Category Archives: Reviews

Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1)The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If the video game universe of Mass Effect were populated by Fraggles, you’d get this book. It’s a charming, sweet, lovely little soft-sci-fi escape, and you should read it.

Author Becky Chambers most succeeded at creating a ship full of characters who are unique species, each with little foibles but who all generally get along. Reading the book is like you just popped on the ship and they offered you a fizz drink, so you sit a spell with them and just hang out.

But that’s also my frustration here. The plot is haphazard and there isn’t a single thread of narration or a theme that runs all the way through. There are episodes, like you’re tuning in to an alien spaceship version of Big Brother except everyone is trying their damnedest to get alone instead of creating unnecessary trash drama. But it made the ending flat—you’re just turning off the show, no series finale, or, at least, not one that feels like an actual ending.

I’m torn, because this book really was just a charming respite from reality and I did so love the characters, but I feel like it could have had just a touch more plot and been a better overall experience for it.

That said, I will still be looking for the next one.

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Review: Smoke and Iron

Smoke and Iron (The Great Library, #4)Smoke and Iron by Rachel Caine

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Events have spiraled out from a small group of friends to encompass the whole world in danger, as the Great Library starts to fall and threatens to take everything else along with it. Jess and his companions must tread carefully and choose their allies wisely as they seek to topple the Archivist.

The book retains the fun and verve of the whole series. I particularly liked the beginning, which deftly wove together different styles of leadership and courage in the multi-faceted approach to the story, each lead character having a crucial role. But I felt the book was rushed at the end, and scenes that should have been momentous were held to a page or less, which really dampened the impact. I can’t say much without spoilers, but let’s just say something huge appearing in the sky unexpectedly should be more than an aside. So I was disappointed in the end, in that I wanted more of the story as a whole.

But I love this world. It’s rich and vibrant and layered and realistic. This book, Khalila really shines. She is the best and most noble character and I love the quiet calm leadership she offers. I think she’s a great role model and it’s awesome to see those qualities —over punching and swordfighting—winning the day.
I just wanted MORE.

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Review: Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence

Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of AmbivalenceBaby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence by Rebecca Walker
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

What a disappointment. I picked this book up because of the subtitle—it sounded like a book about feminism and choice and weighty decisions. But it wasn’t, and I’ll be honest, I hate-read this book to the end only because I found Rebecca a huge pain in the butt and I was looking forward to her comeuppance. (Don’t worry, there isn’t one.)

It’s written like a journal of her pregnancy, which, fine, but she could have kept that personal. I liked the short topical essays in between much more, and the essays didn’t default assume I already knew a great deal about the author, her mother, and her family. Maybe that is what soured me: I don’t know the author from Eve, and she never put anything in context, so it was like a conversation with a stranger who just can’t take the hint and leave you alone to finish your latte in peace.

Also, the author wasn’t ambivalent in the slightest. She “had wanted a baby for 10 years,” but honestly just hadn’t gotten around to it. That’s how I got tricked into reading her self-absorbed, privileged, New Age-y journal entries.
That was sort of the best thing, actually: because this book was published in 2007, I spent the whole book imagining how badly Rebecca was going to handle the impending recession. This woman casually mentions that her mom has four houses—bet she doesn’t anymore. Or that she spends multiple days in the hospital; no mention of the ridiculous cost. No, this is a woman who can flounce around not working when she doesn’t feel like it, splitting time between New York and LA and, according to the book jacket, lives in Hawaii. Bet things weren’t as sunny for her by 2010.

If you’re looking for ambivalence or deep thoughts, look elsewhere. If you want to daydream about how Carrie from Sex & The City would whine to her journal during the economic crisis, read on!

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Review: Circe

CirceCirce by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m a big time Greek mythology fan, to the point I seriously considered adding a second major (Classics) in college. I’ve been fascinated by Greek mythology, and all its webs and dramas, since somewhere around second grade. But it’s rare to see something new in a genre defined by how old it is–a major called “Classic” is practically off-limits to modern writers.
But Madeline Miller is braver than most. Her first book, The Song of Achilles, was masterful, re-spinning and recontextualizing The Iliad with so much more depth and nuance. Circe is something totally different, but Miller brings the same depth and love to it.
Circe, for those who have forgotten their dusty mythologies, is the witch who shows up in the Odyssey, romances Odysseus, and turns his men into pigs. And that’s about all there is to it. Witchy, but like a sexy witch (as she is often shown in the movie versions of the tale).
In Madeline Miller’s hands, a different story emerges. Admittedly, sometimes it is slow to bloom, but that’s just it: this story isn’t “woven” (as so many “women’s tales” of Greek mythology are); it is planted, and harvested, sucked dry of the essentials and then added to a pinch of magic to transform into something new, scary, and wonderful.
Circe’s story begins with her baby godhood, which is where the story flounders. After all, how can you talk about the first years of an eternal creature? It takes awhile to get anywhere, but be patient. Soon you’ll start seeing other great characters from myth, and they take on new colors and attitudes. It’s like a watercolor that you are gently watching bloom and become vivid as the paint moves across it. Give it time to develop and unwind.
And if you aren’t as fresh on your Greek mythology references, there is a very handy concise guide in the back!

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Review: The Last Adventure of Constance Verity

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity (Constance Verity #1)The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s obvious now; we need a new genre: lovable snark. The premier books in this genre would be Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a selection of Terry Pratchett books including Going Postal!, and The Last Adventures of Constance Verity.

Connie Verity was blessed/cursed at a young age with a life of adventure. But saving the universe and near-constant adventure has lost its fun, and Connie wants out, even if it means going on yet another adventure.

Connie is endearing, and the endless lists of her past adventures are charming. But the part that makes Last Adventures sing is Connie’s relationship with her best friend/sometime-sidekick Tia, an utterly unremarkable normal person and the most important figure in Connie’s life.

The book is layered and layered in snark and levity (my favorite line? “The walls were lined with objects that cost a small fortune, except for the ones that cost a large fortune.”), but don’t let that distract you from its deeper themes: what is destiny? What is the role of free will? What’s the point of it all?

The purpose of this book, it seems, for me, at least, was a much-needed release valve from real life. Ahh, sweet, ordinary life.

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Review: The Escape Artist

The Escape ArtistThe Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m a big fan of Meltzer’s in general, but his presidential-themed novels are unique because of the way they balance neat historical facts with action-packed adventure. So when I heard he was coming out with a new, similar-but-different story, I bought The Escape Artist the first week.
The book is about Zig, a mortician with the tragic but important job of putting the military dead to rest, who–because of fate and Plot Bunnies–stumbles upon a deadly conspiracy that reunites him with Nola, a girl with a similarly tragic and horrible backstory who reminds Zig of his dead daughter. The book, while ostensibly a mystery-thriller, is mostly about grief and death, and how people handle it differently.
And…it’s just ok.
Death shows up in so many forms in this book that you could write a college essay on it without even trying too hard. It’s everywhere. And while that’s a good theme, the poignancy of the (many) tragedies doesn’t balance well against the actiony drama, in my opinion. I just struggled to like it and to get through it.
It retains a dash of that historical information that I like so much about his other books, but it is way less important to the story and therefore feels just like random tidbits that are tossed in because Meltzer thought they were cool (and often, they are!). The mortician’s work is very interesting, but the nature of an adventure is he can’t spend much time doing his regular job. Without spoiling anything, I can say the plot falls into a trope that I find really frustrating in mysteries, where things end just a little too pat and tidy to be believable, and that takes away from the excitement of the story. I also didn’t like the incredible brevity of the chapters, which were often maybe just three pages long. It was hard to get invested in the characters, as we flipped back and forth among them, when we had so little time with each initially.
Don’t let this discourage you; Meltzer is a fine writer and his ideas here were fresh and interesting. They just didn’t add up to much for me–maybe I saw the rabbit up the magician’s sleeve.

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Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot, #10)Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s interesting to read a mystery written in a different era—the “rules” of a mystery are so different now. The differences range from little things (no editor would allow Poirot to ponder that he’d like to speak to someone and then have the person appear in the next sentence without a transition) to big things, like I’m fairly sure no modern mysteries are written as a straightforward conversation with one person after another.

And yet, Christie is the champion of murder mysteries for good reason. While I struggled sometimes with the old-style format, she definitely kept me guessing, and I definitely did not see the ending coming! I had most of the same information as the hero Poirot, and yet he maintains his reputation as a sleuth with an incredible mind.

This was the first Poirot Christie mystery I’ve read, and it was a grand adventure, if a bit stuffy.

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