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Santa Olivia is my choice for “A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet” in the 50 Book Challenge.

Santa Olivia

I both liked and did not like this book. Honestly, I just don't understand why I didn't like it more. I'm a huge wax-poetic-about-Jacqueline-Carey fan, it had the kind of out-there premise that I love writing myself – and it worked. It had damn near everything I love: badass female Latina LGBT protagonist (more please!), dystopia, super powers, wolf hybrids, vigilante justice, viva la résistance, sex, cursing clergy... Okay, I'll admit that the many “fucks” coming from everyone's mouths right off the bat did, surprisingly, turn me off a bit. 'Surprisingly' because I'm usually all about the fucks. I don't know, I guess it seemed a bit overload in an attempt to say, “Hey, this is going to be a dark & dirty journey”...but then it wasn't exceptionally dark and dirty. Gay sex, subversion, sacrilege, and yet somehow much blander than expected.

I believe that part of this is due to the somewhat lackluster MC. Genetically-altered Loup, born of an escaped super soldier-type, grows up without knowing her father and has only vague hints about her true heritage. She just knows that she's different. She literally does not experience fear (or any of its sister emotions), which is handled well in a unique way regarding her upbringing. Carey does a great job of showing this, but it really leaves us with a completely unimpassioned main character. I know this was purposeful, because Carey writes beautifully complex characters and she does a great job of showing us the passion that Loup (and her father) incite in others, but I really would have loved to see some form of true passion, or a less one-dimensional character, in Loup. She fights injustice, she plots a childhood-long revenge scheme, she gets 'swept' up in a one-true-love-mate trope, and yet she really just kind of gets swept along in her own story. A typical scene goes like this:

-Any random supporting character- “Loup, you mustn't put yourself in danger like that!/Must be more circumspect!/You'll be the death us all!/We'll be friends forever no matter what!/You can totally DO THE THING!/I love you so, so, so, so much!/I need you, baby, right here & right now!”

-Loup- “Okay.”

Now, don't get me wrong, there were parts that I thoroughly enjoyed. The story had a good flow and satisfying ending, but at the same time, I would set it down for days – even a week – at a time and simply forget about it. It didn't grip me and leave me up reading nonstop, for days if I have to, to find out what happens, like most of Carey's books do. I got a notice from the library that it was due in a couple days and returned to it to realize that I was 2 pages away from the end and had simply forgotten all about the book. It was a decent story, I really liked the boxing angle, and I'll probably read the sequel because I like supporting Carey and want to see how she finishes this one up. But when it comes down to it, I just didn't really feel any passion at all with this one despite having so many aspects that I usually love. Unfortunately, that makes my meh-response all the more noticeable and disappointing.
The Martian Chronicles is my choice for “A book you own but haven't read yet” in the 50 Book Challenge.

The Martian Chronicles

I have the 1970 edition, which I think is important to note since different editions were often edited to include different stories. I'm iffy on how I feel about this one, to be perfectly honest. I'm actually surprised by all of the 5 star reviews. I waffle between 2-3, but hopefully writing this out will help me solidify my position. I love Bradbury (though I do have more experience with his short stories than novels, and this is, as he said, a book of shorts masquerading as a novel), but I found this one to be a disappointment overall.

There are definite signs of his writerly, sci-fi prowess, but not as much as I would have hoped. I particularly liked 'Ylla', one of the opening stories, which masterfully described a truly alien landscape. It was probably the strongest story, imo. The rest of the beginning was, for me at least, a bit distracting with some serious adverb abuse, and it just seemed a little too try-hard until he found his footing and started to flow better. His description is strong throughout, though.

I do like the over-arching (and true to life) theme of humans always seeking to conquer and attempting to mold a unique land into their familiar vision. The book is full of some good social commentary regarding the 50s, when it was written. That surely counts for some of the undying love.

But there were just too many weaknesses for my tastes. I was surprised by the lack of imagination for a spec fic novel, let alone one that's supposed to be in everyone's top-whatever lists. It was The 50s in a mildly futuristic setting. Maybe that was the point of some of the social commentary, but I kind of expected a sci-fi master to stretch technology a bit more than what was done here. Earthling colonists were still listening to their phonograph records, using typewriters, and filling their gas tanks – on Mars – for $1.50. Usually sci-fi tries to postulate some newer technological advances, especially if they're set in the future and working with inter-planetary travel. The rockets (and Martian setting) were the only things remotely sci-fi.

Worse, for me, were the attitudes. This book is chock full of misogyny. Not just that all of the astronauts, scientists, and, with the exception of Ylla, main characters were men. Even Martian 'men' put their women in their places. Female characters were flat and unrealized ('Oh! If there's anywhere I could find a woman on this planet, I should check the beauty parlors! Silly biddies with their mud masks and coifs.'). The racism in 'Way in the Middle of the Air' at the half-way mark was truly unsettling and insulting. I get that it was supposed to be (as part of that social commentary and all), but it was hard to read. And I just rolled my eyes and tried not to vomit as the racist MC wondered why all those [insert one of several slurs] were so eager to head to Mars when they're gaining rights every day, and, why, some cities even have anti-lynching laws now! Not cool. Even if it's 'ironic', that's pretty bad. That character was supposed to be unsympathetic, so mission accomplished, but I nearly put the book down.

Overall, I liked the descriptions and theme/social commentary – especially with much of it applicable today – but I really just expected more from Bradbury. 2.5 stars, I guess. Not the masterpiece I expected.

Mini-challenge: Mid-Event Survey

1. What are you reading right now?

Still working on The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury.

2. How many books have you read so far?

Mid-way through book #1. I really thought I'd be further along by now. :/

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

Santa Olivia, by Jacqueline Carey

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

Yes. The internet revelry this morning was my own fault, but the hubby is sick and the kids in good spirits but distracted. I'm trying to balance giving everyone the time & attention they need and nicely telling them to STFU and leave me alone.

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

All the awesome new friends I've made!


Hour 6 Mini-Challenge: Top Ten List

Another Readathon mini-challenge, brought to us via Book Reviews From a Christian Gal.

Here are my Top 10 reasons why I love Dewey's Readathon:

10. Lots of activity & new friends to be found on Twitter.

9. I have an excuse to shut myself away & revel in books all day.

8. Snacks & booze drinks! It's a day for quick-meals that totally doesn't count against any diet. Truly.

7. Lots of mini-challenges that help you meet people & offer a chance to win prizes.

6. Convenient – October doesn't work for you? There's one in April, too!

5. Can't commit to reading that much? You can sign up to be a host or cheerleader.

4. Offers a chance to get on your librarian's good side. (We're book lovers – is there a one of us who doesn't have outstanding fines?)

3. Much like NaNoWriMo, the camaraderie and enthusiasm is both encouraging and loads of fun. You can make lots of new friends and find great blogs/twitter/goodreads to follow.

2. Sets a good example for the kids.



For Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon:

Describe how a book (or books) have made you fall in love with them.

It's no secret that my absolute favorite books are those in Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series (pictured: first trilogy).

Kushiel"s Dart Kushiel"s Chosen Kushiel"s Avatar

These books literally have everything I love in a book:

- Strong female characters who save themselves &/or others
- Excellent world-building
- Fantastic stories
- Well-rounded and fully realized characters (including love interests and nemeses)
- A perfect mix of reality/spirituality/magic
- Kinky sex
- An author who interacts with her fans, shares & encourages fanworks, cosplay, and fanfic/RPGs.

What's not to love? Terre d'Ange is my favorite world by far. I can – and do! – read these books again and again, never getting bored and always finding something new to appreciate.

Read-a-thon Introduction

I'm so excited to be doing Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon again! Here's my intro survey.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

The Grateful Stead in Missouri, USA.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

It's hard to pick just one! I'm working through my 50 Book Challenge, so I'm reading all new books instead of known favorites. Either Santa Olivia, by Jacqueline Carey (book from an author you love that you haven't read yet) or The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury (book you own but haven't read yet), which I've somehow never read despite being a huge sci-fi fan.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Chips and salsa (+ tequila shots), my ultimate weakness.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

Here's my little nutshell: Unschooling, attachment parenting, homesteading mom of three girls. I'm also a birth doula, Reiki Master, speculative fiction (and sometimes poetry & bdsm erotica) writer, budding survivalist, and 2015 NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison. I'm also Ahavah on twitter, goodreads, and NaNo, if anyone wants to be buddies.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I participated a few years ago, but my kids were too young to give me a whole lot of uninterrupted reading time. This time they're hopefully old enough to amuse each other without going feral. I'd planned to have a fridge full of leftovers, but since those have apparently all been eaten up, that plan's a bust. Luckily my oldest two are big enough to cook now. Delegation is key!


18/50 – The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar is my choice for “A book written by someone under 30” in the 50 Book Challenge.

The Bell Jar

I waffled between 4 and 5 stars on this one. The imagery and wordsmithing is impressive, but it's not necessarily the most entertaining read. Still, I have to go with 5 stars simply because – and I speak from experience – I know how difficult it is to truly capture one's descent into madness. Plath succeeded.

I actually hesitated to read this due to the comparisons to The Catcher in the Rye, which I absolutely loathed, but this is nothing like it, imo. Okay, the MCs are both young and disillusioned, but that's the only similarity that I really see. This book is definitely more entertaining than Catcher, the story more gripping, and Esther is a much more sympathetic character. I wish I hadn't held off on reading this for so long. My younger self really could have benefited from this novel.

I only really have two issues with it: first, it at times seems a bit aimless, but then again, that is often how mental illness feels. The writing is compelling enough to make up for what at times appears to be a wandering plot/story arc. So that's not a huge issue for me.

I was uncomfortable with some of the racial insensitivity/possible racist undertones. I realize that this is a product of a time when such things were more common, and I have the privilege of looking back on it from a more mindful position. Still, I can force myself to overlook terms like “Negro” and “yellow Chinaman”, given that Plath wrote this is the late 50s or early 60s...but when she does include PoC in the novel, they come across as one-dimensional stereotypes. They don't have a big enough part to flesh out in great depth, but it's still something that bothered me and was uncomfortable to read.

But for the most part, this is a wonderful book that really captures a mindset that is hard to put into words. It was expertly done with a poet's voice, and I was left impressed far more often than not. There were a great many passages and phrases that really resonated with me. Plath's voice is candid and sincere. Overall, I loved it.

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon

Today I am participating in Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon. I'm really excited about this! I've done this once before, but the kids were younger and needed more of my attention. I hope to get a bit more reading accomplished this time and catch up on my 50 Book Challenge.

I will still be doing book reviews (cross-posted to my Goodreads), but they'll probably be a bit rushed/short today. I hope you still enjoy them.


17/50 – Jupiter, by Ben Bova

Jupiter, by Ben Bova is my choice for “A book chosen based entirely on its cover” in the 50 Book Challenge. I chose this novel because of the torus space station on the cover, as my current WIP is set on a giant torus spaceship.


This is my first novel by Ben Bova, although I'm sure I've read some writing books or anthologies edited by him. Still, it's my first exploration of his own fiction, and while I can certainly appreciate his skill with hard science (a leaning which I am admittedly not overly familiar with), I'm not sure how I feel, exactly, about this book. I hope that writing this review will help me solidify my opinion. I'm leaning towards a 3 or maybe 4 – good, but not great.

This milieu has a very interesting premise – the religious right has gained much sway over politics, pretty much world-wide. Scientific exploration is still funded, mainly because enough of the populace insists upon it, but the New Morality (US version) and its ilk fear and suppress any discoveries related to extraterrestrial life. Discovering life on other planets (supposedly) threatens other people's belief in God (and, no doubt, the New Morality's stranglehold on power).

Now, I grew up Christian, but that neither discourages my love of science (and sci-fi) nor does it insult me to have such a future postulated. Sadly, we see fanaticism at work in politics every day, and I don't think the premise of a New Morality/Holy Disciples/Sword of Islam is as 'out there' or as caricatured as some reviewers do. A lot of speculative fiction takes a premise or theme about science vs. faith/religion, and I kind of like the juxtaposition of having them embraced side-by-side. The main character, Grant, is both a believer and a scientist.

However, the characters are, sadly, the weakest part of the novel. I have to agree with many reviewers about their flatness/one-dimension. Grant is the only one who really shows any growth, and much of that is simply because he's our POV character so we can see his thoughts and internal struggles. The others are pretty cookie-cutter, and the women in particular are treated with an attitude that is more reminiscent of old school sci-fi's Boy's Club than any contemporary, let alone future (hopefully), treatment of women. Well...given recent “#DistractinglySexy” incidents, I suppose that's just wishful thinking on my part. Still, it left a distinct distaste in my mouth. If it was supposed to be some commentary on religiosity bleeding over, which is the only angle I can think of that would have made it a tolerable exploration, then it still failed pretty miserably.

That said, I thought that the main plot and the science behind it was pretty awesome. I love what he did with the planet Jupiter, and his descriptions of the environment and its first explorers were excellent. As were his descriptions from a Jovian's point of view! That was an interesting and very smart choice. If only his human characters had been as well thought as the Leviathan. The Leviathan none-too-subtly mirrored Jupiter's version of Grant Archer, but it was well done. Its chapters were probably my favorites.

There's something of a disconnect between the premise and the execution, though. The Gold space station is supposed to be an old, somewhat discarded one. It's repeatedly described as shabby or worn. It's apparently a common purgatory for grad students and a jail cell for intelligent, well-trained criminals. I can suspend disbelief enough to say, yeah, maybe the director would get away with secret missions under minimal oversight, but when you're stressing the fraying carpet and banged up furniture, then how can he keep funding things like building a high-pressurized shuttle/submarine capable of withstanding Jovian weather, developing a special fluid for its crew to breathe in, black market nano machines to fix all the crew he keeps breaking, super-duper smartscreen walls in every room on the ship to broadcast any part of the Universe or any of its planets, smuggling dolphins/habitats/enough food for the space-menagerie, secret brain implants and experiments on & with a talking gorilla – and, to be clear, I'm always pro-talking gorilla, but still... It's fun, but when the planet and its inhabitants are thought out with meticulous attention to detail, things like that stand out and, imo, make little sense.

So, hm, I guess I do give this a middle-of-the-road 3 stars. The idea is neat, the science is awesome (at least to this softer-science person), and it had some really good parts, but it also has some significant flaws. It's not my favorite sci-fi book by any means, but I did enjoy reading it.

16/50 - Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, is my “book a friend recommended” for the 50 Book Challenge

Ready Player One

I was actually a bit skeptical about this book, which was described to me as being full of awesome 80s nostalgia. I was fairly young in the 80s, and I honestly didn't particularly care for them the first time around. But this book blew me away! I was sucked right in, and it sang to my geeky little heart. It's particularly impressive for a first novel.

It's true, as some reviews lament, that there are some instances of info-dump. Most of these were shared with us as the main character, Wade, explaining some lore about the great James Halliday, maker of the OASIS virtual reality world – a world in which people live more often than the 'real' one. The world-building could have been a bit smoother without info-dump, but it actually wasn't all that bad, and was probably helpful for non-geeks who are unfamiliar with the various geekdom references.

There were a lot of those references, especially with regards to video games, that I didn't get, myself, but it was either explained or didn't hamper the flow in any way. And there were tons of references that I did get and loved. It may seem like Cline was dropping in references to any fandom he could, connecting with a fervent pre-made fanbase, but they all managed to work in the story. I learned a lot of esoteric (well, to me) gamer lore that I'd never known before. I squeed and nodded appreciatively when my own fandoms made appearances.

The characters were believable and individual, working as realized characters rather than stereotypes. The pacing was good and always kept me moving forward – and staying up late to read more. While a lot of it was a bit predictable (at least from a writer standpoint), there were several twists that surprised and impressed me. There were a couple of instances that could arguably skirt too close to deus ex machina, but they actually fit pretty well with the 'wise mentor' literary device of the hero's journey. And, honestly, a bit of help here and there is a bit more believable than a teenaged MC conquering every single thing on his own.

All in all, a fabulous book that I had to really look for weaknesses to mention in my review. It kept my attention the whole time, had a great voice, awesome storylines, fun virtual worlds (and I'm usually not a fan, honestly). I just really, really enjoyed it.


WonderSaga: Torus
Ahavah Ehyeh

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