You by Caroline Kepnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Smashingly well-written, with the ability to pivot from stereotypically romantic to downright creepy within just a line. I really enjoyed it — but honestly, I couldn’t finish it. It wasn’t the book. It’s the crazy time. It is hard to read anything right now, but especially a book which erodes my faith in humanity and for which I know the major plot points (I was introduced to the book via the TV show on Netflix). I picked up this book to study its form, and for that, it is outstanding. It is delightfully twisted.
But I just don’t have capacity for delightfully twisted right now. I need cozy and sweet. Simple, perhaps fantastical. But I don’t want the world to feel as normal-but-dangerous as Kepnes makes Joe. Yes, I’m breaking up with this book, but it’s not you book, it’s me. It’s the world right now. It’s just not the right time for us to be together. May you have better luck out there in the hands of someone else, someone who can really appreciate you.
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You by Caroline Kepnes
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Review: Old Man’s War
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wonderful modern sci-fi that feels classic — The Things They Carried set in a future where galactic soldiers fight wars with different alien races in every battle. Perhaps the anti-Star Trek: in this book, Earth is stagnated, and while space is widely discovered, every other species is out to get us in an alien-eat-alien world. It’s brutal, and the soldiers have to try to hold tight to their humanity.
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Review: The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater
The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater: Essays on Crafting by Alanna Okun
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I gobbled this book up. I heard an interview with the author and went home and immediately bought it, which I never do, and then the second it came in I put aside my other books and gobbled. It is a book I didn’t know I needed.
It is alternatively poignant and funny, and I felt the author’s feelings right there beneath the page. I love the footnotes.
There are a lot of resources from sciencey folks telling us that crafting is good for mental health, but this is spoken here directly from the crafter. That gives the message a vividness and a relatablity that made me feel not alone.
It’s one of the themes that echos throughout the book: oh, you like this too? How wonderful, let’s be friends! And because I am the most crafty person I know, this book made me ache for a crafting community, or just a person like the author in my own life. But I know I am Not Alone, and that may be enough.
I do have two complaints:
1) the title, taken from one of the essays, makes this seem like a book about boys/love/grief. It is not. It is about crafting and its place in our lives. A better title, poached from inside another essay, would have been Unfinished Objects (UFOs).
2) There is not a single pattern or craft suggestion in it! A missed opportunity, because now that I’m done I want to make a thing and have to go find an idea all my own somewhere else.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I don’t know that I’ve ever boomeranged so intensely about a book. When I started reading, I would have easily given it a 5-star rating. At the end, I wanted to give it a 2. So I’m compromising and giving it a 3.
“Uprooted” is an incredible idea for anyone who likes dark fairy tales—or, you know, the originals. At the beginning, at least, it’s a Eastern European-flavored “Brothers Grimm” (yes, that wonderful/terrible movie!). And it’s rhapsodic! It’s so great! We follow the main character, (who I called “Agnes” in my head because I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce it), a peasant girl without much in her favor, as she is swept up by a stern and mysterious wizard to live for a term of 10 years in his brooding and chilly tower. He is known as “the Dragon,” and the story opens with a clever play on the “dragon abducting virgins” trope. In fact, that’s what I loved about the beginning: it is SO clever, and has such beautiful writing, and is so unexpected in so many ways. Things in the evil Wood were literally downright terrifying in ways you never see in modern fairytales anymore; Novik really knew how to make them scary!
And I was so completely on board—yes, this! Give me more of this! It’s so wonderful!
And then I started to get annoyed. And then really really pissed off.
The following airing of the grievances will be spoilery. Stop now if you’re thinking of reading it and want to be surprised.
It’s not too surprising that Agnes discovers she has magical abilities: she’s the heroine, it happens! But when the story went from “she has magic and it’s really really hard” to “she has magic and also she’s the best in the whole wide world,” I had a problem.
The story takes place over 1 year, and she’s like 16 or 18. She definitively begins the story as a confused young teen girl, all gawky knees and teen confusion and angst. But by the end, she seems… 25? 30? Very knowing and self-confident and instinctively talented at magic. But is there a logical progression between these two points? Hell no. Just 2/3 of the way through the book, Agnes just completely changes personalities. And because she’s the best most magicalist and youngest and suddenly confidentest and whatever, she comes across as a ridiculous Mary Sue character. There’s an early struggle, then other totally unrelated stuff happens, and suddenly she’s the best. Gag me.
Then there’s the forced and utterly unnecessary romance. It feels like someone late in the process said “you know what this book needs? Someone needs to have some sex!” But that is exactly what I found charming about the early part of the book—she had this really interesting (and frankly, rare) teacher-student relationship with the Dragon. It was perfect just as it was, as a deep if perhaps confusing connection. But then they have sex for no good reason…and it is totally inconsequential to the plot. I don’t know why I had to read it! Why did it matter? I don’t care! Plus it is totally creepy that he’s several hundred years old and she is, don’t forget, 16. This weirdness is even mentioned, and Agnes just laughs it off! No, address it! It’s weird! How is it not weird? Give me a reason, make it mean something, don’t just shoehorn a romantic subplot in there because it’s a woman-led story!
Then there’s the whole thing with the royal family. Just everything in that section…I don’t care. You know why? A bunch of characters are introduced and then murdered in very quick succession, and I am never given a chance to understand why they are important. And the Wood was already mysterious and dangerous as it was. Decamping the storyline to another city (and separating the Dragon and Agnes) just felt entirely unnecessary. And I really truly just don’t care what is happening to the royals. That could have been a sequel, but it felt crammed into this novel and for no good reason. It would have been better without it.
And the last thing that annoyed me was purely in the writing: characters seeming to think things to themselves but other characters answering as if they’d been speaking, and characters having multiple names, not always with the new name explained or even introduced in a logical way. The first issue made it seem like characters were reading minds, and that was just weird and unnecessary, and the second issue made it seem like there were a lot more characters than there really were, and then I had to go back and reread to figure stuff out.
I don’t know what to make of this book. I LOVED the first half. It was amazing. I loved the characters, I loved the ideas, I was afraid of the scary things, the writing was beautiful. The end was pretty okay, I guess, even if I disagree with a few nits. But from midway to nearly the end? Throw that right out. Rubbish.
Read at your own risk.
Review: The Shepherd’s Crown
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Shepherd’s Crown is Terry Pratchett’s last book, and it’s a fitting one for that, though I doubt he realized at the time that this was the final chapter. It is part of the Discworld series, though at first it was so, well, normal-ish that I wasn’t sure. It’s also part of the Tiffany Aching storyline, but as I hadn’t actually read any of those, I can’t speak to the quality on that level.
The Shepherd’s Crown follows young witch Tiffany after Discworld foundational character Granny Weatherwax dies, leaving Tiffany to inherit all of the resources and responsibilities (mostly responsibilities) of the leader of the witches. And there is quite a lot to do, because Granny’s passing also weakened the barriers between the elven world and our own, and the elves take it as an opportunity to attack.
It’s a nice story, funny but insightful in the typical Discworld way, but it also feels like a tying together, a wrapping up. Much as Tiffany must learn to grown and find her own place after the loss of Granny Weatherwax, we readers must learn to live in a world where there will be no more Discworld novels. Though I’m confident that the editiorial team behind Pratchett did their best to produce a polished work, I could sense in the story where things started going missing. It’s true that there is a complete narrative arc, a beginning, middle, and end, but it feels a bit sketched out toward the end (though the conclusion seems right on the nose).
That’s the sad part of this book, to me. In addition to knowing the author was racing against time to get it done, we can sense the holes in this book. Holes that will never be filled.
Go back and read the rest of the books, and think fondly.
Review: Cibola Burn
Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This fourth book is different from the rest. Then again, that has been true of all the books in this series so far, but this one might be a little more distinctive. The first, Leviathan Wakes is a murder mystery on a grand scale; Caliban’s War is about grappling with an unknowable alien enemy; Abaddon’s Gate is largely a political intrigue; and then there’s Cibola Burn…which is alternatively a man vs. man and a man vs. nature story. So it’s a little bit different.
Yet again we’re brought along with Captain Holden and his crew as he tries to not screw things up, and we’re again introduced to a new cast of characters to guide us: the well-intentioned but misguided colonist Basia; the clinical and laser-focused scientist Elvi; and the security chief, Havelock, who is most definitely a reflection of our pal Miller from book one.
The writing duo that make up Jame S.A. Corey remain outstanding, as this series knows how to ramp up the problem like none I’ve ever seen. Just when you think you’ve got one disaster big enough to ruin everything, they throw another bomb into the mix. It makes this a harrowing, exciting read, as you try to imagine how anyone could survive that.
My issue with this book is the antagonist. He’s just too mustache-twirling evil, and though he has motivations, I find it hard to believe that anyone would be so staunch in that kind of view. He ends up just being a bigger-than-realistic baddie who I hoped got put out of his misery early on–but of course, he didn’t, and I had to keep suffering through his appearances. Maybe I’m naive to think no one would be like that guy, but I really didn’t want to read about him all the time. I’m seriously disappointed he wasn’t killed by a death-slug (oh yeah, death-slugs are a thing).
The ending feels a little too pat, but then they fix that by adding a short coda from our political hero and war heroes from the prior books. Now we’re talking.
Then again, the character exposition I got for some of the crew of the Rocinante was so fabulous it might have made the whole book worthwhile…
Yet again, this book is a lot of fun and an incredible journey, even if this one wasn’t my favorite.
‘The Martian’ Movie is Awesome
I loved the book The Martian, so I’ve been really looking forward to seeing the movie. The teaser trailers made it look like thy would be identical, like Ridley Scott really put thought and attention into getting every detail right and making it just like the book. Plus, NASA was on board!
So I was pretty psyched, and as anyone who reads the book first knows, that can be dangerous. Will the movie manage to live up to your imagination?
I think The Martian does it. It is awesome. That’s the number one takeaway here; it makes Mars missions seem attainable, exciting, and totally awe-inspiring in the deeply Biblical/act-of-God sense.
I mean, look at this promo shot from the movie!
That’s just…gorgeous. It is like a stunning sunset at the Grand Canyon, except the whole set is the Grand Canyon. And I cried when I saw the Grand Canyon, so I’m really saying something here when I say this is just incredible and moving.
Matt Damon (despite all the jokes about our willingness to send him into space and save his life repeatedly) just owned the part. He’s perfect for it. For so much of the movie, he is alone, but it doesn’t feel heavy or hard to watch, the way Moon intentionally did. Just like the book, Watley is light-hearted but determined, and it’s ultimately a story about hope.
The movie makes Mars look cool, makes Matt Damon look cool, makes science look like the amazing problem-solver that it is, and makes humanity in general look pretty good.
I don’t think it was a perfect film. Other fans of the book might notice some glaring omissions—I don’t want to be too detailed for risk of spoilers, but at least two whole crises are cut out completely—but I think it makes sense that they were cut. There just wasn’t enough time for the level of detail afforded by the book, and the book could admittedly get to be a little bit challenging because, well, it turns out surviving alone on an inhospitable planet is hard. But where the movie truly shines over the book is in the ending: it’s far more epic and satisfying–though I do deeply miss that beautiful final paragraph from the last page of the book.
In all, I think the movie is really great, but is best as a companion piece: those who haven’t read the book are missing out on a far richer, more nuanced, experience. But seeing Mars on the big screen is really, really cool!
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Review: For Us, The Living
For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
As a novel, this book is pretty weak. But as a literary oddity (Heinlein’s never-before-published first work) and as a font of ideas, it’s incredible.
First, why it’s a crummy novel: there’s not much of a story; many of the characters are sketches; there are long stretches without any action; and characters are unrealistically accepting of bizarre things. I mean surely you’d ask some questions if the man you just met claimed he was from 150 years ago?
But if characters did bother with such fundamental questions, we would miss out on Heinlein’s Tour of the Future Wonders. Which is what most of the book feels like–a showcase of an ideal future, minus robot dogs but with large doses of nudity and acceptance of casual sex.
Heinlein had some really interesting, refreshing ideas for science fiction, particularly when you remember the book was written in 1938. In many ways, he was rather clear-sighted. In others, he would be terribly disappointed in our cultural failure to progress. I for one am looking forward to having my own personal helicopter/jet.
Perhaps the funniest thing Is what Heinlein thought we wouldn’t have accomplished by 2086–landing on the moon, a feat Heinlein would see managed a mere 30 years later. (How awesome it must have been for him to watch the moon landing!)
However, if Heinlein were to pop back in, Wayne’s World-style, I think he’d be disturbed by the fetishization of the Kardashian family’s goings-on; he’d be quite disappointed with our economics; and disgruntled by the populaces’ ongoing appreciation for clothing. Ah well.
“For Us, The Living” is a lovely jaunt down what-if road, but only if you’re up for contemplation. Seek compelling storylines elsewhere.
Neuromancer is undoubtedly an original, at what was once the cutting edge of science fiction, breeding a whole new genre known as cyberpunk, from which much of what we now take for granted was invented. I can see why it’s on many “must-read” sci-fi lists.
But I don’t much care for it.
Despite the reviews saying it’s about a hacker and a big conceptual challenge, the challenge I faced for the full first third of the book was just figuring out what the heck was going on. The main character, Case, is a washed-up drug addict and former “cowboy.” Apparently “cowboy” means “hacker,” but it took a lot of reading to really grok that. Case is pulled into a weird “team” of characters to kill an AI, which supposedly can’t be done, for reasons. I never really did figure out what motivated most of the characters to be willingly on this quest or interact with each other. A lot of imagined jargon is thrown at you from the outset, and I found it so foreign I had no context to help. And because Case is so drug-addled–particularly at the beginning–it’s immensely hard to figure out what is even real.
I really was confused when a brand-new character, a “razor girl”–woman with retractable razor blade claws–meets Case and then a scene later has sex with him. I’m all for characters being bonded and all, but they just met! And she tried to kill him! How is that attraction or flirtation? I almost gave up on the book then, but it’s a classic, so I persevered.
I got it, eventually, fell into the flow of the language and found the story, but I had already lost some of the mystique the book had held from being a first. I just didn’t love it.
However, I can absolutely see its value as literature. It is a definite pioneer of the new, of the future of technology. It tries to comprehend what eventually became the Web, and even though it is conceptually very different from today’s user experience, you can trace the gene pool.
The “matrix” looks an awful lot like Tron or Reboot and it’s an immersive alternate reality, perhaps like some movie in 1999 called, oh, I dunno, The Matrix. Dub step music almost certainly hardens at least partially to this book, as does almost any movie where a guy behind a screen can be a hero.
Neuromancer is an important book…but probably not one I’d read again.
Review: The Sweet Spot
The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work by Christine Carter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book was so persuasive, I implemented some of its suggestions even before buying and reading it!
It’s true. I first heard about The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work on the incredibly excellent radio program Think. I only heard the tail end of the discussion, but it was very convincing: that implementing a few routines and intentional habits into your life could make work, life, everything more copacetic.
And that’s how I started doing pushups as soon as I woke up. And then how I bought the book.
Carter does a great job in grouping concepts and providing both detailed research and easy action points. Because of that, I think this is the kind of book you read twice: once to grok it and let it really sink in, and a second time with a pencil and paper as you work out what you’re actually going to try to do.
The things she advocates are both really easy and seem like they’ll be very difficult to implement in real life. Most people already know they should get enough sleep, but allow themselves to stay up late anyway, for example. But even if you take only a little bit away from reading this book, you’ll probably be better for it. I fully intend to go back and complete some of the personal challenges Carter suggests. My favorite was outlining, literally, the top 5 most important things in your life, and only doing things that serve those goals. Oh, and I’m working on halting my habit of checking my cellphone at stop lights while driving, though “embracing boredom to allow for creativity” is proving easier said than done.
Why is this book only 3 stars? Well, it’s true that I liked it (what a 3-star rating on Goodreads means). But it felt a) a little sanctimonious and b) like doing literally all these things would make you a very boring person.
Carter often uses examples from her own life to explain how her concepts could be performed in real life. But these were the absolute low points of the narrative for me: the details of your childrens’ daily breakfasts (a “healthy meal of half an avocado spread on toast!”) just come across as a humblebrag for anyone who knows how much an avocado costs outside of California and how weird it is to eat that every single day. I was further (and possibly unjustifiably) irked when Carter got into her hard-knock story as a single mom…but she still paid for a regular, weekly housekeeper. #firstworldproblems? She gives herself a bedtime of 10 p.m. so that she can wake at 6 to begin her day–I had to wonder, does that ever vary?–and even went so far as so detail her wardrobe (if you have her as a speaker, don’t worry, you’ll know which of the three dresses she’ll be wearing!).
And yet despite the rigidity of her self-imposed habits, Carter never satisfactorily explained what it had gained her (except for the section on her morning workout routines; apparently that has led to some nice benefits). Presumably more creativity–but for what? Potentially more time with her kids, I guess, but they all sound relatively young, with early bedtimes?
Because of that, despite all the positive things I think I can get out of this book, I was a little distant from it and felt myself rebelling. What if I don’t want the same routine forever and always?
Honestly, Carter leaves room for that. She doesn’t necessarily want to make you accept her goals, but does want to teach you how to make your own. I’ll have to try it to see how well it works out.