Thursday, June 21, 2018

Review: Harrison Squared

Harrison Squared
Audio books are tough. First, they're expensive so I often take a chance on the Audible Daily Deal just because they are such a good deal. After all, I go through dozens of books a year in audio format and I can't afford to spend $10 to $20 for every one of them. The library helps, but their selection is weak. Besides, sometimes I luck out and find a real gem (Scott Meyer, Drew Hayes, Dennis E. Taylor) that I would never have discovered otherwise. Still, when you buy a book just because it's cheap, you take a risk of reading something you don't like much.

The other side of audio books is it's a lot harder to sit through a bad audio book than it is to skim through a bad print book. You can't skip long, boring paragraphs of description. You can't look ahead to see if it gets better. And the slowness! Oh. My. Gosh. Audio books are so slow. Even at 1.75 speed, it's slow. I can read faster than I can listen so even a good book can tax my patience sometimes.

There are few things more frustrating than listening to a bad book, and even a mediocre book can be painful. That brings us to this one. Harrison Squared was never going to be a favorite of mine. I don't care for Lovecraft at all and when books are too weird, they lose my interest. I can handle a lot of fantastical elements in my books, but they have to be believable on some level. Lovecraftian books break that believability with levels of weirdness that don't even try to seem plausible. It's like listening to a story told by a second grader - nothing makes any sense.

This one started out depressing and dark and just got worse. I disliked the setting, I disliked the main character, and I hated the tone. Then, it takes an odd jaunt to the side into screwball comedy and that's where it lost me entirely. If you're going to write horror, commit to it, don't descend into hi jinks and quirky sidekicks. The tone was so uneven that, if it had been a road, the potholes would have been the size of the Grand Canyon. I have no problem with humor mixed in with horror, but it has to fit and this did not.

Despite everything, I might have forgiven the book a lot if it had landed the ending. It didn't. It fell as flat as a cow patty and was just as unappealing. Look, I get it, horror calls for a downturn at the end, but this wasn't even a downturn. It was more like the metaphorical road from before just petered out into a gassy swamp. There was no payoff for all that came before.

Lesson learned, I need to be a little more discerning about which Daily Deal's I pick up. They may not cost much in terms of dollars, but these are hours I'm never going to get back and that's too costly for me.

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Review: Out of Spite, Out of Mind

Out of Spite, Out of Mind
Even in a series where everything that can go wrong will go wrong, this is the one where the crap really hits the fan. Brit the Elder notices a glitch in the code that is making her memories go out of sync with Brit the Younger. Then her physical form starts glitching, too. Phillip teams up with her to try to solve the problem while trying to keep it a secret from Younger Brit who hates her older self. In the meantime, Martin and Gwen hit a rough patch when he almost, but not quite proposes. Then he gets distracted by a mysterious figure who is attacking Phillip. Everyone's favorite bad guy resurfaces as do the agents tasked with investigating the wizards in the present day. Oh, and there's a bit with Gary attracting minions.

I wish I could say that the whole is better than the sum of its parts, but this is the weakest book in the series. It had a high bar to meet since this is an incredibly fun and inventive series, but it doesn't quite make it. The individual stuff is funny or at least entertaining, but it never coalesces into a whole. The stuff with Brit felt forced and the present day bits fizzled out without going anywhere.

This felt like a transitional book - something needed to get us from one place to another, but lacking the oomph to stand on its own. I am always happy to revisit this world and these characters and Luke Daniels is a talented narrator, but this one isn't quite on par with the rest of the series.

Five stars by the skin of its teeth.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet
Why do I keep doing this to myself? I am positive that Charlie Holmberg is a delightful person. She's probably very kind and loves her family and is nice to puppies and all of that. I have no beef with her, I promise. We just aren't compatible when it comes to writing. She has wonderful ideas - fresh and original and exciting ideas. I think she's a talented writer. I'll bet she even bakes chocolate chip cookies for the elderly. Why can't I love her writing?

To be fair, I really liked Followed by Frost, which is why I keep coming back to her. However, none of the magician books struck my fancy and this one is a strike out, too. On the positive side, this is an amazing idea, truly one of the most original I've ever seen. But the story is so hard to read.

Books on writing talk all the time about torturing your protagonist and not being afraid to be hard on them. Unfortunately, it is possible to go too far down that road. The vast majority of this book is dark and dreary and depressing. The main character is in a hopeless, ghastly position and she's surrounded by other people who are enslaved, raped, and murdered. For most of this book Maire doesn't know who she is or where she came from and the reader is left in the dark along with her. That means that you sit in misery with her for page after page of pain and abuse and despair. The title promises you bitter and sweet but there is almost no sweet. Even when things resolve, it's too little too late and the explanation is original, but also unsatisfying.

The book reminded me of The Handmaid's Tale, which I detest, because the protagonist has so little control over her life and is at the mercy of other's. Even when she escapes, it's because of circumstances rather than her own efforts. Maire is slightly more proactive than the wimpy woman in Atwood's book, but the author has her so bound by circumstances that she really can't do much.

I'm afraid this has to be the end. It's not you, it's me, Ms. Holmberg. I hope that if we ever met we would be friends, but I can't keep reading your books. They're just not for me.

3 depressing stars.

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Review: Dreadnought

Danny Tozer is transgender. That's cool, but I wouldn't have read this book if that had been the focus. I was drawn in by the superhero plot and I appreciated that the gender issues were only part of the character development. As I told a coworker, I don't read issue books. If you want to talk about an issue, you had better have something else going on to carry the story. For instance, Jumper is a book about an teen boy who finds his way in the world after escaping from an abusive home. The fact that he escapes by teleportation is what makes the book interesting. On the other hand, the teleportation alone would not have made for such a compelling and memorable book without the underlying childhood trauma, which is why the book works on so many levels.

Dreadnought reminded me a lot of Jumper. Danny's father is a class-A jerk with all of the stereotypical issues surrounding masculinity and gender. He makes Danny's life miserable even before Danny comes home outwardly transformed into the girl she always felt she was on the inside. Danny finds that life as a girl, even a beautiful one, isn't as great as she thought it would be. Her friends don't know how to deal and her family can't wait to fix her. And they don't even know the full story, not only is she suddenly a girl, she's a superhero, one nearly as powerful as Superman.

The story alternates between Danny's adventures in learning to handle her body's transformation and all that entails with her attempts to learn how to "cape." She has allies and enemies in both adventures and some of the worst enemies come from inside friendly lines.

It's a fascinating book and well worth the read. I love when I get a chance to see inside someone else's experience, after all, that's why we read isn't it? I hated that people were so horrible to Danny just because she didn't fit the mold of what they thought of as normal. Not to say that the situation is comparable, but as a geeky fat chick I certainly faced my fair share of abuse and bullying. At least I had parental support. I don't know that I would have made it to adulthood without it. It makes me so angry when children are mistreated. I don't care what your feelings are about people who are different from you - be tolerant, kind, and loving. It's just the right thing to do.

Four stars of empowerment.

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Review: The Hero and the Crown

The Hero and the Crown
Aerin is mentioned over and over again in The Blue Sword as Harry learns to wield her predecessor's weapon. This is Aerin's tale, set many years before the happenings in The Blue Sword to which it is a prequel. Aerin is the unloved and unlovely daughter of a king. She lacks her cousin's beauty and grace, but she also lacks her malice. She is looked at askance because her mother, the witch woman, bewitched the king and then died bearing him a daughter instead of a son. She doesn't seem to have inherited her mother's magic, however, she doesn't even have the requisite gifts of the royal line. No wonder that she is not heir to her father's kingdom even if they would have overlooked her sex.

Aerin is more than a princess, though. If you've read The Blue Sword, you know that she is destined to be a great hero (it's in the title of the book, after all) and hero she is. I love that the book isn't called the Heroine and the Crown, by the way. That's very progressive for the 80s. I didn't love this book like I did The Blue Sword. The pacing is weird and the story line wanders for a long time. It reminds me a little of Mary Stewart's first Merlin book in that way. It's hard to tell a compelling story that starts in childhood and continues into adulthood. The book has a tendency to meander from the point because of that.

There are few surprises in store. Aerin is a hero. She gets the Blue Sword. She does something heroic related to the crown, also from the title. Still, it's well-written. I just wanted more of a comeuppance for the cousin and other doubters. I also didn't much care for the ambiguous romantic subplot. It's a solid book, but not a favorite.

Four wandering stars.

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Review: The Blue Sword

The Blue Sword
This was the second Robin McKinley book I read, including Beauty, and I had forgotten how good it was. It is set on a earth-like world with many parallels but with a bit of magic. Harry is from Homeland, a thinly-disguised Great Britain, and she is living in Damar, analogous to either Africa or India. Her father has recently died and she is left penniless in a Victorian-like time where women have no value and have no freedom or wealth not given to them by a man. Her only refuge is with the head of her brother's regiment on the frontier.

Damar is my idea of hell. It's dusty, dry desert and is hot and miserable. For some reason, Harry loves it. She's fascinated by the "beauty" of the land and its people, which makes her unusual among the people from back home who all count down to the day they can escape. All except for one old soldier, Jack, who seems to be the only one who appreciates the beauty of the country they've invaded.

For indeed, they are invaders. They have taken over this land to strip it of resources. Because, at its heart, this is a book about colonialism from before a time when this was the new hot issue in literature. Harry's contemporaries do not even try to understand the hill people. They think of them as colorful and unknowable and quaint much like a bunch of tourists on a safari gawking at the natives with a bit of contempt mixed with superiority. Everything changes when Harry is kidnapped by the king of the hill people and she is forced to learn more about these people than anyone from the Homeland has ever understood.

If it weren't for the magic in this book, it would have been depressing. I hate books about the invasion and subjugation of a people by colonial forces. But, the situation is completely different when the natives wield real power that is resistant to the invader's technology. This was the first book I ever read that took me on this particular journey from outside observer to integrated insider and it is still may be the best. While it is a fascinating story of adventure and magic, it is even more a morality tale about not judging a culture by one's own standards. It teaches, without being preachy, that one can never know another's life from the outside. As Harry's perceptions shift, so do the reader's and you will find yourself rooting for the hill people long before the book is over.

It's a lovely book and a powerful one. It should be required reading for anyone who has to cross a cultural divide, and in this modern era, isn't that all of us?

Four ground-breaking stars.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Review: Sweet Tea and Sympathy

Sweet Tea & Sympathy
By all rights this should be called bittersweet tea because it's coarser and less refined than I expected it to be. The main character, Molly, has a career-ending experience involving shrimp and flamingos and has to retreat to her father's family compound to work at the bait shop and funeral home. She hasn't seen her father or his family since she was a young child. Her mother left because her father was a drunk and she was raised by her cold mother and her equally cold stepfather. Say what you will about her father's family, they're not cold. Being chick lit, of course the family is equal parts charming and maniacal but at least the author was respectful of the Southern setting and didn't show them as a bunch of backwoods hicks. These are intelligent business people who are as smart as they are sassy.

The love interest, because you can't expect there not to be one, is a well-rounded character with more sides to him that hot hunk. He's a widower and father of two young girls and I liked the romance that developed between them. I liked the kids but thought the youngest one was a little too precocious to be real. I loved her name, Juniper. In fact, I could see having a dog named Juniper someday. That's cute.

The book felt a little darker, a little coarser, and a little more realistic than I was expecting. It helps to remember that it's not a romance, it's chick lit, and there is a difference. Yes, there is a romance, but it's not about the happily ever after so much as it is about the main character finding solace and healing for the holes in her heart from an unhappy childhood. The way the author wrote it was more realistic than not, but I wanted a touch more magic - a touch more optimism.

I had a problem, by the way, with the treatment of dogs by the narrative. They're not mistreated by the characters but they are treated as a plot device and not a great one. It's hard to explain but it felt like it was written by someone who doesn't like dogs but felt she needed them for the story. I did love the small town politics, though. That was the most fun part of the entire book.

I give it four stars - it's a good read, but don't expect magic.

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Review: The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story

The Lost City of the Monkey God
I don't know why I always feel compelled to tell you why I read a book before I tell you what I think of it, but the trend continues. I went to the library a while back, trying to find books on South America for a story I want to write. I had no specific idea about what part of the continent I wanted to focus on or what civilization would suit my story so I picked up stuff on Mayans, Incans, Aztecs, and so on. For awhile I was sure that Machu Picchu made the most sense but I need a location that is more isolated and more jungle. I happened to see this book on the shelf and the name was so striking that I picked it up. I finally got around to reading it this last week and it was turned out that it had the perfect location and people for my story. On top of that, it's a fascinating read and it's all true.

The author is a journalist/author who writes about archaelogy and other science stuff along with mysteries with Lincoln Child. I had never heard of him but I would happily read more books by him. He's got an easy style and knows how to keep things interesting.

The story begins with some background about the past attempts to find the White City, also known as the City of the Monkey God. One explorer and his partner supposedly found it back at the beginning of the last century, a story that was accepted as fact until this author got his hands on the journals written by these two men in which they detail their time spent in the jungle, panning for gold instead of looking for the lost city. When they returned to civilization they lied about finding it and no one questioned their story. The only reason these journals got out was because the one explorer's nephew went to prison and his wife loaned them to the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian people never even opened them so it's entirely possible that no one would have known about the deception if Preston hadn't found and exposed them. That is the kind of stuff you can't even make up and it's just the start.

The archaelogists involved used very expensive military technology involving lasers and radar to identify potential dig sites in the deep jungles of Honduras. These sound like some really awful jungles with deadly snakes, quicksand(mud), killer bugs, and jaguars. Against all the odds, the team makes more than one world-shaking discoveries and along the way encounter all of the dangers listed above. Even when they return to the states their adventures are not over as many of them contract an incurable, potentially lethal disease. The book ends on a sour note as the author warns us that this disease is moving up into the states and may soon threaten all of us. That was a bummer ending I could have done without.

For a non-fiction book, this is a fairly fast-paced story with lots of drama and surprises. The controversy raised by rival scientists when they return reads like something out of the best fiction. For the record, I think their detractors are idiots, but maybe that's because they didn't bother to learn anything about the expedition before denouncing them as publicity hounds. If anything, I think this expedition didn't get nearly enough attention since I had never heard of it before reading this book and I couldn't find anyone else who had, either. This should have been much bigger news.

Don't wait for your news outlets to tell you this story, read the book. I think you'll enjoy it.

4 stars of fascination and horror.

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Review: All Through the Night

All Through the Night
This sounded so good! A Regency romance starring a cat burglar who steals from the rich to give to the poor while a shadowy figure tries to capture her - how could it go wrong? Oh so many ways.

Let's start with the tone of the book, which never quite decided what kind of book it was. Was it a romance? Technically, I guess so, although I wasn't feeling any heat between the main characters. Was it a thriller? Nope, not even close because there is never any real feeling of danger. Georgette Heyer, the queen of Regency, wrote more thrilling books without having to put anyone in the role of either spy or cat burglar. Then there are the side characters who are, without exception, unpleasant. Even the devoted, ex-soldier manservant is a bit of a jerk. The heroine's young cousin is a selfish tramp. The hero's best "friend" is a cad. No one in this book is remotely likable, not even the main characters.

The book fails most at being a Regency romance. The trappings are barely there but the feeling and nuance of the Regency period are completely missing. For example, Anne is a terrible chaperone. She's too caught up in all of her own adventures to keep an eye on her charge. While she's off playing cat and mouse games with Jack, her cousin is off boinking every man she meets. It doesn't matter if you care about the Regency attitudes about sex and propriety or not, the characters should care, and they just don't.

The pacing is odd and things feel dragged out beyond all reason. The ridiculous ending just capped off a generally disappointing book. I won't be reading anything else by this author.

Three disillusioned stars.

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Review: When

by Victoria Laurie

One of the best things about Audible is that I am exposed to books I would have never found without it. When is one of those books and I'm so glad it came up on a Daily Deal. It is about a girl, Maddie, who sees death dates on the foreheads of everyone around her. She knows the exact day you will die and that's it. She doesn't know how, where, or why, just when. There is nothing she can do to change that date, either, no matter how much she wishes she could. The problems start when she tells a mother that her child will die and, when the child is murdered, Maddie and her best friend are the prime suspects.

There are so many ways this book could have gone wrong, but it didn't. I really felt for Maddie and her dilemma and could relate all too well to the bullying she experiences throughout the book. I liked that she had concerned adults who try to help her but she has to fight for herself. She's a believable character and the author isn't afraid to make things tough for her. I felt that one conflict was solved a little too easily, but overall it's a great book and avoids the modern cliches of teen sex/drug use/drinking as the cause of the character's problems.

Five prescient stars.

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Review: The Master Magician

The Master Magician
I remember being disappointed in The Paper Magician. It had come with a strong recommendation and I had great expectations for it, expectations that I felt were largely left unfulfilled. I swore I wouldn't read the next book in the series but then I read Followed by Frost, which I enjoyed, and I thought I would give the author another chance. Then I read the Glass Magician and had a lukewarm response to it. I liked the concept but thought the world-building and characters were lacking. So, I had no intentions of ever reading this one and, wouldn't you know it, it went on sale. If we've learned nothing else from these reviews, I can't resist a good sale. Besides, I hate loose ends and I had already read the first two books in the series, I had to see where it went.

This book comes in at the end of Ceony's apprenticeship. She is preparing to test for her magicianship and, to that end, she is sent to live with her teacher's rival. This opened up all kinds of possibilities for conflict, but just as it was winding up for a big problem, it just peters out. In fact, that's the problem with the entire book. The author is not willing to torture her hero nearly enough. Things go wrong, she faces up to them, the problem goes away. She NEVER fails! It's hard to root for someone who has such an easy time of it. Even when she doesn't get what she wants right away, she's never really facing the danger or push-back that the story calls for. The second book did a better job of putting her in danger and at risk than this one does. The crises should build to a crescendo but they just kind of fizzle out.

I have to say that I'm a little, maybe even a lot, bothered by the teacher/apprentice basis for a romance. It never felt quite right to me. The author tries to overcome resistance to the idea by having the apprentice be the one who pushes for the relationship but there is still an odd dynamic when you have a romance develop with such a big power differential. I'm glad they didn't consummate their relationship until after she finished her apprenticeship but I still question how they will ever have an equal relationship going forward. Then again, my great-grandfather met his second wife when she was a student in his class so it is possible. Maybe it's just my modern sensibilities intruding into it.

I'm glad I finished this series. It's never going to be a favorite of mine and I'm a little surprised to hear that Disney is looking at it for a movie, but the ending was better than the beginning. I still find the characters a little flat, and there is something indefinable about the books that just feels lacking, but this is a solid ending to the series. I think the author has talent, but maybe she's just not the author for me.

Four half-hearted stars.

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Friday, June 8, 2018

Review: "They Say / I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing

They Say/I Say
To continue a trend in my reading lately, here is a very helpful book turned into an only mildly helpful audio book. The advice is sound and practical and I can see it making a big difference in how I approach writing for school and work. It offers a nuts and bolts approach to academic writing in particular and persuasive writing in general and addresses the subject in a way I've never encountered before. There are multiple templates and examples as well as exercises to let you practice the skills as they are being taught.

All of this is great and I did learn a little from listening to this book - but this is a book that should be read and kept around to use as a resource. It was not an entertaining read and the lack of visuals and the inability to keep and refer back to the templates meant that most of the instruction went right over my head. Unfortunately, my library doesn't offer this as a physical book or even an e-book. It's only available as an audio book which seems an odd choice. There is a newer edition due out this month and I considered ordering a copy but don't have the budget for it right now. I'll probably end up getting it one of these days just because I think the templates would be helpful.

If you can get your hands on a non-audio version of this book, and if you have any need to write persuasively, then by all means, check it out. It's a good book, but not a good listen.

4 stars for the incompatibility of the message to the medium.

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Review: Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World's Most Famous Heroine

Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History
of the World's Most Famous Heroine
I listen to a lot of odd books thanks to the Audible daily deal. Because I go through almost a book a day in audio format I'm always in the market for an interesting read. When I can pick up a book for a couple of bucks on sale and it sounds even remotely entertaining, I go for it. That leads me down wild paths sometimes, and this book is one of those times.

As the title states, this is the history of Wonder Woman - from her sex fetishist creator to the simpering idiocy of the 50s and 60s and barely touching on her glorious recreation in recent years. Along the way we hear a lot about other women in comics, especially Lois Lane, and the contrast between the comic life of Wonder Woman and the struggles women were facing in the real world. It was an interesting, if not fascinating, journey.

Let me just say that the man who created this character, William Marston, was not the kind of guy you expect to find in the 40s. He seems like the guy who lurks in the darker part of the internet, actually. He was involved in a polyamorous marriage with two women and he was more than a little obsessed with bondage and female dominance. His main purpose in creating Wonder Woman was to prepare young boys for the coming of the matriarchy. However, his beliefs and his portrayal of Wonder Woman in the comics were at odds with each other. Even though he believed in the superiority of women he spends a lot of time putting Wonder Woman into bondage. The author does a thorough job of proving that WW spends approximately more than 10 times the time in bondage than any of her male counterparts so it's not just a hero getting endangered. Also, other women in the books spend more time in bondage than the men in the books. There are other glimpses into the man's psyche and work outside of the Wonder Woman comics that I could have done without. The man was out there.

After Marston left the comics things took a turn for the silly with Wonder Woman getting obsessed with Steve Trevor and losing her independence and strength. That continued even while women in the real world were fighting for their rights to be treated like people and not second-class citizens. Then Gloria Steinman of Ms. magazine got involved and things turned around again. They took away her superpowers and kept changing her back story, too. Imagine if they had done that to Superman. No no, he's not really from Krypton and he doesn't have superpowers. He's actually just Clark Kent and he is obsessed with marrying Lois Lane but we still want to write a comic book about him for some reason? It made no sense. There is a reason that few people have actually read Wonder Woman comics and only know her from the Justice League or from the TV show starring Linda Carter.

This book was a lot longer than it had any right to be. Most of the stuff about Lois Lane, Superman, and so on just felt like padding and I didn't need a history lesson about the women's movement in the 70s. I enjoyed the new Wonder Woman movie a lot, in my opinion it's the best DC movie so far, but the character has always been boring to me. The story, especially the early years, was intriguing but it got old long before the book got over.

I would say I got my money's worth and it isn't a bad book. It just sags in the middle, kind of like Wonder Woman's career. A little tighter editing would have made this a four star book. It was totally worth the two or three bucks I paid for it, but not much more.

Four stars for the beginning and end, two or three for the middle.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: Second Hand Curses

  by Drew Hayes

Second Hand Curses
Drew Hayes is literary Xanax. Now, before you get offended on his behalf, let me explain. I deal with a lot of stress in my life right now. My father died in January after a long, protracted fight with Alzheimer's. My mom and I nursed him at home for his final months after a fall last September and it was hideous. During that time I was still working full time at a job with a lot of responsibility and a nearly 1-hour commute each way and I was taking college classes online and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. My life is slowly rebounding after my dad's death, but it's not like it's all sunshine and roses. I struggle with anxiety and depression and just can't take any more stress.

So, when I read a book with lots of adventure and danger it can be more than I can take right now. If the author is unskilled or unknown, it stresses me out, worrying that the book won't turn out right. This is partly why I recently reread all 25 Tarzan books, because I knew how they would turn out and so I could get through them without worrying about the characters too much.

When I read Drew Hayes, I know he is going to get us through without fail. I'm not saying bad things won't happen, but he's such a skilled and talented author that I know I can trust him to know what he's doing and stick the landing. It's the difference between riding in a car with an experienced driver instead of in a car with a teenager just learning how to drive. The road may be harrowing and traffic may be bad, but you trust the driver so you can relax. With a less skilled author, the same scenarios make me too tense to enjoy them. As I've said in other reviews, I don't think it's possible for Drew Hayes to write a bad book. (Drew, don't try it, because you're talented enough to manage and then where would we be?)

This one is about a world of fairy tales come to life. You meet many classic characters including Pinocchio and the Shoemaker and the Elves, but in this book things are grittier and more real than in any fairy tale. One thing Hayes does so well is to put together a lovable ensemble from the most unlikely characters, and this one is no different. I liked Frank, Jack, and Marie both as a group and individually. Frank is so earnest and good, Jack is a true scoundrel, and Marie is a lot tougher than she looks. Another area Hayes excels is in creating women characters who are people first, women after. There is no pandering and no cliche. He gets it. Women aren't another species, they're just people. Why is that so hard for other authors to understand?

I don't know if he has time to write a sequel to this book with all of the other series he's juggling, but with his work ethic and productivity, I wouldn't doubt it. If he does get the sequel out in the world, I'll be there to read it.

Five stars to cure what ails ya.

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Review: You're Never Weird on the Internet

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

I was only peripherally aware of Felicia Day before starting this book so why read it? Well, it was a daily deal on Audible and it is about geeky stuff, so I gave it a try. I'm glad I did. I have watched all episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so I must have seen her there, but I don't remember. I saw her on Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and remember hearing that she was some kind of geek icon, but had no idea why. Now I know and I see why she's popular with geeks.

This woman is a talented powerhouse who thinks of herself as a neurotic mess. She's the epitome of the nerdy protagonist from the kind of books I love best. She's brilliant (she got a nearly perfect score on the SATs with only one week of study and a terrible homeschool education), talented (she's a violin prodigy), and loves all of the stuff nerds do. Did I mention that she's also a main stream actress with recurring roles on Supernatural and Eureka? That's on top of the web show that made her internet famous, The Guild.

I'm not a genius and I have no special talents, but I could relate to her World of Warcraft story, I never played WoW because I learned my lesson long before that when I played a text-only mud (multi-user dungeon) in the early days of AOL. Where Felicia Day played 8-12 hours a day, I was playing a minimum of 12 hours a day and more than once played for 2 to 3 days without stopping. Seriously, no nap, no meals, no stopping. Yes, I was an addict. Unfortunately, I didn't leave the game and become an internet celebrity, I just went off and learned how to be a web developer instead, but I could relate to the struggle to fill the time after the game ended.

Of special interest was the chapter on Gamer Gate. This was another thing I hadn't paid much attention to, but knew it was about the misogynist underbelly of gaming culture. To be honest, I don't get it. Why do some men think that they own video games? I have been playing longer than most of these idiots have been alive. How dare they come along and try to co-opt my experience. I am glad she stood up to them and am disgusted by the fallout. It makes me glad I'm not even internet famous.

Back to the book. It's entertaining, witty, and worth the read if you have any interest at all in geeky things.

Five stars from my half-elf heart.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Review: The Call of the Wild

Call of the Wild
I read White Fang long before I discovered this more famous dog story set in Alaska by Jack London. Maybe, if I had read this one first, this would have been my preferred story, but probably not. White Fang was much more my cup of tea.

For one thing, it has a happier ending and a lot less death. This one is pretty dark with dogs dying of starvation and ill treatment and people getting killed by their own stupidity, too. There are way too many stories of dog abuse and beatings for my taste.

It's a classic and it's well done but I won't be reading it again and again. If you haven't read it, you should, but if White Fang and Call of the Wild were hanging off the edge of a cliff and I could only save one, it would be White Fang, no question.

Three sad stars.

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Review: The Seventh Bride

The Seventh Bride

Let's get real, I love fairy tale retellings. Whether it's Jessica Day George and Princess of the Midnight Ball or Robin McKinley and Beauty or many, many others, I can't get enough of them. That is definitely why I purchased The Seventh Bride. It's a re-imagining of the tale of Bluebeard. I never thought anyone could successfully turn that particular fairy tale into a novel, but this author managed quite well.

Rhea is the hapless seventh bride in this version. At fifteen, she's way too young to get married, something the character harps on incessantly. Sorry, but fifteen isn't that young. My grandmother got married at fifteen, and not because she had to. I thought the character's constant dwelling on how young she was felt off for a fifteen year old. Now, if she had been 12 or 13 that would have felt more appropriate, especially when she mentions that she isn't even getting her period regularly yet. Really? What fifteen year old is not menstruating? Also, yuck, do we have to talk about that? Moving on.

The twist on the fairy tale is that most of the previous wives are still alive, or mostly so. There is a lot of dark magic in this book and it gets pretty convoluted. The Bluebeard in this book, Lord Crevan, is a magician who collects wives for dark purposes and he's chosen Rhea against her will. She agrees because she's a peasant and he's a lord and she sees no other way to save her family's mill.

There are some good moments in this book. I liked the hedgehog and Maria was a strong character even though the names sounded way too similar on the audio version (Maria/Rhea). This is why you should read your stuff out loud. They look different on the page but are hard to keep track of when spoken. The tale is imaginative and I appreciated the lack of romance. I get really tired of romantic subplots. It's not flawless, however. I thought some of the phrasing felt too real world and not appropriate to the time and place. I also thought the resolution was a little off. Still, if you like fairy tales, I would give this one a try. But read Beauty and Princess of the Midnight Ball first, they're both much better.

Four stars, at least one of which is for the hedgehog.

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Review: Chosen by a Horse

Chosen by a Horse
When I started this I had no idea I had read another book by this author, and if I had I wouldn't have read this one. It wasn't that Saddled: How a Spirited Horse Reined Me in and Set Me Free was such a bad book, it just wasn't very good. About halfway through this one I started wondering and realized that I had read another book by this author and it was so unmemorable I had forgotten all about it. The good news is, I liked this one a lot better. In fact, I think the main problem with Saddled was that it tried too hard to capitalize on the author's success with this book.

My biggest complaint with Saddled was that it advertised itself as a book about a horse but the horse part was minimal at best. Here, the horse takes a much bigger part and the entire book is more balanced. If I had read the books in publication order I might have actually liked Saddled because I would have been more invested in the author's struggle.

Speaking about this book alone, it's good. The author does a masterful job of twining her life story with the tale about this rescue horse. I could relate to her feelings about toxic family members (although no one in my lfe was as toxic as her family, oh my gosh!) and her retreat into the company of animals for healing. I found myself rooting for her to succeed even while I wanted to smack her for wasting time with a man who didn't like anything she liked, including books and horses. I wish she had been able to tell us whatever happened to the foal, but that's probably asking too much.

There is one more book in this series. That one is about her life after becoming a best-selling author, and I'm not sure it's going to make it on my to-be-read pile. If it shows up on sale on Audible, though, you never know.

Four stars with half a star thrown in for the rescue.

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Review: "What Do You Care What Other People Think?": Further Adventures of a Curious Character

What Do You Care What Other People Think?
I loved Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character. It was funny, insightful and a lot like listening to my Dad and his brothers talk about their lives. I connected with Richard Feynman in that book because he was so much like my father. They were both geniuses, they both forged their own paths, and they both know how to spin a good yarn. Before reading that book, I had no idea who Richard Feynman was. I'm not good at history and I don't know the first thing about science, but I love good stories, especially when they're funny.

When I saw that this book was available for cheap on Audible, I grabbed it. It turns out it wasn't nearly as funny or coherent as "Surely". Mostly it fills in the gaps from the other book. There is the story about Feynman's first wife and her death (spoiler alert) at a young age, for instance. Not a lot of laughs there.

The largest part of the book is the story of Feynman's participation in the presidential commission studying the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Again, I was reminded of my father. Like my dad, Feynman had no patience for rules or procedures. The lawyer in charge, whose name, Mr. Rogers, kept making me think of the children's TV host, tried hard to rein Feynman in and keep him on the politically correct path. Wasn't going to happen. I was particularly interested in the subject because I had to do a group project on the Morton company in college. We were supposed to figure out how to spin the story and chart a path for them to recover from the bad press. I thought I knew quite a bit about the incident but realized, after reading this, that I didn't know nearly as much as I thought I did.

There are a few laughs in this book but it's not funny like "Surely." If you have to choose only one book by and about Richard Feynman, then read the other book. If you have time and space in your life for two of them, then sure, give this one a shot. It was interesting rather than entertaining, but it's worth a few hours.

Four stars for completionists.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

Review: Good Behavior

Good Behavior
Do you remember that very creepy, very good TV show a couple of seasons back starring Matt Dillon? The author of the novel that was based on also wrote this set of novellas. Evidently there is a TV show based on this character, too, and if it's even half as good as Wayward Pines I'll have to give it a try.

If I weren't a fan of the author, I probably wouldn't have picked up this book. The character is not the kind that generally draws me in since she's a drug addict and a thief. I felt it was worth the risk, though, and I'm glad I took the chance. I love when an author is just so good that you can trust them to write a compelling story even if the premise doesn't draw you in.

So, what is this book about? In the first novella, Letty is a meth addict and a thief who overhears a man hiring a contract killer to murder his wife. She can't go to the cops because she was in the middle of a crime when she hears this transaction. Instead she heads out to intervene and things go sideways. The second and third novellas have a similar feel. The poor girl can't catch a break.

I would love to see the show and see what they did to transition the character and story from print to TV, especially after listening to the author's notes, talking about the process. I hope he writes more stories about Letty, too, but I get the feeling that his focus is on the screen version now and not the original.

Five stars but with a content warning - there is some raunchy language and the situations are not kid-friendly.