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Rather Be Reading

I'm better at writing than talking, and better at reading than either.

The Maze Runner - James Dashner I almost lemmed this at 25%. I’m glad that I kept reading- not because the book got significantly better, but because I don’t like quitting.

The first 25% is spent introducing the main character (and by extension the reader) to the mysteries of the Glade, the Creators and the Maze. Every other page a new mystery is introduced: how do the walls move? Where do the supplies come from? Why were these kids chosen? Where do the Grievers come from? Where is the sun? How come no one has been there longer than 2 years? What’s in the Greivers’ stingers? What’s in the serum?

All very reasonable questions, but unfortunately, the main character (and by extension the reader) is constantly told to “Stop Asking Stupid Questions, You N00B.” It’s not until the last 25% of the book that any (but definitely not all) of those question get answered.

Thomas, the main character, has amnesia. All the characters have amnesia, but the difference between Thomas and the rest was that the supporting cast were probably pretty interesting in their forgotten lives. Thomas has no personality. He is a bland, forgettable stand-in for the reader (in the same way that Bella Swan was in Twilight). Most interactions between Thomas and other characters (Minho and Chuck, especially come to mind) seemed to consist of Thomas saying something forgettable and then Minho responding with something that’s actually interesting. Like a Make-Your-Own-Adventure novel, or an RPG. Main Character gives neutral prompt, NPC says something important and useful. Repeat for 375 pages.

And, speaking of useless, let’s talk about Teresa. She shows up the day after Thomas (somewhere around 15%) and spends the next half of the novel in a coma. There is one girl in this novel and she spends most of it unconscious in bed. Of course, that doesn’t stop the Gladers from making innuendos about what they’d love to do to her. In case, like me, you found yourself wondering why the author even bothered introducing this character, lo and behold! she wakes from her coma the day before everything goes to shit and delivers the important final piece of the puzzle so that Thomas can save every one. She then spends the rest of the time huddled next to Thomas for protection.

I’m not going to go too much into the ending. I’ll just say this: Do you like M Night Shamalayan movies?

This is the first part of a series. I’ve no interest in reading the next book.
Robopocalypse - Daniel H. Wilson I lemmed the audiobook version of this book.

Long story short: World War Z, but with robots. A soldier doing clean up work following the end of the Robot Wars finds the robot army’s “black box”: a catalogue and collection of individual stories dating back to the beginning days of robot AI.

It could have worked, I really wanted to like this. Unfortunately, the author is stuck on the concept of the first person, present tense style of storytelling. It doesn’t work for a compilation of stories told after the fact. And there were far too many instances of floridly described details placed in the middle of a narrative. For instance, the cashier at the ice cream parlor pauses to contemplate the way the light bounces off the sweaty hair of his co-worker while he is being attacked by a homicidal robot.

I really wanted to like this but the writing style just killed it for me. The voice actor was very good.
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo - Tom Reiss General Alex Dumas is the original black superhero.

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley I've never watched any of the many Frankenstein movies. All I knew of the story was clips of angry peasants holding pitchforks and torches.

I was surprised at how heart-rending this story was.

The story features a trope that's not used often: a flashback within a flashback. It works. At every new chapter, I was constantly aware that the story would circle back to the beginning. Finding out what lead to the initial scenes was part of what made this so interesting.

You probably know the basics: Dr Frankenstein, a brilliant (if ethically unaware) scientist constructs a person and brings it to life. What follows is a frightening hypothesis of what happens when nature and nurture are opposed. What happens when a new life is educated in love and respect, but is treated with hatred and disgust?

Well, Frankenstein's creation begins wrecking vengeance on mankind, that's what. But, rather than being horrified by this murderer, I pitied him. All he wanted was a kind word, a smile directed at him, a friend; what he got was pitchforks and torches.

Conversely, I despised Frankenstein. Self-indulgent, arrogant and careless, quick to accuse his creation of murder (rightly, it turns out), but slow to acknowledge how his own failures lead to the creation's destructive acts.

I don't think I'll ever watch any of the movies. Frankenstein was treated so badly throughout this story, that I'm not inclined to watch more of it.
Seraphina - Rachel Hartman Seraphina Dombegh has just begun her new job as assistant to the court composer when Prince Rufus is murdered, in a suspiciously draconian fashion. Despite four decades of peace between dragons and humans, the Prince’s murder awakens deep-seated distrust and animosity. Unfortunately, Seraphina, the daughter of the court’s expert on the Treaty between Dragons and Humans, is stuck in the middle and forced to use her unusual knowledge of dragons to suss out the killer… before it’s too late.

Seraphina has some truly imaginative metaphors. “Samsamese highlanders had invented the [bagpipe] as a means of threatening each other’s mountain enclaves; it made a sound like a mountain shaking its fist at those bastards across the way.” The rest of the novel is filled with lots of giggle-inducing imagery. Ordinarily, I’d find overuse of metaphor (especially when it doesn’t advance the plot) frustrating, but, here, I was enthralled.

The cast of characters is large. So large that the author kindly provided a list at the back of the book. Each character is deftly described: Fruit Bat, Miss Fusspots, Glisselda, Josef Apsig, even Linn (who’s been dead for 16 years) and the Comonot. From the subconscious expressions they make to the way they talk or walk or shout at each other, each character is believeable and real. They’re actions, words and personalities make sense (even when it’s a total red-herring).

Phina is incredibly easy to like. She’s intelligent, and aware of the importance of intelligence, but not arrogant about it, either. She’s sardonic, but mostly only towards herself, it’s rarely directed at others. She’s reasonably insecure, partly out of need to protect herself, but also because most people are at least a little bit.

The accidental love interest, Prince Kiggs, is intelligent, focussed and the Captain of the Queen’s Guard. Despite that, he seemed to become delightfully awkward around Seraphina. This was a man who clearly kept a stern leash on his emotions, but whenever Phina was around, that guard slipped a little.

It was also really delightful to read a novel where the heroine and hero were actually compatible with each other. In far too many romances, “sparks” or “sexual tension” or “a mysterious connection” bind together two people who otherwise would not fit. Phina and Kiggs had similar senses of humor, interests in philosophy, and feelings on loyalty and truth (although, the latter sometimes put them at odds with each other). When they finally came together, it was, happily, unsurprising. Although not without it’s own problems. Hopefully we’ll get to see more of how they handle their responsibilities in the next two novels

It’s something of a pet peeve of mine when narrator’s explain the inner workings of their religion, culture, history. Seraphina offers glimpses into the backstory of Goreddi, without actually sharing anything in detail. We never really find out who all the saints are, or what they’re aspects are; we never find out how long the dragon/human war lasted before the treaty, or how many other countries participated in it. Will we learn more in the next two books? Maybe, hopefully, but, l kind of like not knowing everything. Ultimately, the plot moved along without it, and who says world-building requires telling the reader every minute detail? I don’t’ know everything about the real world, why should I expect to know it about a fictional one? Besides, Phina’s got more important things to do than infodump every aspect of her culture, she’s got a murder to solve, people!

The plot itself is your basic “whodunit.” Find out who murdered the prince. Unfortunately, that part of the plot got very little attention until the last half of the novel. Still, I enjoyed the wait.
Moon Called - Patricia Briggs Meh. I tend to avoid novels that feature magic chicks who get involved in supernatural politics. But this was on a list of novels with POC main characters, so I gave it a chance.

I was pretty damn disappointed. The main character, Mercy, is one half American Indian, but because her father died before she was born, she has no connection to that part of her heritage. Fine, I can accept that, it's totally beliveable. But, when Mercy mentions that she lives next-door to a Fae reservation , I immediately expected her to draw parallels that seem pretty damn obvious. Nope, not once, not even a little bit. This was a perfect opportunity to make a POC character "real" by giving her the history of her heritage, not just the long straight hair and tanned skin of stereotypes. My disappointment colored my feelings for the rest of the novel.

It wasn't a bad read. I don't feel like I wasted the last 4 days of my life, but I also don't feel like it's been much improved. There are tons of novels featuring magical chicks who get themselves caught up in supernatural politics. This one isn't any different.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass - Frederick Douglass A straight-forward, honest account of the life of a slave. Mr Douglass's writing is at times blunt and brutal, at other times, lyrical and haunting. I'll be thinking about this for a while.

I highly suggest everyone read this.
Topaz - Beverly Jenkins When my sister was looking for a frothy, and-they-all-live-happily-ever-after romance, I gave her some of my Beverly Jenkins novels, but refused to give her Topaz. "You have to read this one, it's great! But get your own copy, cuz this one's mine!"

Kate Love is about to be forced to marry a wealthy, powerful, greatly respected businessman (and dangerous criminal) when Deputy Marshal Dixon Wildhorse crashes the wedding, literally. He's been sent by Kate's father to rescue her from the man she was about to marry. The only catch, is that Kate's father promised Dixon that he could marry her instead.

While the beginning of the story is a little implausible (I hadn't realized just how much until I started typing this), it gets better. There are immediate sparks between Dix and Kate, but this isn't one of those "love at first sight," flash-in-a-pan romances. Dix and Kate get to know each other. They're both adults with their own plan and goals, and they aren't interested in giving up their independence by getting married. Part of what makes Topaz so wonderful is that we get to watch as they learn about each other, develop respect for one another, fall in love and then find a way to fit into each others lives.

There are some humorous moments too. My favorite part:

"Kate, I'm going to have to ask you to leave Merle's door."
"Am I violating some law?"
She stopped. "What do you mean, probably?"
He shrugged. "For sure you're trespassing."
"This is a public walk."
"True, but unless you wanted to be publicly walked to jail, Mrs Wildhorse, I suggest you heed my advice."
"You would arrest me?"
"Then take me away, Marshal, because I am not abandoning my protest willingly."
Dix took her to jail, posted her bond, then escorted her home.
Delaney's Desert Sheikh - Brenda Jackson Uuuuuuggggghhhhhh!

I was delighted to discover a romance where the "desert prince" lusts after a black woman. I waited till Sunday morning, so I could have a free afternoon of vicarious romancing.

Imagine my surprise when in the very first chapter the heroine is described as "sassy." Really? Of all the words to describe a black woman. Sassy? But that was a minor thing. I was willing to forget it, no one's perfect.

But then in the same chapter, the african-american heroine tells the love-interest that he doesn't "look american." WTF does American look like?

She then tells him "You speak our language quite well for a foreigner." Is that supposed to be a compliment? Especially since the English language, by all rights, belongs to... ya know... the English.

Still, relatively minor issues. It would have been ok if the sex scenes had been on point. They weren't.

I understand that Delaney is a virgin and as such is incapable of referring to a penis as a penis or a vagina as a vagina (because virgins are like that.. right? right?) But the wordly Prince Oddly-Sexually-Unaware-For-A-Guy-With-A-Full-Time-Mistress refers to his junk as "the area between his thighs."

Seriously, there are dozens of terms for penis if you're feeling shy. Manhood. Turgid length. Love stick. Just to name a few. But between Delaney and Prince My-Ding-A-Ling, the phrase "area between his/her thighs" was used four times.

There's a lot to dislike about this book. It hits all the "badly written romance" tropes. The virgin who apparently decided to bring multiple sets of see-thru lingerie on what was going to be a solo vacation to a remote cabin. The master of seduction has mastered a form of seduction so powerful that it can make a woman blackout just from kissing! The heroine falls in love with the hero in a single week. Hero intends to use condoms but, whoops! the sex is so powerful that it doesn't occur to him til too late. Hero and heroine are separated by worldly forces, afterwhich heroine discovers that she's pregnant. Hero has a feeling that heroine might be carrying (in most instances where I've seen this, the hero's feeling is the result of loving the heroine sooooo much that it forms an almost psychic connection. In this case, Allah, God of Islam, makes his first and only appearance just to tell Prince Forgot-To-Use-A-Condom that Delaney was preggo. Bravo.)

Also, for some weird reason, the hero kept mentioning Delaney's scent. Her feminine scent. He kept sniffing at her. Literally inhaling her scent. At one point he says "your scent gave you away." It came off as creepy and gross. Stop that. Don't do that anymore.

I'm trying to remember if I rated Shades of Gray one star or two, because this was about as bad as that. Maybe slightly less bad.
Lilith's Brood: Dawn / Adulthood Rites / Imago - Octavia E. Butler It's been a few months since I read this, but I realized I'd not reviewed it and wanted to put in a few words.

I can't express to you how refreshing it was to read an African American female protagonist who didn't speak with urban slang, who wasn't worried about finding a man and, in general, didn't fit the tired stereotypes that a lot of modern authors (both White and Non-White) tend to force Black characters into.

Dawn starts off in an intentionally confusing and intense way. Lilith wakes up in a small room with no way out and no indication of how long she's been there. Periodically she's put to sleep, with the gut feeling that "something" is being done to her while she's out.

Eventually, she's introduced to one of her "captors." (I use quotations, because, well... it's complicated.) They'd like her to represent them and act as their go-between as they "wake up" more of Lilith's fellow humans.

I don't want to go too far into this, because while Lilith's task is basically simple... it's really not and you'll have to read the book to learn more.

I will say that Ms Butler does a fantastic job of expressing not just Lilith's ambiguity towards her task, but also her anger towards the Oankali and the humans. The tension Lilith feels is clearly mirrored by the humans until eventually things fall apart. And, even though I was expecting it (Ms Butler had successfully created a slow burn that built over the course of a couple of chapters), I was still saddened and disappointed by it.

Skip forward a bit to Adulthood Rites, and it starts to become clear just how different the Oankali (and the new constructs) are from humans. Akin tries to find his place (ironically, the exact same problem most kids his age have) being half human, half Oankali on a planet that has been ripped apart by humans and the rebuilt into something strange and new by the Oankali. There's still tension between the humans and Oankali, and, for some reason, the Oankali decide that it's up to Akin to fix it for them.

I honestly don't remember much from this one, other than that I found Akin utterly adorable.

I don't really know how to describe Imago. Jodahs, the first neuter construct, has a hard time of it. There were moments when I just couldn't figure him/her/it out. I wasn't as captured by Jodahs as I was by Lilith and Akin. Imago, I think, was the least fulfilling of the series, but still worth the time.

It should be noted that there are numerous scenes of coerced sex throughout the series. I don't know if it can be classified as rape, but it made me uncomfortable.
Cinder - Marissa Meyer I initially read Cinder because it was on a list of novels with characters of color. And the idea sounded fascinating: Cinderella as a part-cyborg from a futuristic Beijing? Yes, yes, and yes.

Unfortunately, the novel fell short of my expectations.

A) Its not that the Cinderella aspect isn't there (we've got an evil step-sister and -mother, the prince throws a ball for all the women, and Cinder finds a pumpkin colored car), it's just that the Cinderella aspect doesn't fit. The story would be just as good (and possibly, better) if it didn't try so hard to shoehorn Cinderella into the story

B) No effort was made to explain the cyborg technology, or any of the technology. I don't expect a fist-thick dissertation on the history of cyborg mechanics and engineering, but since Cinder is "the best mechanic in New Beijing" and a cyborg, I would've expected her to talk or even think about cyborg mechanics a couple times. And, I'm supposed to belive that over the course of a couple of weeks, she rebuilt a car using obsolete technology, but the only mention of the rebuild was "the car needs a new exhaust system." Maybe there really was a fairy godmother, because the car was broken, then poof! it was fixed.

C) Cinder's not Asian, which kinda sucks, but doesn't really surprise me. Here's why: Cinder reads like the sort of novel someone determined to be "colorblind" would write. There's almost no descriptions of what characters look like, and when they are described it's with vague descriptions of hair and eyes. The story takes place in New Beijing, but no one actually speaks Chinese (other than Kai's use of the honorific mei). There's one reference to eating dumplings, but no other mention of food. No mention of architecture, history, culture, music, anything that would have supported the idea that this novel was taking place specifically in New Beijing rather than anywhere else in the world. I wanted to read a novel that took place in futuristic Beijing. That idea sounds awesome, but that's not what I got.

Despite all that, I enjoyed Cinder. The main character is easy to connect to, the romance between Kai and Cinder was sweet but thankfuly not the central point of the story. There were enough twists and turns to keep me attentive and most of the characters were developed enough that I didn't find myself asking why they exist. And while I doubt that the major plot twist was a surprise to anyone, it didn't detract from the story in any major way.

Bear in mind, this novel ends on a major cliffhanger.
Ready Player One - Ernest Cline A young man addicted to a virtual reality MMORG discovers the first clue in the ultimate Easter Egg scavenger hunt. As a result he becomes ridiculously famous (in game), faces assassination attempts (IRL) and finally talks to the girl of his dreams. RP1 is filled with 80's nostalgia, cult sci-fi trivia and enough arcade game name-dropping to give even the most veteran gamer shell shock.

I had two problems with the novel: a) the aforementioned name-dropping got to a point when it became obnoxious. I mean, really, the main character had an X-wing that he kept in the hangar bay of his transport class Firefly, which he used when he wasn't driving around in his Delorean (also upgraded to include the voice and red bumper lights of KITT). Seriously?

b)RP1 takes place in a dystopia: there's an energy crisis, food shortage and almost universal unemployment. The mass addiction to OASIS (a free-to-access virtual reality) is understandable, but why is it never discussed? Parzival recognized that he was addicted to the game, there's even support groups for OASIS users who never leave their homes (hikikomori). So, why, was the subject of gamer addiction never discussed?

Ultimately, I gave the novel 3 stars. I wouldn't read it again, and I wouldn't suggest it to others. However, RP1 is a YA novel (likely intended for young boys), so a 20 something woman is probably not the intended audience.
Spock's World - Diane Duane Spock's World features a plot that terrified the Trekkie in me: Will Vulcan cede from the Federation?

I'm not going to get too much into the plot (it would be too easy to create spoilers), but I will say that this novel plays with canon a little more than I'd like (AI computers? Really?). The dialogue between Kirk, Spock and Bones is cute (there are lots of "oh you silly humans/Vulcans" moments), but not particularly important.

Ultimately, I think the best part of this novel is not the issue of Vulcan cessation, but the incredibly thoughtful short stories about the evolution of Vulcan civilization: from the first Vulcan word to the birth of Spock. The beautifully crafted stories gave insight into a race that has struggled with its identity throughout it's history.

A must read for fans of Vulcan and ST: The Original Series.
Roots: The Saga of an American Family - Alex Haley Alex Haley described Roots as a “symbolic saga of all African-descent people.” Usually, symbols are two dimensional and lack depth of character. This wasn’t the case with Roots. Each character was brought to life, and given individuality, personality and achingly real flaws. Kunte’s stoic dignity and determination made him one of the most admirable characters I’ve ever read, but it also made his repeated failure to escape that much more heartbreaking.

Because the characters are so well-crafted, Roots is incredibly easy to read—except when it’s not. There are no scenes of wild depravity or caricatures of angry white men ruthlessly attacking victimized blacks. The pain is more subtle, and ultimately more hurtful, than that. Every casual (and not so casual) indignity is amplified by the knowledge that it wasn’t the first, won’t be the last and that the Kinte family can’t complain or fight back without fear of punishment (when Kizzy is raped, her new “massa” is confused by her determination to fight him: “Don’t you know I’m your massa now?” he says, as if it’s his natural right).

Roots is, at times, painful to read, but ultimately worthwhile. I’m putting it on my must re-read list.
The Gods of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs Admittedly, the plot is non-existent and the characters are two dimensional. But, Burroughs will take you on a wild ride. From battle to battle, disaster to disaster, insurmountable odds to insurmountable odds, John Carter is a stalwart, undefeatable, unstoppable force.

It's like watching Saturday morning cartoons: I know the good guy is gonna win, but, damn, I still get worried.

If you're looking for a character in the throes of an existential crisis, or overcomplicated themes regarding man's place in the cosmos, or even female characters who do more than lust after the dude with the biggest sword; this book is not for you.

Gods of Mars is fun.
Containment - Christian Cantrell Intriging plot, but the author would rather talk about everything else.

Page after page after page of tangents, backstory and observations. Every once in a while the author would throw me a bone by including a paragraph that advanced the plot, but by and large this book is about 4 times as long as it needs to be.