redheadedfemme: (books. cats. life is sweet.)

I read 39 books last year. (I actually read more than that, but I didn't get the reviews written in time.) Here are the highlights.

Best Nonfiction: Dinosaurs Without Bones: Dinosaur Lives Revealed By Their Trace Fossils, by Anthony J. Martin. Whodathunkit? A science book with a sense of humor? Martin takes this obscure and complex subject (I'd never heard of "trace fossils"--footprints, claw marks, eggs, nests, and burrows, to name a few--before I picked this book up) and makes it clear, understandable, and fun. This book had me laughing out loud throughout.

Worst Nonfiction: Out of the Vinyl Deeps, by Ellen Willis. This book is the polar opposite of Martin's, as its droning seriousness absolutely weighs it down. Sorry, Bob Dylan is already pretentious enough without Willis' painstaking (and painful) analysis adding to it.

Best Fantasy: Libriomancer, by Jim C. Hines. I'm not particularly into high or epic fantasy, not when gems like this are available. This is a booknerd's dream come true--the magicial ability to reach into your favorite books and pull stuff out (mostly weapons, but occasionally people). Also a nice contrast to the usual heteronormality, with the polyamorous relationship the hero embarks on at the end.

Worst Fantasy: Splintered, A.G. Howard. This is one of three books I could not finish last year; at least I got all of them from the library, so I didn't lose any money. A lot of people on Goodreads seemed to like this, but I couldn't get into it at all. When you hit the halfway point of a book and realize you don't give a crap how these characters will solve their problems, it's best to move on to something else.

Best Urban Fantasy: Skin Game, Jim Butcher. Fifteen books in and Harry Dresden is rolling right along, better than ever. This entire series is a master class in plotting.

Best Young Adult: These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. The tightest category by far, as I read a number of good (and not so good) YA novels last year. While trying to decide on a winner, I finally asked myself: "Which young-adult book have you thought about the most since you read it?" This one. This book is just wonderful: it's a science-fiction thriller, planetary mystery, sweet and realistic romance, young-adult coming of age, and an alien contact story all rolled into one.

Worst Young Adult (tie): Restoring Harmony, by Joelle Anthony; and Stung, by Bethany Wiggins. These are both absolute stinkers; the first I didn't finish, and the second, unfortunately, I did. The first suffers from cutesy, too-wholesome-to-be-real characters (seriously, we're deep in "Little House" territory, which did not mesh with the rest of the book at all) and a completely unrealistic plot; and the second suffers from an even stupider plot and a dumb, unlikable heroine. Avoid these two books at all costs.

Best Science Fiction: Blindsight, Peter Watts. This is the best SF book I have read in years. It's a stunning gut-punch of ideas, extrapolation, and characterization, all wrapped in a unique first-contact story that reads like a combination of the Alien Queen/Cthulhu Mythos, with a chewy side meditation on the nature of consciousness and self-awareness. Also: Non-sparkly, hard-science vampires! Needless to say, this is not light reading, but it's absolutely worth it.

Best Horror: Maplecroft, Cherie Priest. This is the only book I read last year which would qualify as "horror," but it's a doozy. Another take on Lovecraftian monsters, blended with the legend of Lizzie Borden. This sounds like an unlikely combination, to say the least, but it's creepy and spooky and wonderfully done.

Most Disappointing Book: The Trap, Andrew Fukuka. The first two books in this trilogy are highly recommended, and the good points of those books are still here: the breathless pacing, the slam-bang action scenes, and some interesting character work. Unfortunately, it's all undone by one SHOCKING PLOT TWIST too many, unraveling what I felt was a perfectly satisfying explanation in the second book. And the ending is just...awful.

Book of the Year: Blindsight. Seriously, do not miss it.

Worst Book(s) of the Year: See Worst Young Adult. Bah.

I've challenged myself to read 40 books again this year. If I'm a little more prompt with my reviews, I should make it.
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redheadedfemme: (Books. Cats. Life is sweet.)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yes, it's Peter Watts time again. I said I intended to read all of his books; this is the second, and I've begun
Starfish. But this review is difficult to write, as hard as Echopraxia was to read. I still don't know what to make of it, I think. At the very least, it will need another slow, close reading to sort it all out. Hopefully, after a while, Watts will make it available as a free download, as he did Blindsight.

(This is rather a novel way to build one's audience, however--write dense, twisty books that practically mandate a purchase, because the reader has to make more than one pass to truly understand them. If s/he ever does. Right now, I have my doubts...)

First impression: This is not so much a direct sequel to Blindsight as it is a parallel one, and a rather meta sequel at that. Siri Keeton, the protagonist/narrator of Blindsight, figures in this book as a distant minor character, as his "story" (actually the previous novel) is gradually retrieved from the communicative transmatter stream by his father. (This leads to a quirky, amusing brain-fart in a couple of places--Watts quoting from his own book, and from a plot perspective, legitimately doing so!) Siri's father, Jim Moore, is in this book, but he's not the protagonist. Daniel Bruks, a "baseline" (non-brain-augmented) field biologist, is.

Echopraxia is as stuffed with hard sf ideas as Blindsight: transhumans, hive minds, free will, determinism, religion, digital physics, God-as-virus, zombies (and the previous iteration of genetically resurrected vampires also plays a prominent role in this book), a "time-sharing cognitive slime mold" named Portia, an artificial tornado/power source called a "vortex engine", pattern recognition, and last but definitely not least, a jaw-dropping ending that left me pounding the wall--but, paradoxically, looking forward to the final book in the series, whenever Watts decides to write it.

(Also: the "notes and references" section at the back of the book is indispensable. I enjoyed it almost as much as the book itself.)

This isn't the stunning gut-punch Blindsight was. It's also not a bad book, even though I only gave it three stars. I liked it, but I liked it a shade less only because it doesn't seem so tightly focused as its predecessor. The plot is more meandering, and lacked a clear destination, at least to me. I couldn't root for Daniel Bruks like I did Siri Keeton; Bruks is just along for the ride and is very much not in charge of his own destiny. (Except right at the end, which upped my sympathy for the poor bugger quite a bit.) Of course, this could also be due to my own deficiencies as a reader, especially when it comes to the depths of physics and neurobiology Watts is plumbing here. For instance, I thought "echopraxia" was such a cool-sounding word, but I had no idea what it meant, so I looked it up. It's the "imitation or repetition of the body movements of another person, sometimes practiced by schizophrenic patients." Never say you're not edumacating me, Peter! ;)

Don't get me wrong--I think Peter Watts is one of the best science-fiction writers I've ever read, and his work is definitely worth your time. You also can't really read this book without having first read Blindsight, and Echopraxia may feel like a letdown as a result. But these books are NOT light, easy reads, and a reader has to approach them with that mindset. Peter Watts is worth the effort, however. How many authors can you say that about?

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redheadedfemme: (books. cats. life is sweet.)
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This isn't an easy review to write, because this book has so much potential. The writing is lovely, the premise is intriguing, the protagonist is likable and exhibits admirable character growth...and the whole thing just falls flat.
 
The good, the bad and the unbelievable )
 
Our protagonist is Rio Conwy, a teenage girl with a secret: she is a siren. Yes, an honest-to-God Greek-myth siren who can control people (and objects, we later discover) with her voice. Rio and her twin sister, Bay, are sixteen and facing the choice given to every person in Atlantia: whether to stay Below or go Above. Rio has always dreamed of going Above and has intended to do so all her life, but six months before the story opens, the girls' mother, Oceana, the Minister of Atlantia, was killed. After this, Bay made Rio promise to stay Below. So Rio, denying what she has always wanted for the sake of her sister, does so...and Bay pulls an about-faced betrayal by announcing her irrevocable choice to go Above. 
 
The rest of the story revolves around Rio's quest to discover why Bay did that, and how it ties in to the death of their mother and eventually the future of Atlantia and their entire society. 
 
The relationship between Rio and Bay, and their aunt Maire (also a siren) and mother Oceana is the best thing about the book. The theme of the book is the love between sisters, and Ally Condie explores this in deceptively simple, lovely prose. All four women are real, believable characters, and the book comes full circle to end with Rio and Bay, as it should. (There is a romance, but it's appropriately kept on the back burner.) I'd give this aspect of the book four stars.
 
Unfortunately, there's the rest of it, in particular the worldbuilding. Which is to say, very little, and what there is doesn't make much sense. We don't even know if this planet is Earth (although their gods are familiar-sounding animals, and blue-winged bats live in Atlantia), or if this takes place in the future or past. One could make a case for this taking place several hundred years in the future, when the full catastrophic scenario of climate change has come to pass: the sea level has risen, the land masses are devastated, and humanity has retreated either to the deep ocean or to the moon and/or Mars (Rio's boyfriend True makes a reference to another civilization that Divided about the same time theirs did, only part of this civilization went into the sky). But you'd think, with the technological sophistication shown by humanity's ability to build freaking undersea cities, they would also have records of this. They don't seem to, and nobody seems to care, which was very frustrating for me as a reader. 
 
The bigger problem, for me, is the entire concept of the sirens. This gives the story a very mythic quality, which was obviously the author's intention. However, this entire thing is an ill-fitting square peg in a round hole, because there is almost no explanation as to how the hell sirens can even work. Sure, I'll grant that after a few generations of underwater living, genetic mutations will begin cropping up. I'll even stretch my suspension of disbelief really far and give the idea of someone's voice somehow influencing brain chemistry and/or waves and making people do as you say a pass. But when a siren starts "storing" voices in walls and seashells like invisible disembodied tape recorders, or a siren's voice can cause coins to float when they should by all the laws of physics sink, or that same voice can cause little mechanical fish to move in ways they otherwise wouldn't...sorry. Nope nope nope. 
 
And since the main character is a siren, you see the insurmountable problem.

It's frustrating, because as I read on through, I kept feeling that this book should have been torn apart and rebuilt from the ground up. Only the characters and the relationships, and the beautiful prose, kept me going to the end. This book is supposedly a stand-alone, fortunately. If it had a sequel, I would avoid it like the plague. 
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redheadedfemme: (one more chapter)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the best, and also one of the most difficult, science fiction books I have ever read.

Enough ideas to fill a library )

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redheadedfemme: (books. cats. life is sweet.)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If Jim Butcher were ever to offer a writing class or release a how-to book, I would sign up and/or buy in a heartbeat. This is the fifteenth book in the Dresden Files series (out of a rumored twenty-seven), and not only is the series not sputtering out, it's stronger than ever. This entire series is absolutely a master class in plotting, as often seemingly throwaway aspects and/or characters of the earlier books are brought back into play, and there are real consequences for everything Harry does, consequences that have to be dealt with.
 
The pivotal book in the series, so far, is no. 12, Changes. In this book, Harry's entire world is turned upside down, and the series takes off in a drastic new direction (although the full ramifications of this don't begin to show until the book before this one, Cold Days). This book is, to me, meatier than its predecessor; for one thing, some of the more...icky...aspects of Harry's turn as the Winter Knight are now under control, and for another, he finally begins to wise up re: Karrin Murphy! In fact, this book's plot, dealing as it does with a very long con game Harry sets up and executes to perfection, shows how much the character has changed--he is now far more prone to thinking before he acts. This is a Good Thing.
 
But the biggest delight of this book, for me, is a scene that rivals what was up till now my favorite sequence in the entire series: the scene in Dresden Files #9, Dead Beat, when Harry rides Sue the zombie T-Rex into battle. I never thought there would be scene to match that one. Now, there is, and it involves milquetoast mortician Waldo Butters, the broken Sword of Faith, and an absolutely perfect capper: "Mister, where I come from, there is no try."
 
It's just wonderful, and so is this book. I can't wait to see what Harry does next.
 
redheadedfemme: (books. cats. life is sweet.)
 My rating: 1 of 5 stars
 
I read some other Goodreads reviews of this book before I started on mine, and it seems there are only two camps regarding this story: you either really like it or you absolutely hate it.
 
I don't quite fall into the "absolutely hate it" faction; my feeling about this book is that it's mediocre at best, and that's only if you don't think about it too much. Once you do, the severe flaws in worldbuilding, plot and characterization become blindingly apparent.
 
The most glaring flaw, for me, is the worldbuilding and backstory. There is a lot of handwaving regarding the science (such as it is); I'm sure even a halfway competent beekeeper could take this story apart without much effort. To wit, as much as I understand it--which probably isn't very well at all, as the backstory of this book does not make sense--bees were in danger of going extinct, so there was genetic manipulation, which resulted in the genetically enhanced bees killing the old bees off, and the gengineered bees' sting spread the bee flu (and with that, the severe suspension of disbelief already required to this point absolutely snaps), and the vaccine created for the flu sent some people into comas and turned others into drooling, Incredible-Hulk style monsters. (Really. I kept waiting for the author to describe the lovely green shade of said monsters' skin.) Oh, yeah, this scenario causes mass starvation and the breakdown of society (which is actually the most believable part of the entire book), and the bee flu apparently kills SEVEN TIMES more females than males, as the ratio of f/m is now 1 to 7.
 
Seriously, Ms. Wiggins? I'm sorry, but that's ridiculous. It also serves as a gateway to some of the more nasty parts of the book, namely that the surviving women are reduced to sexual objects and breeders, and the men are all turned into sex-starved rapists. (And apparently there are also no gay men and women left in the world.)
 
There are considerably more problems with the plot and characters (mainly because Fiona Tarsis, the protagonist, veers perilously close to Too Stupid To Live territory), but I don't feel like going on, to tell you the truth. This book is a mess, and it's not even an interesting mess. Some people might like it; there are a number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads, which I don't understand at all. To me, it reads more like a trunk novel, and the author should have left it there.
 
(Yes, I did change my rating from 2 stars to 1. I thought about the book too much, I guess.)
 
redheadedfemme: (headbanging writer)
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I hate to give up on a book, but man, at page 130 I had all of this one I could take.

It's sad, because the last two science books I read were so good. When I saw this at the library, I thought the title was rather clever, and its premise--"The Bible Interpreted Through Modern Science"--sounded interesting.

Unfortunately, it wasn't. It committed the Three Cardinal Sins of a Bad Science Book in my opinion--Dull, Bloated and Boring. The chapters I did finish meandered from here to there, making little sense, and the author seemed to forget his audience would most likely consist of laypeople (or should, if he wants his book to sell). His prose was turgid and unclear, and suffered mightily from Toxic Seriousness Syndrome. (Steve Jones and Ellen Willis are two peas in a pod.)

If anyone says, "Well, you didn't give this book a chance," well, yes, I did. If you can't make your book interesting in the first 130 pages, you're never going to.

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redheadedfemme: (Default)
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I hate to give up on a book, but man, at page 130 I had all of this one I could take.

It's sad, because the last two science books I read were so good. When I saw this at the library, I thought the title was rather clever, and its premise--"The Bible Interpreted Through Modern Science"--sounded interesting.

Unfortunately, it wasn't. It committed the Three Cardinal Sins of a Bad Science Book in my opinion--Dull, Bloated and Boring. The chapters I did finish meandered from here to there, making little sense, and the author seemed to forget his audience would most likely consist of laypeople (or should, if he wants his book to sell). His prose was turgid and unclear, and suffered mightily from Toxic Seriousness Syndrome. (Steve Jones and Ellen Willis are two peas in a pod.)

If anyone says, "Well, you didn't give this book a chance," well, yes, I did. If you can't make your book interesting in the first 130 pages, you're never going to.

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redheadedfemme: (books. cats. life is sweet.)
 My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By far, my favorite POV is first person. I like being able to go into a character's head and see the story from the inside out. Not that a tight third-person can't do the same thing, but my preference is first. I like watching a character grow, and hear his/her voice voice distinct in my head, until, if it's done right, I can recognize that character from a few paragraphs, whether or not I know said paragraphs are from a specific book. 
 
Where first-person becomes a challenge is when there is more than one viewpoint character. The author must create a distinctive voice, rhythm and cadence for each character. I've read first-person POVs where the characters are so similar that if you as a reader weren't paying attention to the chapter headings, you wouldn't know which character is speaking. (One such book I read had the male protagonist's chapters in a cutesy gold font. Since the male lead sounded identical to the female, this soon became an irritating distraction.) The solution to this as a writer is to really break down and get to know your characters, so when your brain slips into that writing flow, each one springs forth from your fingers with a distinct voice that cannot be mistaken for the other person.
 
These Broken Stars accomplishes this feat in spades. The two main characters, Lilac and Tarver, are fully-fleshed and immediately recognizable from the get-go. Besides making for two wonderful protagonists, this is necessary due to the fact that these characters are front and center throughout four-fifths of the book, with no supporting cast. Just these two stubborn, flawed kids, starting out as poor-little-rich-girl/unexpected-war-hero antagonists, thrown into a terrible situation, overcoming impossible obstacles, bickering, struggling, learning about each other, falling in love, and, in Lilac's case, dying and being brought back to life. 
 
This probably sounds like a teetotal mess. It isn't. It's one of the best books I've read this year. It's a science-fiction thriller, planetary mystery, sweet and realistic romance, young-adult coming of age, alien contact story that's unique and wonderful. I had a couple of minor plot quibbles, but nothing big enough to distract me from a great story and characters. I checked this out from the library, but rest assured I will buy it as well. That's the highest compliment I can give a book, that even after I've read it I still want a copy to keep around.

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redheadedfemme: (red headed femme)
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Occasionally, a reader comes across a book s/he just doesn't click with. The reader may think the subject matter is right up her alley, and there's nothing all that wrong with the book, but it simply doesn't push the reader's buttons.

For me, Mila 2.0 is that book.

When I first checked it out from the library, I thought I would like it. It's right in the wheelhouse of the things I've been reading all year: a young-adult science fiction novel, described as "one part teen love story and two parts super-spy thriller." To distill a rather convoluted plot to its essence, a teenage girl slowly discovers that she's neither teenage or a girl at all; she's an artificial intelligence, a biomechanical android with implanted memories who was busted out of the lab where she was created by her "mother," the lead research scientist. Mila and her mother then go on the run, both from the sadistic lab boss who wants her back and another shadowy group who wants her for her abilities.

Just going by that description, the book sounds pretty exciting, don't you think? Yet I couldn't connect with it at all. I had to think about this for a while to come up with a reason why--and the reason why turns out to be Mila herself.

(That and a few logic fails surrounding the concept of an android who thinks she's human. Does she sweat, urinate, defecate, and menstruate? She certainly eats, drinks and feels hungry, or thinks she does. In one memorable scene, she has tubing and a "polymer hydrogel" under her skin instead of muscle tissue and blood, sort of a Terminator-lite; which, come to think of it, would apply to her character as well.)

To put it bluntly, Mila (in either her guise as a human girl or as an android) is an overemotional, angsty, whining mess. I can't figure out how that could be so without a working endrocine system and neurotransmitters in her reverse-engineered nanocomputer brain, and the explanation given for this simply isn't satisfying.

Unfortunately, said mess is necessary for the plot.

It's necessary because it sets her apart from the first of her kind, Mila 1.0, who had too many pain receptors and was eventually tortured to death, and Mila Three, who really is a Terminator lite and might even give Ah-nuld a run for his money. Because she's more angsty, no matter how annoying it is, she's more "human." She's learning and making her own decisions, and has obviously crossed the barrier into sentience, but you would expect any sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence to do that. The AI doesn't have to be a whiner to boot.

Mila began to grate on me very quickly, which is why I won't be reading the second book. However, for someone else, given this story, her characterization would be perfect. For me, it simply doesn't work.

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redheadedfemme: (Default)
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Occasionally, a reader comes across a book s/he just doesn't click with. The reader may think the subject matter is right up her alley, and there's nothing all that wrong with the book, but it simply doesn't push the reader's buttons.
 
For me, Mila 2.0 is that book.
 
When I first checked it out from the library, I thought I would like it. It's right in the wheelhouse of the things I've been reading all year: a young-adult science fiction novel, described as "one part teen love story and two parts super-spy thriller." To distill a rather convoluted plot to its essence, a teenage girl slowly discovers that she's neither teenage or a girl at all; she's an artificial intelligence, a biomechanical android with implanted memories who was busted out of the lab where she was created by her "mother," the lead research scientist. Mila and her mother then go on the run, both from the sadistic lab boss who wants her back and another shadowy group who wants her for her abilities.
 
Just going by that description, the book sounds pretty exciting, don't you think? Yet I couldn't connect with it at all. I had to think about this for a while to come up with a reason why--and the reason why turns out to be Mila herself. 
 
(That and a few logic fails surrounding the concept of an android who thinks she's human. Does she sweat, urinate, defecate, and menstruate? She certainly eats, drinks and feels hungry, or thinks she does. In one memorable scene, she has tubing and a "polymer hydrogel" under her skin instead of muscle tissue and blood, sort of a Terminator-lite; which, come to think of it, would apply to her character as well.)
 
To put it bluntly, Mila (in either her guise as a human girl or as an android) is an overemotional, angsty, whining mess. I can't figure out how that could be so without a working endrocine system and neurotransmitters in her reverse-engineered nanocomputer brain, and the explanation given for this simply isn't satisfying. 
 
Unfortunately, said mess is necessary for the plot
 
It's necessary because it sets her apart from the first of her kind, Mila 1.0, who had too many pain receptors and was eventually tortured to death, and Mila Three, who really is a Terminator lite and might even give Ah-nuld a run for his money. Because she's more angsty, no matter how annoying it is, she's more "human." She's learning and making her own decisions, and has obviously crossed the barrier into sentience, but you would expect any sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence to do that. The AI doesn't have to be a whiner to boot. 
 
Mila began to grate on me very quickly, which is why I won't be reading the second book. However, for someone else, given this story, her characterization would be perfect. For me, it simply doesn't work. 

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redheadedfemme: (mutating bug)
 My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Full disclosure: I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. First time that's ever happened.)
 
I've been following Cherie Priest's Livejournal for quite some time, and have read a lot about her, but this is the first book of hers I've ever read. My goodness, what an introduction. 
 
The back cover of this ARC categorizes it as "fantasy," and I suppose that's partly true, but to me it's old-school horror. Slow and measured, with a steadily escalating tension and creepiness, until the last fourth of the book when everything suddenly explodes. There's monsters wailing in the deep, mutated something-or-others scuttling around front yards, a madman who has metamorphosed into something inhuman hunting down one of the two protagonists (at least the two women I think of as the protagonists, although there are several other first-person POVs), swinging axes, bubbling acid baths, lashing waves, and last but not least, a single, seemingly off-handed (but of course it isn't) mention in a three-page chapter that made me shiver. Tentacles.
 
Somewhere, H.P. Lovecraft is smiling in his grave. 
 
Of course, most of us remember the legend of Lizzie Borden. ("Lizzie Borden took an axe/And gave her mother forty whacks...") According to Lizzie's Wikipedia entry, nearly all of the people Priest weaves so skillfully into her book actually existed. So did Maplecroft, the house where Lizzie and Emma, her sister, lived after the murders and Lizzie's acquittal. Of course, the real solution to the Borden murders isn't green stones from the sea that take over people's minds and slowly metamorphose their bodies into...something else, something wet and twisted and murderous, that seem to be responding to the commands of an unseen deep-sea goddess. A Goddess who wants a particular woman, Lizzie's actress lover, Nance O'Neil, and later Emma Borden. 
 
One likes to think so, at least.
 
Seriously, the amount of research that went into this is astonishing. The prose is slow and formal, very 19th-century; but if you think that sounds boring, it isn't. On the contrary, this masterfully constructed story sucks you in, step by careful step, until the reader realizes those steps are becoming wetter and bloodier...and doesn't give a damn. Until the explosive climax, which features one of the most gruesome, but most completely earned (remember the bubbling acid bath, a machine set in the cellar floor cheerfully labeled the "cooker"?) deaths of a villain I have ever read. 
 
This book is unique, and wonderful, and terrifying. Don't miss it.  

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redheadedfemme: (mutating bug)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third book in the "Blood of Eden" trilogy, and it wraps things up quite well. The villain is vanquished (in a nasty, bloody, thoroughly satisfying manner), the young lovers come together and conquer all, the ancient, guilt-ridden mentor sacrifices himself and gets his redemption, the innocents are saved, the snarky sidekick becomes a very reluctant hero and lives to fight another day, and the selfish heroine learns to love and discovers the value of family.

That sounds like a paint-by-numbers, cliche-ridden book. It isn't. From the beginning, the strength of this series has been its characters. Allison Sekemoto, the dying protagonist who chooses to live, even if it means becoming a vampire, and struggles with her choice throughout; Ezekiel Crosse, the human who falls in love with the thing he hates and is eventually forced into the vampiric life himself, who learns to live with what he has become because of his love for Allison, and hers for him; Kanin, Master vampire and Allison's sire, plagued with guilt for sixty years because of his role in the evolution of the Red Lung humanity-destroying virus, who eventually discovers the cure lies within him and sacrifices himself to save the remaining vampires and humans on Earth; Jackal, Allison's "blood brother," the delightfully wicked sometimes-villain who shoots off quips faster than Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and who finally steps up at the end and kinda-sorta does the right thing.

What a motley crew. They're all wonderful. Unfortunately, the villain, Sarren, isn't quite as finely drawn as this; he has his motivations, but he's mostly just batshit crazy. However, he does Get His Comeuppance at the end, oh yes.

Having said all this, I do have a few rants. One is something I've mentioned before, when reviewing the second book in the trilogy, The Eternity Cure. This point being that TECHNOLOGY IS NOT GOING TO WORK SIXTY YEARS AFTER CIVILIZATION ENDS. Internal combustion engines are not going to be operative after rusting away for six decades; gasoline is going to break down into something so gummy it renders said engine inoperable, even if it was in pristine condition (which it couldn't be, with no maintenance; and there certainly won't be any siphoning the fuel out of sixty-year-old tanks, as Our Heroes persist in doing); and automobile batteries are going to be deader than doornails. Also, when Our Heroes visit the vampire city and find the Master Vampire's tower replete with electricity and hot water, I groaned and had to force myself to proceed. I mean, in the absence of any clearly stated non-fossil-fuel power source, such as solar panels, just where did that electricity come from? Unicorn farts?

The humans in this story (and Our Heroes, for a while) have the right idea. They either walk or ride horses everywhere they go, since their society is basically reduced to a pre-industrial state. In fact, that's another thing: Why aren't there more animals in this story? Seeing as that's the only way anybody should be able to get around, and needless to say the humans would need herds of various farm animals to survive. (Not to mention there would be a lot of feral escapees from zoos, such as lions and elephants.) Of course, maybe the horses wouldn't cooperate with hauling around sacks of dead reanimated meat...

...Which brings me to another rant. (Forgive me for stating the blindingly obvious, and also for being a hundred years too late.) Vampires. I do like them, but I think they belong in supernatural, urban-fantasy type universes. Unfortunately, the author is building this universe towards the science-fictional end of the spectrum, and her more-or-less classic vampires stick out like a sore thumb. I mean, without a beating heart, and without circulating blood, and missing some mystical or Godly intervention, they simply couldn't exist. Sorry, your brain isn't going to work without blood moving through it, and let's not even get into the issue of decomposition. What makes this worse is the trilogy is titled "Blood of Eden," and vampiric/human blood plays a pivotal role in the plot; but if your blood isn't moving through your veins, it either thickens to chunky peanut butter or breaks down into its component parts, just like gasoline (and without the vampire's bone marrow working, there wouldn't be any new red cells/white cells/platelets to replace it). Either way, injecting the cure made in Ezekiel Crosse's system before he died into Kanin, Allison or any other vampire wouldn't accomplish jackshit.

(Of course, this also defeats the entire purpose of the books. So a pretty severe suspension of disbelief is required. It's only because the characters are so good, and the writing and pacing of such high quality, that I was able to do it at all.)

Now, despite all this, I'm placing these books on the Recommended shelf. The writing is just lovely and the characters are unforgettable. I was personally able to hurdle the glaring holes in the worldbuilding. You may not be, so be warned before you take the plunge.

View all my reviews
redheadedfemme: (mutating bug)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third book in the "Blood of Eden" trilogy, and it wraps things up quite well. The villain is vanquished (in a nasty, bloody, thoroughly satisfying manner), the young lovers come together and conquer all, the ancient, guilt-ridden mentor sacrifices himself and gets his redemption, the innocents are saved, the snarky sidekick becomes a very reluctant hero and lives to fight another day, and the selfish heroine learns to love and discovers the value of family.

That sounds like a paint-by-numbers, cliche-ridden book. It isn't. From the beginning, the strength of this series has been its characters. Allison Sekemoto, the dying protagonist who chooses to live, even if it means becoming a vampire, and struggles with her choice throughout; Ezekiel Crosse, the human who falls in love with the thing he hates and is eventually forced into the vampiric life himself, who learns to live with what he has become because of his love for Allison, and hers for him; Kanin, Master vampire and Allison's sire, plagued with guilt for sixty years because of his role in the evolution of the Red Lung humanity-destroying virus, who eventually discovers the cure lies within him and sacrifices himself to save the remaining vampires and humans on Earth; Jackal, Allison's "blood brother," the delightfully wicked sometimes-villain who shoots off quips faster than Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and who finally steps up at the end and kinda-sorta does the right thing.

What a motley crew. They're all wonderful. Unfortunately, the villain, Sarren, isn't quite as finely drawn as this; he has his motivations, but he's mostly just batshit crazy. However, he does Get His Comeuppance at the end, oh yes.

Having said all this, I do have a few rants. One is something I've mentioned before, when reviewing the second book in the trilogy, The Eternity Cure. This point being that TECHNOLOGY IS NOT GOING TO WORK SIXTY YEARS AFTER CIVILIZATION ENDS. Internal combustion engines are not going to be operative after rusting away for six decades; gasoline is going to break down into something so gummy it renders said engine inoperable, even if it was in pristine condition (which it couldn't be, with no maintenance; and there certainly won't be any siphoning the fuel out of sixty-year-old tanks, as Our Heroes persist in doing); and automobile batteries are going to be deader than doornails. Also, when Our Heroes visit the vampire city and find the Master Vampire's tower replete with electricity and hot water, I groaned and had to force myself to proceed. I mean, in the absence of any clearly stated non-fossil-fuel power source, such as solar panels, just where did that electricity come from? Unicorn farts?

The humans in this story (and Our Heroes, for a while) have the right idea. They either walk or ride horses everywhere they go, since their society is basically reduced to a pre-industrial state. In fact, that's another thing: Why aren't there more animals in this story? Seeing as that's the only way anybody should be able to get around, and needless to say the humans would need herds of various farm animals to survive. (Not to mention there would be a lot of feral escapees from zoos, such as lions and elephants.) Of course, maybe the horses wouldn't cooperate with hauling around sacks of dead reanimated meat...

...Which brings me to another rant. (Forgive me for stating the blindingly obvious, and also for being a hundred years too late.) Vampires. I do like them, but I think they belong in supernatural, urban-fantasy type universes. Unfortunately, the author is building this universe towards the science-fictional end of the spectrum, and her more-or-less classic vampires stick out like a sore thumb. I mean, without a beating heart, and without circulating blood, and missing some mystical or Godly intervention, they simply couldn't exist. Sorry, your brain isn't going to work without blood moving through it, and let's not even get into the issue of decomposition. What makes this worse is the trilogy is titled "Blood of Eden," and vampiric/human blood plays a pivotal role in the plot; but if your blood isn't moving through your veins, it either thickens to chunky peanut butter or breaks down into its component parts, just like gasoline (and without the vampire's bone marrow working, there wouldn't be any new red cells/white cells/platelets to replace it). Either way, injecting the cure made in Ezekiel Crosse's system before he died into Kanin, Allison or any other vampire wouldn't accomplish jackshit.

(Of course, this also defeats the entire purpose of the books. So a pretty severe suspension of disbelief is required. It's only because the characters are so good, and the writing and pacing of such high quality, that I was able to do it at all.)

Now, despite all this, I'm placing these books on the Recommended shelf. The writing is just lovely and the characters are unforgettable. I was personally able to hurdle the glaring holes in the worldbuilding. You may not be, so be warned before you take the plunge.

View all my reviews
_____

redheadedfemme: (growing radical with age)
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I had a hard time reading this book. The first time I checked it out from the library, I discovered the edition they had purchased had some major printing mistakes--whole thirty-page sections simply missing, and other twenty-page sections printed twice. I took the book back and pointed this out to the library volunteer, and thought nothing more of it till on a recent visit I spotted the book again. After flipping through the pages to make sure they were all there and in the correct order, I thought, "I might as well finish reading this."

Now, I wonder if it was worth the effort. This book was mediocre at best.

I mean, the author tries her best. She certainly has some cogent points to say about the Myth of Perfection, and society's pressure on women and young girls to be the Best, Blondest, Skinniest, Sexiest, Most Wholesome, Breastfeeding Working Stay-At-Home Wives and Mothers We Can Possibly Be! She readily acknowledges that no one can do that, although she doesn't seem to want to force the HUSBANDS and BOYFRIENDS of all those stressed-out women to help them out. (Indeed, it seems to me that men are hardly mentioned in this book, as if they all get stuffed in the closets as soon as they get home from work. As far as that goes, the explosive topics of lesbian women, trans women, women of color, and intersectionality are barely touched on--this is definitely a White Woman's Feminism book.) But she also dabbles in some evo-psych bullshit--that particular phrase isn't mentioned, but in the chapter I most detested, "Mythologies of Birth," she goes on and on ad nauseum about how ALL WOMEN WANT TO BE MOTHERS and WOMEN WANT BABIES, DAMMIT! Which is simply nonsense. I am a living example of that, and so are many other childfree people I know. In fact, the author's continued assertion of this is almost insulting, and it pretty much spoiled the rest of the book for me.

There are far better gender studies books out there than this one. Start with bell hooks, then move on to Estelle Friedman and Susan Faludi's Backlash, still terrifyingly relevant after more than twenty years. This one, unfortunately, doesn't cut it.

View all my reviews
redheadedfemme: (books. cats. life is sweet.)
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I had a hard time reading this book. The first time I checked it out from the library, I discovered the edition they had purchased had some major printing mistakes--whole thirty-page sections simply missing, and other twenty-page sections printed twice. I took the book back and pointed this out to the library volunteer, and thought nothing more of it till on a recent visit I spotted the book again. After flipping through the pages to make sure they were all there and in the correct order, I thought, "I might as well finish reading this."
 
Now, I wonder if it was worth the effort. This book was mediocre at best. 
 
I mean, the author tries her best. She certainly has some cogent points to say about the Myth of Perfection, and society's pressure on women and young girls to be the Best, Blondest, Skinniest, Sexiest, Most Wholesome, Breastfeeding Working Stay-At-Home Wives and Mothers We Can Possibly Be! She readily acknowledges that no one can do that, although she doesn't seem to want to force the HUSBANDS and BOYFRIENDS of all those stressed-out women to help them out. (Indeed, it seems to me that men are hardly mentioned in this book, as if they all get stuffed in the closets as soon as they get home from work. As far as that goes, the explosive topics of lesbian women, trans women, women of color, and intersectionality are barely touched on--this is definitely a White Woman's Feminism book.) But she also dabbles in some evo-psych bullshit--that particular phrase isn't mentioned, but in the chapter I most detested, "Mythologies of Birth," she goes on and on ad nauseum about how ALL WOMEN WANT TO BE MOTHERS and WOMEN WANT BABIES, DAMMIT! Which is simply nonsense. I am a living example of that, and so are many other childfree people I know. In fact, the author's continued assertion of this is almost insulting, and it pretty much spoiled the rest of the book for me. 
 
There are far better gender studies books out there than this one. Start with bell hooks, then move on to Estelle Friedman and Susan Faludi's Backlash, still terrifyingly relevant after more than twenty years. This one, unfortunately, doesn't cut it. 

View all my reviews
_____
redheadedfemme: (books. cats. life is sweet.)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two excellent science books in a row. This is a wonderful thing.

I picked this book up at the library mainly because of the magical word in the title: D*I*N*O*S*A*U*R*S. I've always loved them; one of the first toys I ever had was a battery-operated, six-inch-tall, motorized Tyrannosaurus Rex. Press one button on the controller, and the little green guy would walk forward, with enough noise to raise the dead; press the other button, and he would roar. As I remember (this was in the Late Cretaceous era, you know) you couldn't press both buttons at the same time.

It didn't matter. I had absolutely no use for dolls, preferring my various plastic dinosaurs and my noisy, cranky T-Rex.

So this book, needless to say, was right up my alley. I didn't even know what a "trace fossil" was when I started it. Trace fossils, as I was to learn, are everything dinosaurs left behind other than their bones: their fossilized footprints, claw marks, trails, body and/or feather impressions, eggs, nests, burrows, toothmarks, gastroliths (stones swallowed by some dinosaurs to aid in digestion), as well as fossilized feces, urine, and vomit. I didn't know such a specialized field as ichnology, or the study of these trace fossils, existed.

Needless to say, such a deeply technical book can get high, dry, boring, and incomprehensible very quickly, if the author permits it. That is the genius of Anthony J. Martin: he never lets his material get out of hand. His love for what he does shines through from the first page to the last, and because he wants to share that love with his readers, he communicates complex scientific concepts in an clear, understandable style. More than that, he writes this book with a sense of humor, so much so that I giggled and cackled throughout.

I mean, when's the last time a science book made you laugh out loud?

As a matter of fact, reading this book made me realize what was wrong with my previous review, Ellen Willis' Out of the Vinyl Deeps. I started Dinosaurs Without Bones while I was still struggling to finish Willis' way-too-serious tome, and the contrast was immediate and obvious. There are some subjects, be they dinosaurs or Bob Dylan, that need to be approached with humor, or you'll just bog your readers down.

Willis falls into this trap. Martin doesn't.

I haven't included quotes in my reviews before, but I'm going to for this one, just so you get the flavor of the writing. This comes from my favorite chapter, chapter 8: "The Remains of the Day: Dinosaur Vomit, Stomach Contents, Feces, and Other Gut Feelings."

Assume that every dinosaur pooped. If so, not all of these end products of dinosaur digestion were preserved in the fossil record. But you will have a load taken off your mind when you know that those found thus far have not gone to waste, nor remained the butt of jokes.

The author is punnier in some places than in others, but the whole book is like this. Who knew piss, puke and shit, along with all the other trace fossils, could be so entertaining?

Anyone who loves dinosaurs will love this book.

View all my reviews
_____

redheadedfemme: (tea/book)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two excellent science books in a row. This is a wonderful thing.

I picked this book up at the library mainly because of the magical word in the title: D*I*N*O*S*A*U*R*S. I've always loved them; one of the first toys I ever had was a battery-operated, six-inch-tall, motorized Tyrannosaurus Rex. Press one button on the controller, and the little green guy would walk forward, with enough noise to raise the dead; press the other button, and he would roar. As I remember (this was in the Late Cretaceous era, you know) you couldn't press both buttons at the same time.

It didn't matter. I had absolutely no use for dolls, preferring my various plastic dinosaurs and my noisy, cranky T-Rex.

So this book, needless to say, was right up my alley. I didn't even know what a "trace fossil" was when I started it. Trace fossils, as I was to learn, are everything dinosaurs left behind other than their bones: their fossilized footprints, claw marks, trails, body and/or feather impressions, eggs, nests, burrows, toothmarks, gastroliths (stones swallowed by some dinosaurs to aid in digestion), as well as fossilized feces, urine, and vomit. I didn't know such a specialized field as ichnology, or the study of these trace fossils, existed.

Needless to say, such a deeply technical book can get high, dry, boring, and incomprehensible very quickly, if the author permits it. That is the genius of Anthony J. Martin: he never lets his material get out of hand. His love for what he does shines through from the first page to the last, and because he wants to share that love with his readers, he communicates complex scientific concepts in an clear, understandable style. More than that, he writes this book with a sense of humor, so much so that I giggled and cackled throughout.

I mean, when's the last time a science book made you laugh out loud?

As a matter of fact, reading this book made me realize what was wrong with my previous review, Ellen Willis' Out of the Vinyl Deeps. I started Dinosaurs Without Bones while I was still struggling to finish Willis' way-too-serious tome, and the contrast was immediate and obvious. There are some subjects, be they dinosaurs or Bob Dylan, that need to be approached with humor, or you'll just bog your readers down.

Willis falls into this trap. Martin doesn't.

I haven't included quotes in my reviews before, but I'm going to for this one, just so you get the flavor of the writing. This comes from my favorite chapter, chapter 8: "The Remains of the Day: Dinosaur Vomit, Stomach Contents, Feces, and Other Gut Feelings."

Assume that every dinosaur pooped. If so, not all of these end products of dinosaur digestion were preserved in the fossil record. But you will have a load taken off your mind when you know that those found thus far have not gone to waste, nor remained the butt of jokes.

The author is punnier in some places than in others, but the whole book is like this. Who knew piss, puke and shit, along with all the other trace fossils, could be so entertaining?

Anyone who loves dinosaurs will love this book.

View all my reviews
_____
redheadedfemme: (Books. Cats. Life is sweet.)
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had a helluva time getting through this book. If it had been fiction, it would have been bashed against the wall before page 80. But because it's an essay collection, subdivided into sections entitled "The World-Class Critic," "The Adoring Fan," "The Sixties Child," "The Feminist," "The Navigator," and "The Sociologist," with the essays grouped around those themes, I thought, well, I'll just go on. Surely it'll get better.

Sadly, it really didn't.

Ellen Willis was a pioneering female rock journalist, with the bulk of her musical work taking place in the sixties and early seventies. Her favorite subjects were Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, and Janis Joplin. Speaking strictly from a technical point of view, she was a good writer--her essays are intelligent, thoughtful, and on point. Unfortunately, the very first essay in the book, "Before the Flood," (1967) about Bob Dylan, magnifies her biggest flaw: her complete lack of humor regarding her subjects. (To be fair, I think it should be MANDATORY that anyone who writes about Dylan approach him with a healthy sense of snark--otherwise, the writer inevitably starts to sound as ponderous and pretentious as his/her subject.) Her droning voice was well nigh impossible to wade through, and what little affection I have for Bob Dylan had all but vanished by the end of the piece.

This way-too-serious tone marred the rest of the book. To be sure, a music writer doesn't need to have the frantic, attention-deficit-disorder style of, say, a Lester Bangs, but a few cracks about the absurdity of stardom and/or the music business in general would have been appreciated. In fact, the best section of the book, by far, is when she brought feminism into the mix. (But there still had to be a downer essay about Bob Dylan in this section to nearly ruin it, dagnabbit.) She talks about bands/artists such as the Joy of Cooking and Ms. Clawdy that I've never heard of, and describes them so eloquently it makes me want to search for their music. Her voice is more focused and eloquent in "The Feminist," and a couple of observations even approach the wispy edges of humor!

I believe there are a few more collections of Ellen Willis's essays out there, and one focused on feminism might be worth picking up. I'm sure classic rock aficionados will appreciate this one. Unfortunately, for me it didn't cut it.

View all my reviews
_____
redheadedfemme: (geeks will inherit earth)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the coolest science books I have ever read.

It's partly because the author readily admits she's an End of the World geek, like me. (She even mentions that great, cheesy Roddy Piper movie, Hell Comes to Frogtown! I didn't know anyone else knew it existed.) I love that stuff--it's one reason I've been getting more into YA lately, as there seems to be an almost unlimited supply of post-apocalyptic/dystopian young adult books. (That's not to say all of them are good, mind you, and in my reviews I've dinged quite a few that aren't.) In this book, Ms. Newitz gets to write at length about the five (and possibly six--current theory is that the sixth mass extinction is human-caused and ongoing) greatest End of the World stories ever told--the actual mass extinctions that have impacted our planet Earth.

These are fascinating tales indeed. In the first section, she devotes one entire chapter to the Great Dying, the worst of the five mass extinctions; about 250 million years ago, 95 percent of species were wiped out. Possible causes for the extinctions range from megavolcanism to gamma ray bursts to invasive species to meteor strikes (such as the K-T extinction, 65 million years ago, that wiped out the dinosaurs). Part II discusses how humans were able to survive, despite a pernicious African genetic bottleneck, plagues such as the Black Death, and famines. In the third section, the "Stories of Survival" chapter discusses science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler (!) at some length. The fourth section, "Death-Proof City," is a virtual treasure trove of ideas, including underground cities, disaster engineering, eco-architecture, and cities as genetically engineered biological entities. The final section, "The Million-Year View," includes, among other things, how to geo-engineer to combat climate change, and a greatly detailed and fascinating discussion of how to build a space elevator rising 35,000 kilometers above the Earth's surface. (A simple black-and-white drawing of this concept is enough to make an acrophobic run screaming.) Newitz ends the book with a simple statement of faith: "Things are going to get weird. There may be horrific disasters, and many lives will be lost. But don't worry. As long as we keep exploring, humanity is going to survive."

Even though she tackles complex subjects, the writing is quite accessible to a layperson, and the first section about mass extinctions reads like a novel. Newitz has clearly done her research; her notes are extensive and detailed, and the scientists she interviewed for the various chapters are well-drawn and fascinating people.

It's too bad I have to return this book to the library. I think I could read it many times over and gain fresh insights with each reading. I'm definitely buying it.

View all my reviews
_____

September 2017

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Words To Live By

There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away. ~Emily Dickinson

Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins. ~Neil Gaiman

Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in. ~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The road to hell is paved with adverbs. ~Stephen King

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read. ~Mark Twain

I feel free and strong. If I were not a reader of books I could not feel this way. ~Walter Tevis

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one. ~George R.R. Martin

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