – sweet suffering orphan, scheming dwarf, downtrodden wife, and on and on and on. I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough. I just so didn’t care.

Then I tried A Passage to India by EM Foster. This one was well written, with great characters. But I am not into reading an exploration of racial drama that ends in tragedy, misunderstanding, and heartbreak. Especially this year! I want to read something that ends positively.

So Much For This Series!

I had several series that broke my heart or turned me away. Chasing the Prophecy by Brandon Mull, #3 in the Beyonders, ending by killing off practically everyone. This was for kids! Not cool. The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige, the Oz reboot, so darn boring. The first one was so much better!  Shattered, #3 in the Slated series is by Teri Terry. I really loved the idea for this one, and the first two books had a lot of promise. But I don’t know why this book went is such a different direction.

DNF

Sometimes, you’re expecting a book to be one thing, a certain genre, or content, or whatever, and what you get is something else entirely. I am put off my excessive profanity or violence, by sexual content, and by anything too dark or depressing. So when I hit a book is a letdown, I put it down and move on. I love books that push the boundaries of plot or character or worldbuilding, but when it comes to my moral boundaries, I don’t compromise.

So I won’t list any of those books, because the problem was not just with the writer, but with the fit between the book & the reader. But then there are the books that were just bad – poorly written, badly plotted, with internal problems. That’s the writer, not the reader.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith sounded like so much fun. But it was odd. I expected something campy. What I got read like a straightforward biography of Lincoln, which I would normally love, with a little vampire thing hinted at. But it was taking way too long to get to the undead. It left me bored and I quit.

I listened to over half of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, and NOTHING WAS HAPPENING. All kinds of secrets, lots and lots of back story. But plot? What plot? It had so much potential. It was set in 18th century Amsterdam, and rich with detail. But setting is not enough to carry a story. It needs to move.

And the last one I’m going to list is Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta. The problem here was that I didn’t care about any of the characters. This was book one in a series, so I get that our MC will change. But I have very little patience with whiny teenagers, especially ones that have to figure out a way to survive. This is Christian historical fiction, and this is sort of the ‘before’ picture, but even so, it was badly written.

So those are my Worst Of 2016 books; and next time I’ll tell you about my favorites. Happy reading!

Book Review: Dictatorship of the Dress

dress Title: Dictatorship of the Dress: A Much ‘I Do’ About Nothing Novel

Author: Jessica Topper

Genre: contemporary romance

Setting: airports, mostly, also Las Vegas and Hawaii, modern day

Themes: taking chances, family ties

Where I heard of it: Goodreads

 

 

Laney is a graphic artist. Noah is an app developer. The two meet at an airport when both are on their way to a wedding. For Laney, it’s her mother’s, and she’s bringing the dress. For Noah, it’s his wedding, but he’s actually heading to Vegas for the bachelor party. At first, they can’t help noticing all the many flaws in each other. They plan to ignore one another, but wind up stuck in each other’s company in first class  on the flight, and then a giant storm hits and their connecting flights are cancelled. The more time they spend together, the better they get to know each other, and they more they are attracted

Pros: I liked Noah. He was not your average romance novel leading man. I liked that he was brainy, rather than macho. His friends were fun as well, but I had reservations. (see below) I also liked the resolution.

Cons: There was more profanity that I expected. Noah’s friends were loyal and crazy, but they were also crude, bordering on offensive. Yeah, I get that it’s a bachelor party, but still, it was not what I was expecting at all. It really turned me off.

Neutral: I wasn’t crazy about Laney. I started out liking her, but as I found out more about her previous relationship with the rocker, I sort of lost interest.

Overall Rating: 2.75

 

The Sorcerer Heir

Spoilers for the series!

Title: The Sorcerer Heir (The Heir Chronicles, book 5)

Author: Cinda Williams Chima

Genre: Teen fantasy

Format: Audiobook

Plot: Magical savants Emma and Jonah are suspected of murdering mainline wizards and must find out if the person who poisoned them as children is the same person trying to frame them for murder now.

Pros:

Chima is a really good writer. The basic idea for the series was really intriguing, the characters are well developed with plenty of growth (mostly), and her action sequences are always super exciting and really solid. I liked the narrator on this one – good job making the large number of characters each have their own voice.

Cons: 

This would have been better as a new series. The first three books are so different that adding these next two books on just doesn’t work for me. In fact, Book 3 really wrapped everything up. Then I found out there were two more books, and they just didn’t need to be there. The only benefit to adding on these two books, really, was that she got to have Leesha’s character arc come to a satisfying end. Also, I didn’t like these two MCs as much as the main characters from the previous books. Jonah in particular seemed so hard to relate to – he was super at combat, he was super charming, super handsome, he was this super protective brother, he has deadly touch – just enough already. She could have dialed it back a bit and he would have been a more human character. As it is, I never really worried about him in a fight. I knew he would win, everything would be fine, and then he’d find a way to feel guilty afterward.

Verdict:

I would definitely recommend this series for fans of teen fantasy. There are some great characters in here, the plots are really exciting, and the romance is pretty clean. There is strong language, but not often. The first book in the series is The Warrior Heir and you should start there.

 

 

Gentler Downton Abbey Mysteries

Murder at Ashgrove House by Margaret Addison

I’m a big fan of the Golden Age mysteries – the ones featuring a private detective, a locked room or closed mystery set among the English upper classes, a set of clues, and a tidy ending. Hercule Poirot is the classic sleuth you think of with these, but I’m always on the lookout for more books in this sort of genre. There are several other series that were popular at the time – Inspector Alleyn by Ngaio Marsh, Albert Campion by Margery Allingham, Lord Peter Wimsey by Dorothy L. Sayers, Inspector Appleby by Michael Innes, Miss Silver by Patricia Wentworth. These were mostly written by women featuring a gentleman sleuth or an nice old lady.

These type of mysteries have never really gone out of style. They’ve been redone, satired, spoofed, reimagined and so on. With the popularity of Downton Abbey, these books are hot again. I found this series through Kindle Unlimited and decided to give it a try. I’m not crazy about them, but they were pretty good.

Rose Simpson works at a dress shop. A friendly coworker invites her to a country weekend at her aunt’s estate. Lady Lavinia took the job on a bet but now she’s finding it too much like actual work. Rose is happy to get out of the city. She’s hoping for a nice relaxing weekend. Instead, a snobby woman gets murdered and Rose is caught right in the middle of things.

I liked Rose, mostly, although she is a little too quick to scream and fuss when things go wrong. She seriously  needs to toughen up. She’s a bit too much of a Mary Sue right now – everyone who likes her is a good guy, and everyone who doesn’t is clearly a bad guy. But my main complaint about the book is that there is way too many recaps. The cops have to review the investigation, review the evidence, review the interview they just conducted. Then the suspect has to have some interior monologue for a few paragraphs as well. The POV skips from character to character with no way of marking the text so that the reader can tell when it changes. The second book at least had a line break in between, but this one has nothing.

The plot wasn’t anything complicated, but I did like the setting. I’m hoping that it will improve. I’m only giving it 3 stars, and I would cautiously recommend it for readers who like this type of book.

Bummer Books

I’ve had a streak of bad books lately. It’s been kind of discouraging, since I’ve been really overwhelmed and I haven’t had as much time to read as I would like. My son’s wedding in next week and I’m ALMOST done with the dress, but not quite. Still, I can only sew for for a few hours before my back just can’t take it anymore. And that’s a perfect time to curl up with a good read. It’s finding that good read that has been the trouble.

I tried (and abandoned) a couple of classics – Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. Marcus Aurelius is frequently quoted for his thoughts of life, his precepts and stuff. Doesn’t mean it’s an interesting read straight through. I picked this one up because it’s often recommended along with The Art of War by Sun Tzu. It really was satisfying, since he organized his writings by a theme and it was full of great insights. I’d read that one instead.

I got further into The Old Curiosity Shop, but when I realized I was only still reading because it was one of those classics everyone knows than because I was enjoying it, I gave up. It’s the story of Little Nell, a saintly girl who’s actually 15 or 16 and so not that young, her morbid grandfather who is gambling his life away, and Quilp, a deformed evil dwarf who terrorizes his wife and wants her to die so he can marry Nell. After rolling my eyes for the hundredth time at Nell’s pious suffering, I deleted the book. This one cause a sensation when it was released in serial format back in the day, with Americans lining the docks waiting for newcomers to tell them if Little Nell survived. I hope she didn’t. OK, that’s mean, but really, times change, and this is just too old-fashioned for me to put up with.

One sort of on the margins of classics was a collection of short stories by Katherine Mansfield. I read two of her very long short stories before deleting that one too. She has a very definite style, always dwelling on the most unpleasant secrets of her characters. Not always, but I would definitely not call these enjoyable stories. She’s great at setting a scene and at creating characters, but they’re not characters I want to hang out with. I would actually read another story by her again, here and there, but she’s a difficult author for me.

I finally gave up on new books and reread Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold. If you’re a fan of the Vorkosigan series, this is the one where Mark goes after the cloning operation in Jackson’s Whole and it ends in disaster. Well, that part does, but eventually things work out so that – well, I won’t give it away in case you haven’t read these and plan to. Definitely don’t start here; this is book 9. I love this series; it’s space opera at its most fun.

Well, I can’t stick around. I have to hem a wedding dress and then I really want to find something decent to read.

Fantasy Rereads

I have been very stressed lately. My youngest child, W, is getting married this month. He’s the first one to get married and I am knee deep in wedding preparations here. In a moment of madness, I volunteered to make the wedding dress and plan the wedding shower. Yeah. So we got the wedding dress pattern, the fabric, the trim, then basically redesigned the whole thing, got it cut out. Then I realized that the shower was THIS WEEK so I had to rush and get all that stuff done. Then I found a stain right on the central front panel of the dress. It was sewing machine oil. I tried to remove it but only succeeded in snagging the fabric. The stain is still there. Fortunately, I was able to cut another panel, finish all the shower decorations, and tonight we had the wedding shower.

It was a big success, with only one minor flaw – my camera batteries were dead. Other people had cameras, so I’ll get to see the pictures, just not right away. And everything looked great, tasted great, plus we all had fun.

Tomorrow I am taking a break from sewing – hooray! – and I will instead relax with a book and maybe eat a salad for a change. I can’t wait.

In the meantime, when I had a few minutes to read, I reread a couple of fantasy titles I enjoyed before – NPCs by Drew Hayes and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. It’s an interesting match up. NPCs is all about taking the fantasy tropes and turning them on end, with a heavy emphasis on the RPG sort of gaming fantasy, and The Hero and the Crown is old school fantasy, with a heroine who has to go on a solo quest to save the kingdom. They are both available for free if you have Kindle Unlimited, so definitely check them both out. NPCs is Drew Hayes best book, IMO, since I didn’t really like Super Powered. It started out as a strong idea, but the series didn’t hold up and I got bored. This one I loved, even as a reread. And Robin McKinley’s book is I treasured 20 years ago and it’s still a wonderful treat. I forgot a lot of the details, but this is why I loved her books as a girl – great story, strong characters, and well developed settings.

Anyway, I think the posts will be hit or miss until this wedding is over. Long way to go on the dress still, but my back is killing me from hours at the sewing machine, so tomorrow I will rest and read.

Book Review: Song of the Lark

Song of the Lark

by Willa Cather

Setting: Moonstone, Colorado late 19th – early 20th century

Source: book club book

Themes: the artist’s process, music, family, women’s roles

Story: Thea Kronberg is the odd one out in her close knit Swedish American family. Fortunately, she has enough support to get her the early musical training she needs to achieve her dreams. It takes a lot of work, but with helpful teachers she is able to achieve her dreams.

Pros: Cather has a gift for making her characters come to life. Thea especially well described – I felt like I would know her. I loved the way she described all the Kronbergs and their relationships. They just come to life.

Cons: This book, like most of Cather’s books, are character driven. That means the plots meander along their merry way, taking lots of side tracks to get to the point. Maybe it was partly because I started this when I wasn’t feeling well, but I didn’t exactly feel compelled to finish.

This is definitely not my favorite of Cather’s books, but I liked it well enough. For me, the best part was before Thea left town for Denver, when she was still figuring out what she wanted and how to get it.

I would cautiously recommend it. It’s an old-fashioned sort of feel, but I wish more people would read Cather. She is an important American female writer who broke new ground. I wouldn’t start here, but with O Pioneers! or My Antonia. 3.2 stars for this one.

 

Review: Burning Midnight

Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh

Genre: teen sci-fi

Recommended by: don’t remember

Source: library

Plot: David Sullivan, or Sully, earns extra cash by selling spheres, these magical little balls that appeared out of nowhere, come in a variety of colors, and when “burned” in pairs, grant extra abilities. Some make you taller, some make you smarter, faster, prettier, magic 1-ups in a little colored ball. The common ones go for a couple of hundred, but the really good ones can cost millions. Sully found one of the really good ones, but lost out on a bad business deal. Now with a new partner, he’s searching for the best sphere out there – a midnight blue.

Pros: I thought this was a really inventive idea – the whole system of the sphere and how they work, what they turn out to mean. That’s what got me to pick up the book. I also liked Sully and his best friend Dom. I thought all the characters were pretty believable.

Cons: The characters’ relationships, though, not so much. While I thought they all made decisions that made sense for their own viewpoint, the way they interacted didn’t always made sense.

And while the idea of the spheres was really cool, it didn’t, in the end, make a whole lot of sense. I’m still not sure where they came from, if they’ll be back, and a dozen other things. Why does Sully say only 10% of the population hasn’t used them? Is he including children, old people? If you could have better teeth by using these magic spheres, who would need braces? If you gave the teal ones that make you more outgoing to people with social anxiety, would they be “cured?”

Overall, I don’t really get this book. It could be because I’m sick and kinda lightheaded or it could be because it doesn’t make sense.

 

 

Books at the Movies

movie book

Poor Hollywood. So much pressure to make back their enormous budgets, but there’s no formula (whatever execs may think) to a surefire hit. With so much money on the line, it’s no wonder that the movie studios are turning to another source for their scripts. After all, if they find a book with millions of fans, that’s gotta translate into millions of ticket sales, right?

This week, I’m going to look at a few movies in the theater now or coming soon, and we’ll rate them on a  Lord of the Rings (universal love) to Twilight (strictly for fans).

Suicide Squad – Obviously, this one is the biggie on the list. I don’t know how it will play out in terms of ticket sales, but no studio releases a comic book movie strictly for box office. It’s all about the merchandise. Now, it is any good? Beats me. I am not a fan of the Joker, or of Jared Leto, or of Batman especially. I do feel strongly that the Harley Quin/Joker dynamic is seriously messed up. This one is strictly for fans, and for older teens/Millenials. Suicide Squad

Ben-Hur – This is such a safe choice for Hollywood. Both a remake and based on a movie, with chariot scenes and hot looking dudes with their shirts off. Are they going to emphasize the Christian setting of the book? Will they push the gay relationship that was more hidden in the original film? I really like that they have multi-cultural cast. I’m planning to see this one. Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace – the Kindle is only 99 cents.

Jason Bourne – Just saw this today. This popular series is based on a series written by Robert Ludlum. However, Ludlum only wrote 3 books, and I only made it partway through the first. It was boring, and one thing you can’t do as a thriller writer is bore your readers. IMO, the movies are better, and this newest one is solid. Matt Damon really is Jason Bourne, and as long as they keep writing scripts that keep him front and center, I’ll keep watching. Definitely high on broad appeal.

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax  by Liz Jensen- I’d never heard of this one until I started working on this article. The book is about a weird kid who has weird things happen to him on his birthday, until he winds up locked in a coma. The movie sounds like it follows the same story. I didn’t recognize anyone in the cast and I’m not sure it sounds like something I would like, so make up your own mind on this one.

Bridget Jones’s Baby – Helen Fielding’s best known character is back. I have to admit, I’m not a big reader of chick lit, but I did enjoy the first movie. I’m really hoping this one does well too. Women in their 40s do watch movies too, and we’ll watch more movies if there are movies we want to watch. Pretty simple. Not sure if this is based on one book or just on the character, but here’s the link: Bridget Jones’s Baby by Helen Fielding.

Snowden; The Queen of Katwe; Florence Foster Jenkins: The Inspiring True Story of the World’s Worst Singer – All of these movies are based on the stories of real people, but also on biographies of these people. Edward Snowden is the famous NSA whistleblower, and the script was based on  The Snowden Files by Luke Harden. I predict a lot of buzz, but not a lot of ticket sales. The Queen of Katwa is about a girl from the slums in Uganda who becomes a chess master and escapes poverty. It’s based on a book written by journalist Tim Crothers, and this one sounds like a winner to me. I doubt it will make a lot of money, but I predict some serious critical acclaim. The book is The Queen of Katwe. And finally, Florence Foster Jenkins, a real woman who was widely known (at the time) as being the worst singer in the world. There are several books written about her, but the movie seems to be based on a play, Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins.  Most of the books are just making fun of her, but the play and the movie both focus on the inspirational message of following  your dreams, no matter what anyone says. I would like to see this one too, but I’d be fine watching it at home. I think this one will have a slow build.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – This is the one that wants to be the next Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I mean, it’s got Tim Burton! It’s got other names too – Judi Dench! Samuel L. Jackson! Rupert Everett! Alison Janney! But movies are about more than names and directors. They need to be good. I’m pretty skeptical about this one. I thought the book was a disappointment and I don’t see how making it into a movie will improve things. However, lots of people liked the book, so I might be wrong. Kids are going to want to see it, and parents will assume that because it has kids in it, it will be appropriate family fare. I think it will make money, but I predict it will be sort of average. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

So that’s my list. What do you think? Which ones have I missed? What are you excited for? Let me know.