Log in

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.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou, is my “popular author's first book” choice for the 50 Book Challenge

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The amount of 1 star reviews, and the vitriol, that this book has received from irate parents really disturbs me – even moreso than the 'graphic' content within, and that disturbed me quite a bit. A trigger warning for those who are (as I previously was) unaware of Maya Angelou's full story: this autobiographical, very poetic book does cover her rape at age eight, and, similarly horrid though apparently not deserving of as much outrage, a lifetime's worth of oppression and out-and-out hatred as a Black girl growing up in the segregated South.

This is a book that must be read.

We can cloister ourselves in our privilege and pretend like these things don't happen, but if we really want to 'protect the children!!11!', then we should not leave them in the same ignorance that Maya had as a child. We can't sweep the hatred of man under the rug and pretend bad things don't happen to good people. We can't censor someone's gripping life story because it threatens our sensibilities.

I did have a hard time with the molestation and rape portions. A very hard time. I had to step away from the book for several days before I could face it again. I understand the luxury and privilege that I have in being able to do just that.

I think most of us Americans, as children/teens, learn about segregation and the racial hatred and crimes against Blacks. We learn at a distance, a censored history, the cliff-notes that even our own history texts deem the highlights. Words on the page of an age long ago and far away. Maya Angelou's story is, of course, words on the page – and it is not. Her amazing gift of poetry rings off of every page, even the uncomfortable ones. She breathes life into each sentence, and we experience each and every moment with her. Her skill with words is truly unrivaled. I learned so much more from her book than I did from years of history classes.

The tale is not all dark. There is happiness, love, understanding, and through it all, that thread of resilience that made Angelou great. She and her brother received an excellent education despite attending a school built of white-folk-hand-me-downs. Her brilliance shines through each and every page. It is masterfully written. No, I didn't always like what happened in the story, but it's true and wonderfully told. I have no complaints, except that people were ever (and sometimes still are) treated that way. I'm not judging her experiences in this review, but the books itself and the way she shared those experiences. 5 stars and my continued admiration.
The Handmaid's Tale is my “banned book” choice for the 50 Book Challenge.

Handmaid"s Tale

Somehow, despite many recommendations to me over the years, I still had not read The Handmaid's Tale, so I chose that as my 'banned book' for the 50 Book Challenge. I can see why this book is challenged – and why so many schools want to teach and examine it.

It's hard to like this story, the tale itself, but I'll admit that it's masterfully told. This is the story of Offred (Of-Fred), just one of many women whose total personhood was ripped from her by the Fundamentalist theocracy of Gilead (previously the USA). In a word where birth rates have plummeted while sterility and birth defects have risen, a religious revolt (first blamed on Islamic terrorists, of course) took complete control of families and reproduction. Offred is a Handmaid, fertile women who are given to Commanders for breeding purposes. At first Offred struggles to be suitably pious, and slowly she regains small freedoms that lead to the most dangerous thing of all – hope.

I have few issues with the novel itself. The basic premise seems to strain the disbelief of some, but in an age where our courts are giving more rights to craft stores than to women and our politicians totally misrepresenting rape, I find Atwood's world disturbingly plausible. Yes, it seemed to have happened very fast in the novel, and I'm disturbed by the idea that Gilead sprung even partially from 'feminism taken too far', but for a book written in the 80s, it did a fair job of speculating on certain political, anti-feminist, and racist trends.

Some reviews dislike how the world was gradually revealed, including the use of flashbacks, but I think this was excellently done. As someone who leans heavily towards speculative fiction, I really enjoy a total immersion in worlds that slowly-yet-expertly unfurl rather than a chapter or two of info-dump/backstory right off the bat. As a writer, I know flashbacks can be very tricky. I think both the world-building and flashbacks were perfectly done.

I only have two real issues that keep this from being 5 stars, in my opinion. The story relies a bit too much on curiosity about the world to keep the reader moving forward. There is very little action in the first half of the book. The pacing is just too slow at the outset, and this is not helped one bit by the forced-one-dimensional female characters. For people not invested in the revolution or completely turned off by the heavy religious overtones, there's little remaining to hook anyone until mid-way through the book.

The other issue, for me, is also a very heavy-handedness in the first half of the book. I love Offred's voice and the lean towards stream-of-consciousness, but the writing itself skirts too close to purple prose in the beginning. There is definitely some breathtaking wordsmithing at work, but there's also a bit of wordplay masturbation going on. It just seemed a bit try-hard on the outset, though that problem was mostly just the beginning chapters, and it flowed a lot more easily and with much more subtle brilliancy later on as the story picked up.

I don't want to give too much away about the story itself. Offred is a bit more passive than I would have liked, but her story is a gripping one. Both stories, her story now and 'from before'. I would definitely recommend this as a 'must read'. We want to think these kinds of things can't happen in today's world, but they have and do – there are women like Offred still alive today in the Middle East, forced to cover themselves from head-to-toe, allowed outdoors only with an escort, and yet who can still remember days when they were allowed to go to school, wear makeup, hold jobs, have command of their own bodies and lives. There are still women today in all nations who are caught in that boiling pot without realizing it. Women whose daughters might one day be the 'lucky ones' because they don't have the spectre of lost freedoms to yearn for. It's a theme worth exploring mindfully, and Atwood is an author who did so beautifully.
The Count of Monte Cristo was supposed to be my 'book more than a hundred years old' choice for the 50 Book Challenge, but I've decided instead to count this as the 'book with more than 500 pgs' – because if I'm going to have any chance of finishing this challenge this year, I'm going to need to start picking much shorter books.

Count of Monte Cristo

Let me first say that I truly did enjoy this book. But with the disclaimer, once again, that the classics aren't really my thing, I must admit that I'm not squeeing nearly so hard over it as the majority seems to be. I'm not yet sure how I want to rate it, and writing this review will help me solidify my position, but I'm leaning towards a middle-of-the-road 3 or 3.5 stars. I liked it, but it had some serious weaknesses, although a few of the reviews I've read have made me appreciate certain parts even more.

First and foremost, yes, the book is just way too long. I get that it was serialized and Dumas was paid for wordcount. It could definitely benefit from serious revision. The beginning was especially slow, in my opinion. Had there not been such a vaulted reputation as The Best Revenge Book Ever – No, Seriously, EVER, I would not have stuck with it. Getting into the book was a chore, and it didn't hit for me until a couple hundred pages in. That's a huge issue for me. I want to be hooked right away, but hooked on the story itself, not simply a reputation. The Count would appreciate that, I think.

I did valiantly, if slowly, stick with it, and I'm glad I did. The story begins to take off when Edmond is imprisoned and meets Abbé Faria, who helps Edmond discover the conspiracy against him and then teaches him everything one possibly needs to know to pass as a learned gentleman of any nation. They spent many years together in the space of a couple chapters, and if anything needed a bit more padding, it was there. I guess it was purposefully vague so that the Count could later know everything about everything and everyone.

We also skip over a decade of Edmond's travels, plotting, networking, and slowly setting himself up as The Coolest, Richest Cat Ever while he bides is time, waiting to bring about the fall of his enemies. While it probably would have made a fun and adventurous tale, it's easily summed up by the theme 'Money Actually Can Buy You Everything'. Edmond's treasure is seemingly infinite, and though he's been throwing diamonds, millions, and hashish around since his daring escape, I suppose it helps that he knows everything about banking, the bankers, investing, trends, gambling, and all the latest technology. All right, that stretched my suspension of disbelief a bit, but who among us hasn't imagined how we'd be able to do everything if only we were rich? We all want to see the wronged guy make good.

I did enjoy learning about nineteenth century high-society Paris. I first felt that the dialogue was too “stuffy” for my tastes, but it grew on me. It's hard to address the eight- or nine-hundred pages devoted to the revenge plots without giving away too many spoilers. We all know the basic plot, but the following of the subplots is part of the joy. I do think it could have been pared down quite a bit, but they're all juggled so masterfully that I never grew bored with them. There's a lot of telling/info-dumping and repetition, but much of that is likely due to both the time period and the need to refresh readers' memories in a serial publication.

With the exception of Edmond, Albert, Nortier, and Eugenie, I felt that most of the characters were too one-dimensional. The women, especially, were rarely distinguishable from each other and made a lot of poor choices simply because the plot required them to. The villains were also flat, offering no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I guess that keeps the readers rooting for their demise, but I would have liked to see a bit more depth than simply Bad Guy #1, Bad Guy #2, etc.

I'm still not sure how the ending sits with me. It's somewhat satisfying, but not as much as I'd hoped. Overall, I enjoyed most of the read and will possibly read it a second time at some point to see what I missed the first time, but I'm just not eager to slog through it again and not as impressed as I'd expected to be. But I'm glad to have read it, and I picked up a few things that will help me as a writer as well.


My middle daughter hit the big 10 yesterday. Please let me tell you a little about Ivy Grace!

10 Ivy

Ivy, for having the shortest name, probably has the most nicknames. She's been Owie ever since that's how Eden first said her name when little, and also Owzers, Owie-Kapowie, Ives, and Ivis. Of course, they're all my bumpkins, ladybugs, and sweet potatoes.

I'm really proud of Ivy. She is, hands down, the best with Maya – and has been since I was pregnant with her. Ivy used to talk and sing to my belly, and the baby would move to whatever side she was on, stretching as if trying to get to her. That's never really stopped. Maya and Eden don't get along at all, so Ivy is usually the one to take her to jump on the trampoline or swim in the pool. When Josh is at work, Ivy has to rock her to sleep. I know she gets tired of occupying Maya all the time when I have to do other stuff, but she's so good with her and always plays with her with good spirits (instead of being a grump to make Maya want to come back inside, for instance).

Ivy's always reminded me more of my younger sister when she was a kid, but people keep telling me that she looks like me. I also think that Maya looks just like young-Ivy with Eden & Josh's coloring, and she makes most of Ivy's expressions. Ivy is SO expressive, and she's always hamming it up and goofing around. She's just a happy, easy-going kid.

Both Eden and Ivy were late readers & writers, but Ivy struggled with it the most. She had lots of trouble with dyslexia, so even when she was eager to read and lose herself in amazing stories, she struggled at first-reader level. Writing was hard for her too, but she told the most amazing stories and had an absolutely perfect memory for things read or said aloud. This past year or two, though, she's finally mastered reading and jumped straight into huge chapter books like Harry Potter – and most recently adult books like Stephen King. She zooms through books just as easily as me or Eden now, and she won second place in her group for the summer reading program this year. It was close, too (like 3 books), so I know she would have won if she hadn't been busy with summer camp for the duration of the program. Eden wins for her group just about every year since she started reading, so this is a big deal for Ivy, who will finally also get her name in the local newspaper.

Ivy's current fandom is Five Nights at Freddy's, which is some video/computer game where possessed Showbiz Pizza-esque animatronics try to kill you over the course of five nights working the nightshift at this pizza joint. Interesting stuff, to be sure, when you're not hearing about it sixteen hours a day. But I'm glad they're passionate fangirls, and when Ivy wanted a 5 Nights-themed birthday, I (with Eden's help on the drawings) did a rewrite of their song to fit in clues for her annual birthday treasure hunt. Josh always does the cake, and he did Foxy on it. And my dad always buys all of the girls presents at each birthday, and Eden got a facepaint kit and did them up as characters from the game. She had a good one, even though the big joint-part will be on Maya's birthday in two weeks.

Ivy finally has her own best friend, Alyssa, whom she met at camp this year. They talk on the phone all the time now. We're going to her birthday party today (also, interestingly enough, a joint party with her younger sister). Ivy says they homeschool, so I'm really excited to meet her family. Maybe we can start doing fieldtrips together. I'm glad Ivy finally has a buddy.

I really love my girl.

Ivy 10

12/50: Kushiel's Avatar, by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's Avatar closes out the Kushiel's Legacy trilogy, making it my “trilogy” choice for the 50 Book Challenge.

Kushiel"s Avatar

It's hard to review this whole book without giving major spoilers, but I will try. It will definitely spoil Kushiel's Dart and Kushiel's Chosen, so don't read this review until you've read those books.

Mildly-spoilery reviewCollapse )

11/50: Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's Chosen, by Jacqueline Carey, is my 'A book with magic' choice for the 50 Book Challenge. There's not really blatant fantasy-magic, but, as with Dart, there's enough gods' ichor, curses, and supernatural creatures/presences that it totally counts.

Kushiel"s Chosen

Ah, Kushiel's Chosen! While I technically enjoyed it a bit less than Dart, I'm still giving it 4 stars because the overwrought prose is vastly improved (still florid, in keeping with Phèdre's voice, but not nearly as bad). I also really enjoyed seeing more of Carey's world – and am always extremely impressed with her research of other cultures and their religions/myths to incorporate them believably into her novels. My review will NOT spoil Chosen, but there's really no way to review this book without spoiling major aspects of Dart, so don't read this until you've read that one.

But if you have, read on!Collapse )

10/50: Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's Dart, by Jacqueline Carey, is my 'A book that made you cry' novel for the 50 Book Challenge. I didn't actually cry this particular time, but I did tear up.

Kushiel"s Dart

Disclaimer: Kushiel's Dart is my very favorite book! This review will indeed wax poetic about its awesomeness, but I'll also give realistic feedback, as it's certainly not for everyone.

First, if you don't like reading about sex, but especially BDSM sex or sex as a spiritual/religious experience, then this is not the book for you. So if you're not down with a main character who is a masochistic god-touched courtesan-turned-spy who services men and women alike, pass it on by. But sex is not the main story here; it only adds spice to an otherwise sweeping epic fantasy plot. And this book is definitely well plotted!

The main drawback/weakness to the novel is that it does tend toward florid language. I personally would not go so far as to call it 'purple prose', but I know some who do. I think the language is absolutely perfect for the main character and contributes to a whole lot of wonderful world-building. Other books set in Terre d'Ange, with other main characters, are not so flowery as Phèdre's, and, in truth, I think the other two books in this trilogy are less so than Dart. In the first book, Phèdre is very much still a youthful, privileged 'Night-Blooming Flower', and her language reflects that. That's probably the biggest issue, which is only exacerbated, in my eyes, by the constant misuse of loathe/loath. Be flowery if you want, but, Blessed Elua, do it right! (I do think this issue is fixed by the second trilogy...)

There are a few other spots where the editor could have been a bit more on point. A few places where the King's granddaughter is referred to as King's daughter, a comma splice or two, that kind of thing. I actually didn't notice them until subsequent read-throughs because I was so caught up in the story, though.

My absolute favorite, from either a reader's or writer's standpoint, is and will always be world-building, and the depth and talent of Dart's world-building blew me away the first time and every time. The first page alone does so much, and it only gets better as the book progresses. This is set in an alternate-Earth, focusing mainly on Terre d'Ange – an alternate medieval France where the inhabitants are descended from angels. There is so much amazing world-building, both obvious and subtle, but Carey also deftly handles many other alternate-cultures, and you can see that she's done her research and honors each one rather than merely paying lip-service. They way they are all woven together is seamless and beautiful.

The characterizations are also well done. Phèdre could have very easily skirted Mary Sue territory, and yet she does not. All D'Angelines are gifted, and Phèdre more so than most, but she still has her faults and freely admits/deals with them even in first person narrative. The supporting characters are all just as intriguing, maybe even more so when we don't get nearly as much time with them. The list of characters is quite extensive, but those who matter easily stand out, and even those who don't are individual enough that it never seems like 'cardboard cut-out filler folk', except for perhaps the closely-linked Shahrizai (though we learn more of them individually in other books).

There is one over-arching plot that is extremely well-done, as well as many other side plots that keep us entertained and ever propelling forward in the story. The first time I read it, I zoomed through it, devouring it in my eagerness to find out what happens. In subsequent readings, I savored it much more and was able to appreciate the hints, foreshadowing, and tiny bits added earlier that play to the climax of this book or plots of those later in the series. The book is long, but each chapter and scene serves its purpose, and it's always entertaining. It's the first of a trilogy, but while it does set the stage for the second novel, it's still a fully complete and fulfilling read on its own.

Terre d'Ange has long been my favorite world, and those in Phèdre's trilogy have long been my favorite characters. But Kushiel's Dart is my favorite out of any of them. It's got everything an epic fantasy AND a kinky fiction book needs, and for a book that relies quite a bit on masochism and subservience, it's extremely sex-positive. TW: Rape makes an appearance as well, but it also does well with making the distinction between consent and non-consent. I don't want to say more without giving spoilers, but I will say that I think it was handled well. I still find the book to be extremely sex-positive and, blessedly, not reliant on heteronormativity.

It's not all sex and love. Intrigue, politics, betrayal, hand-to-hand combat, magic, war... Kushiel's Dart has it all, and it is fantastic.
Patience (a BDSM novelette): Part 1 of The Training Series is my choice for 'book by an author you've never read before' in the 50 Book Challenge.

Patience_The Training 1

Disclaimer: I do not personally know the author, but I received a free review copy through a facebook offer in exchange for an honest review.

I am both a fan of erotica and a longtime kinkster myself, so I'm always glad to jump on free copies of new bdsm books. This was a review copy, so I'm not sure if the layout is quite the same in the published version, but I did have some difficulty reading the ebook text. I was unable to set the size larger and instead had to manually zoom in on each page. Some of the phrases seemed to be bolded at whim. It's annoying enough to mention, though I hope it's not the same when reading a kindle version vs. a pdf file.

For what it is, I enjoyed Patience all right. I usually like my erotica, even the bdsm stuff, to have a healthy dose of plot alongside it, which this one really doesn't. It makes no apologies about being straight-up sex and domination. The plot is that Dayna's boyfriend/weekend 'Master' is out of town for several weeks, so he arranges for her to have training sessions with a temp Master in his absence. I've been hard up enough in the kink department lately that I didn't particularly mind a jump-right-to-the-gritty sex story. It's a very short novelette at only 22 pages, and if anything, I wanted much more. Abrupt into the sex, abrupt ending it. The actual story and characterization could have been fleshed out a lot more, and would really have to be to make it worth the current 2.99 price of the ebook, to be perfectly honest. Otherwise, it's fairly basic but fairly well-written bdsm porn.

This is book one, so perhaps it gets grittier as time goes on. Dayna is apparently a newbie to the bdsm world, but a fair amount of fetishes were covered for a beginning book. Domination, blindfolds, sex with strangers, humiliation (including misogynistic terms, which aren't really my thing and turned me off quite a bit, but I get that lots of people dig that), orgasm denial, restraints, anal training/sex, oral. I was very happy to see that safer sex practices were included, although I personally would have liked to see more of that discussed & negotiated before the bare oral scenes. Safewords were introduced and even used properly, which was very refreshing to see.

The writing is strong, but it didn't really blow me away. There were none of the typos or grammar issues that you often find in self-published bdsm erotica, which I was very glad to see. The author is obviously familiar with the lifestyle, unlike some other 'kinky' writers. Some parts were very hot indeed, and some I surely would have found hotter if those were my things (humiliation, anal). It still turned me on despite skirting my limits, so kudos to the author there. But the aspect of an unknown man 'borrowing' her for the time being seemed like the kinkiest part, to me. Otherwise, it was kind of bdsm-lite, though I would be interested in following Dayna's training as she gets into deeper levels of pain and submission. I wish we had seen more of that in the book. I know it's supposed to whet the appetite, but I'm left rather unfulfilled myself. Intrigued and turned on, just wishing it was a bit more one way or the other.

8/50: Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen

I read Pride and Prejudice (← free ebook) for the 'classic romance' entry in the 50 Book Challenge.


I'll admit that I came to this as a complete Austen virgin. I've not read any of her books or even watched the movies. I'm not really a fan of romance or any of the 'classics' I've tried to read. It's just not really my thing. I honestly don't get the thousands of gushing 5 star reviews that I see, but I did enjoy the book much more than I expected to. I got into the story and finished it in one day. It wasn't as much of a hard read as I had feared.

While I'm not much on the over-arching plot of “First and foremost, we must make prosperous matches for the girls!”, it was interesting to get a glimpse into a culture so fixated on such things. At first I actually found it quite dull, following around a wealthy 'wisteria' family who does no work beyond social climbing and who measures everyone who comes to town based on how much more income they similarly get for doing nothing. It's good to be born into money, but better to be born (or wed) into LOTS of money. Gotcha. Life revolves around balls and how many times various girls get picked to dance. I'll admit that I feared 300-odd pages of Rich White People Problems, which was definitely delivered, but the characterization was so fun and skillful that I enjoyed following along for the day.

The various young men and women were not all cookie-cutter, and Austen did an admirable job of making them all fairly well-rounded with believable weaknesses. The secondary characters stood out for their worst qualities and inability to even care about rectifying them, while the main characters shone because they were willing to have some introspection, admit their faults, apologize for them, and make real changes. I ended up liking Elizabeth and Darcy more than I expected to, and the Gardiners, while also love-hating Mrs. Bennet, Lady Catherine, and Mr. Collins. My favorite character, however, was Mr. Bennet. His lines had me laughing aloud several times.

While I'm not a huge fan of the “let me round-about explain what all happened in this particular passage, although I will do so as the narrator and not actually show you any of the action or dialogue that it entailed, just, you know, tell you what all is intended right here” approach, I can begrudgingly appreciate it for what it was and being of a different time. I'm really back-and-forth on this one, to be honest, like riding a pendulum between 'Meh' and 'Wow'. For me, the novel alternates between wordy clumsiness and striking, impressive wordsmithing. The characters are what drew me in and captured my attention, but there were several lines that stood out as absolutely brilliant. But the propensity toward info-dump, the pacing &/or repetition in several places, and the absolute 100% predictability throughout the entire thing ultimately leave me waffling between 2 and 3 stars.

I'll give it 3 stars just for the enduring love it inspires, but ultimately I'm left feeling most like Mary – just kinda, “Yeah, all right, you all do your thing while I sit back here with a pile of books more interesting than you guys.”


WonderSaga: Torus
Ahavah Ehyeh

Latest Month

September 2015


RSS Atom
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Paulina Bozek