Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Weir, Andy (Artemis)

Just to get the obvious out of the way: nope, this is not as good as The Martian. Hey, now, sophomore efforts are hard, and Weir had an even tougher row to hoe since he blew everyone away with the first book (and the film didn't hurt his reputation either).

I haven't read any other reviews of this book, but have heard that folks were not enamored with our heroine. Specifically, that people couldn't identify with someone who was, essentially, a criminal. And perhaps also as a non-stereotypical female? By that, I mean that she's somewhat of a tomboy, to use old parlance. While I do agree with the first concern, I couldn't disagree more with the second one.

Jasmine (going by Jazz, of course) is a 20-something-old not living her life to the fullest, but certainly using her smarts to the fullest. She has a complicated relationship with her past and her father. The town she lives in is on the moon, so that creates all the science and all the crazy shenanigans related to science needed for a book written by Weir. That is, not surprisingly, the best part - especially the hijinks towards the end.

But I did appreciate that Weir crafted a female protagonist not of the usual mold. Others may say "yea, that's just a girl in boy's clothing" but it is So Very Much Time to move past this outdated nonsense. Jazz is a girl doing her own thing, and while there were specific gender-related character attributes, they weren't a core part of the plot. I thought that, in and of itself, was pretty darn fabulous.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Fisher, Carrie (Wishful Drinking)

I am immensely sad that Fisher is dead - way, way before her time - but, sadly, this is not a great book. Yes, it's based on her one-woman play about her life, and it seems the kind of play right up her alley - sarcastic, honest, entertaining - but the book does not do that concept justice.

Of course, she's writing from her life and she's utterly self-deprecating, so this is not the kind of celebrity tell-all that makes you roll your eyes and back away slowly. The stories themselves alternate between thrilling and horrifying, as would be expected, but they also seem all over the place. Where are the stories we've heard about her dalliances with Ford and maybe Hamill? Or her misunderstandings with Lucas? I mean it's delightful to read about her interactions with Bob Dylan, but I wanted more dish about Star Wars, thank you very much.

I wouldn't think that at that stage of her life she cared very deeply about throwing living people under the bus. She does seem to care most about clarifying and explaining her dope-ridden life, which, since she seemed to be the poster child for bipolar disorder, is probably a public service.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Novik, Naomi (Black Powder War)

Oh, the endless highfalutin language and the endless diplomatic posturing. I put the next book on my list, but it'll be a while until I move it into my "holds" area. The language is just... tiring.

Not that I don't enjoy the plotting. I always want to see Novik reshaping history - with dragons and, while she's at it, with a new outlook on Napoleon's campaign. Also, this one was a road trip, replete with new road buddies, so it was more engaging as it wended its way from East to West, giving us new landscapes and cultures and whatnot.

But the language means you have to pay close attention to everything being said because this is old-timey England, and so they can't ever put things bluntly or clearly. It's so much about how you say it, not necessarily what you're saying. And you have to put up with strange colloquialisms, such as when Laurence talks to Temeraire as if he's a beloved child. (I find this off-putting, and I'm guessing I'm expected to since that's one huge dragon talking to one puny human.)

Regardless, as I said, I like the plotting so I'll suffer a bit til the end.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Thomas, Angie (The Hate U Give)

I've had a lot of difficulty writing this review, so I've put it off a long while. Not because the book isn't amazing, but because I feel clueless and a noob, in this sphere.

The book is about a young black teenager living in a depressed area of town, with mostly black residents, but who goes to school at a very much mostly white prep school. Her mom and dad come from different backgrounds and have different goals in life, even when it comes to deciding how to raise their kids. Our young protagonist is dating a white guy from school, but hasn't told her dad yet. There's a huge tragedy at the beginning that you might see coming right away. Events then ensue to make everyone's life difficult, and with a current events spin (which you would be right to expect from this YA novel).

What's not expected is how utterly absorbing and appealing this book is. Of course it's teaching us things - that is what YA does, really - so it's teaching young teenagers about a world they may not understand fully. And that goes double for all us adults. I want Thomas to keep writing. I want her to mature this young woman and take her through her life, so I can better understand the struggles of a young black woman in America. Maybe that's selfish. But I truly want to know it, and I want Thomas to be the one to tell me. She has a mighty weapon (a gift, in truth) and she needs to wield it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Greenwood, Kerry (Murder on the Ballarat Train)

Dee-lightful. It feels like Greenwood hits her stride in this novel (#3 in the series) so we are fully comfortable with the people she is crafting at this point.

We meet Jane for the first time, so Phryne has now built her menagerie (I believe this is it, as per the TV series so it'll be a - lovely! - surprise if someone else comes into the mix). We get a few more sexy bits than normal - they really do tone this down on TV, as to be expected - and we get two overlapping story lines (again, not surprisingly, as this is what Greenwood is wont to do).

Of course, I'll continue on. Why not? They're flip, fun jaunts.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Chiang, Ted (Stories of Your Life and Others)

Slog, slog, slog. Sorry to everyone who thinks Chiang brings a special flavor of science and technology to short-story writing. Unless you like obtuse and overwrought as flavors, give it a miss.

Granted, the one story I read it for - "Story of Your Life" - which is what the movie, Arrival, is based on, was as-expected. Slightly different from the movie, but only slightly. The movie is actually a bit better because of the visuals (and because of whatever linguist they hired to design the language).

It's not that his concepts are not interesting. A story in which you can see directly into hell? Another that disproves mathematics? Or yet another about someone who gets smarter and smarter and smarter because of a drug he's taking? But let's take that latter one as an example of my problem with his writing. First of all, it's Flowers for Algernon with a different ending, so it's been done before in a better way. Second, he tries to craft it so that his writing is getting smarter and smarter, and that's a useless endeavor (because his writing naturally plateaus at a certain point, disproving his efforts). And third, why should I care about super-smart people who end up crazy? Don't we have enough of those already??

I guess I'll watch the movies made out of his books instead.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Harper, Jane (The Dry)

There is something utterly satisfying about reading a novel set in a country you've recently been to and thus recognizing many of its cultural and environmental elements reflected in the writing. Although we were never in the outback, or even close to it, we heard plenty about the country's economic difficulties and certainly plenty about the weather and its effects. So, the setting for this mystery was both familiar and utterly foreign at the same time.

Our protagonist has past history in this town - his hometown, in fact - which deepens the plot's main mystery (the death of a family). He's a flawed character - because of his past, a recent failed romance, and a disenchanted view of his current job - and that let's Harper add different layers to the core mystery. We grow to care about him, his country, and the people he thinks highly of. Harper does this all without sacrificing the novel to an overabundance of description or detail, which showcases some true talent.

I hope that her next book - same protagonist, although not the same setting - is as well-developed and intricate as this one. I added it to my library holds when I wasn't even halfway through this one.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Peters, Ellis (Fallen into the Pit)

I will definitely not be picking up the Brother Cadfael mystery series. Ms. Peters, ie Ms. Pargeter, crafts unbelievable characters, over-explains, and over-describes. However, her novels do all seem very British, so I guess she has that going for her.

I suppose I'm more of a fan of mystery writers like Chandler or novel writers like Steinbeck. They keep it spare by describing what's necessary, and they intensify the mystery as a result. Peters isn't necessarily florid in her writing, but she tells you literally everything her main characters are thinking and feeling. We don't need all that! It makes the reading sloggy (I almost wrote soggy, but that too).

Most particularly, the son of the cop (already forgotten his name) is an unimaginably precocious pre-teen (as is his young girl friend) who happens to be at all the right places at all the right times and yet still can't get his mum and dad to believe what he's seen. It isn't even really that he's precocious, it's that he gnaws on the plot line until it's threadbare and see-through. It's actually rather exhausting for the reader.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Hendricks, Greer (The Wife Between Us)

This book should be placed in the same genre as Girl on the Train. A chicklit novel containing a mystery, not a genre mystery. The difference? You should be able to do more with the former - there is leeway in not being part of a genre. Note the word "should".

I keep picking these up because the world seems to go gaga over them, and I must start being more discerning. Here you will find the usual tricks of the trade (and I do mean tricks): women in peril, handsome but mysterious men, a busted sense of priorities. We can't ever be sure of the ground we're standing on, otherwise the book wouldn't have a mystery at its heart.

The problem is, these books require stellar writing to pull the wool over our eyes. Rarely do they do that. I figured out the switcheroo coming in part 2 halfway through part 1 (to be totally honest, I didn't completely figure it out, but I was damn close). This writing duo is trying to pull off the mystery specifically through wordsmithing. If you don't do that perfectly, you foreshadow everything that's coming at the same time you're trying to obscure it.

Plus, this is just pulp fiction. I don't care how authors try to contemporize this - you can dress it up as if it's not a romance or a thriller, but in the end any book that spends a fair number of its words on what people are wearing, how they look and what they buy is not worth my time unless it includes some showoff writing.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Corey, James S.A. (Persepolis Rising)

This book broke my heart.

First off, The Mr. Coreys, you aged all our protagonists 30 years. THIRTY YEARS. You have 2 more books to write in this series. Meaning, you expect to actually kill them off in the last book? I don't think I'm ready to think about that yet.

Second, you did the thing I was bitching about 3 books ago. You split up our protagonists - again! - so they had to fend for themselves. (And fight a lot while they were at it, which broke my heart some more.) Based on the ending, I believe I know where you're going with this plot twist, but I sure don't have to like it.

Third, you tried so hard to write a believable villain (not the main guy - he's not a villain - the guy who ran Medina Station). Unfortunately I found him a little bit too see-through. You pushed the "loving his family" part too hard so he became a caricature rather than someone we could empathize with.

If it weren't for the fact that you bring out a book a year, I wouldn't have the courage to stick with this story. I adore this writing more than any other sci-fi right now, and I'm sure I'll be heartbroken in a different way when it's all over (what, no more of these novels??). But at least I won't have to fear the next one anymore.