Wednesday, May 24, 2017

WANT - CIndy Pon

WANT by Cindy Pon

Eco-espionage is my aesthetic, apparently.

I really liked Cindy Pon's new book. It’s a kidnap job that becomes an eco-espionage thriller, with some serious conman action and tantalizing romance. It surprised me how much I wanted this book. Jason and Daiyu make great romantic interests, and the whole crew that Jason runs with is interesting, and despite their careful artifice, they do love one another. I’m also really sympathetic to Jason’s preference for a dark wardrobe, ie: he wears black almost all the time. Anyone who likes a science fiction book that is cognizant of today’s half-in attitude on environmental preservation will be sympathetic to the bittersweetness of a neon and smog filled metropolis of Taipei depicted here. Also, if you like boys who throw knives, check it out.

I think I felt early on, when the teens were in their lair, that this book had a celluloid and grit feel of a tech noir on par with Ghost in the Shell, but the questions posed here are more immediate and make your actions resonate. The villain of the piece argues, later on, that we are consumers, and the world was made to be consumed. The trade off for whatever we want whenever we want it, is shorter life spans for the poor and isolated comfort for the rich.

Speaking of the rich, Pon really shines when she describes the sparsity and the luxury, I feel like physicality, no pun, is her strong-suit. The best moments were the ones of intimacy between characters.

Unfortunately I felt like she didn’t have the opportunity to let some characters get as much traction as our main duo, even though the job she did with them almost makes up for it.

In the end however, the mystery leaves it hard to feel the impact.

And I’ve been thinking about it, and there’s something wholly organic about the love that grows. When Jason notices Daiyu’s “toned legs” at one point there’s nothing exploitive or fetishized about it, and that’s kind of stellar. This should be the standard. I don’t know why it almost always feels like a guy is leering when he talks about his love interest. All the other characters, have or have-not, are described in fair terms.

I could have enjoyed some more tension during the heist scenes, but I think I also read this book very quickly. It isn’t terribly long which is both good and bad, this book needs space to breathe, a plan this fool-proof needs time to unfold in your mind. There are month jumps, which Pon does not leave ambiguous, and by the time the story has wrapped up, a year had passed between the covers.

I think my only real quibble is that I would have liked even more growth from Jason, while he did realize the world wasn’t exactly black and white, so I can’t be mad.

My hope though, since there is already plans for a sequel, that we get to focus on other characters since I don’t know how taipei-lovers Daiyu and Jason will leave for Shanghai. (Okay, that one was a pun.)

One last thing, I know Li Bingbing is too old, but she was who I thought of when I imagined Daiyu. Also the cover is gorgeous and totally worth bookstagramming. Make sure you pick this book up when it comes out, it will leave you mourning the blue sky and fresh air while you still have it. Otherwise we’ll be the next fishbowl heads living in a smoggy world.

WANT will be available for purchase June 13th, 2017. I received this ARC without expectation of a review.

Pages: 336
Year: 2017
Publisher: Simon Pulse

Read: 23 May 2017
Stars: 4

The Bad Beginning - Lemony Snicket

A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

Just before watching the new Netflix adaption, I wolfed down the first book. I'd read the series as a child and adored it, revisiting it was a fun way to spend an hour and a half. Haha, how much things have changed. But this was still enjoyable. I'm looking forward to re-reading all these books and checking out the prequel series, All the Wrong Questions.

It really struck me how vulnerable Klaus is, as opposed to in the show, I guess, when Olaf striking him makes him sob, and I wonder at Lemony Snicket’s choice to include such a moment of emotion. And then for it to be left out in the show. It also was interesting that Klaus is the one who is closer to the baby sister, Sunny, than Violet and almost always carrying her in the book, but in the movie, and the show, he isn’t. I think these little changes are a detriment to the character as they seem to add nothing to the show. I mean, him not crying was an acting/directing choice most likely, but as for him not carrying the baby… It seems a small thing to focus on, considering I forgot immediately the concept each chapter focuses the story though.

It was very nice to re-read it. Even reading it quickly, I did not find the narrative voice to be annoying at my age. I’m looking forward to re-reading the rest and reading the prequel series at last!

Pages: 162
Year: 1999
Publisher: HarperCollinsPublishers

Read: 13 Jan 2017
Stars: 3.5

Monday, May 8, 2017

Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Glad I finally picked this book up off my shelf! The first part on writing tasks, or assignments, or just getting the words onto paper at last, wasn’t terribly mind-blowing. In fact the reason I finally read this, because of the reference that Marlo Skyhorse made to her plot structure, she attributes to another writer!

But the second part, on the writing life, really struck a chord with me, and I’ve dog-eared the passage on morals, and another on the purpose of it all, that I can see myself rereading in the years to come.

This book is very readable, conversational, and quickly moves from philosophical attempts at explaining what it is that is so great about writing, and jokes that made me want to share the book with all my writer friends. I should note that while I understand that Lamott’s humor is off-brand there was only one (as far as I could tell) joke that should have been left out. I think we understand more about each other now than we did even as little twenty years ago when this was published.

Pages: 238
Year: 1994
Publisher: Anchor Books

Read: 7 April 2017 to 9 April 2017
Stars: 4

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas

Ultimately, I’m not sure I can recommend this book. The story of an assassin who becomes the right hand of the tyrant she loathes could have been a lot better, a lot darker.

I sometimes felt as though there was a lot of fluff in the prose. Descriptions felt overwrought, and sometimes didn’t shed as much clarity as I wanted. I was a little annoyed at how many different colors Chaol’s eyes were. But this book really hooked me until the end.

That being said, I’m hard-pressed to say I’m very enthusiastic about this book. It falls closer into the ‘guilty pleasure’ category. It lacks many characters who aren’t white and may be completely heterosexual, though sequels may prove otherwise. (I’m big on picturing romantic pairings and couldn’t help but match Nehemia with the prince, or with with assassin. I feel like the former is more likely to happen.)

There are several reasons I’m going to keep reading. First, I enjoy the feeling I get from the Wyrdmarks, which superficially resemble Chartermarks, and thus Chartermagic, which was used in the Abhorsen books, a favorite series of mine. Second, I believe the hype, and suspect that Maas will tighten things up in subsequent books as she goes on. Third, I heard a spoiler for a much later book in the series that gives me gut wrenching feelings about character development so interesting I have to keep reading. I need to know why that spoiler happens and can’t wait for the fall out drama.

Also, I think the new covers make this series look that much more interesting. I’m more inclined to read a series about the angry white-haired woman on the cover of this, than the golden haired courtier on the original cover. Does Celaena wear far too many dresses in this book? Yes, but I sincerely hope that changes in the rest of the series.

I described this book to a friend as though one were reading a show on the CW. The fights are awesome, the CGI is tasteful, but the soundtrack is almost perfectly chosen. Sometimes you think the characters stop doing something Very Important to have a Talk.

I’m not even sure Celeana really grew as a character here… I can’t help but feel that this feels like the debut it is. I still hold out hope that the writing improves as the series continues, as it often does. The premise may be a weak one, but hopefully it pans out in the end. I want a rebellion!

Pages: 432
Year: 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Read: 22 Feb 2017 to 2 March 2017
Stars: 2.5 (it was ok/I'm curious)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch 1) by Ann Leckie

The first book in a trilogy that took us on a rather wild ride.

I’m now a person who reads very little about books when I get the right inclination to read them, I just do. I used to pour over descriptions of books, weighing which one to buy and read. Somehow I ended up with so many freaking books on my shelves.

I read this because it was recommended after I finished Leviathan Wakes, I decided not to read the rest of the books in that series, upon which the SyFy show ‘The Expanse’ is based. (See that review for my reasons. It’s a good book, and a good show.) Ancillary Justice is not really all that similar, and I waffled at first because to me it sounded a little bland, but the promise of revenge and all those awards got me to take the leap.

How very glad I am that I did. I’ve now become a big fan of Leckie’s, and am really looking forward to the conclusion of this series.

The flashes from past to present were interesting enough, but it was kind of funny to me that after one cliffhanger had me yearning to learn more about what happened to Awn that fateful day nineteen years ago, I did actually enjoy the ‘slower’ bits in between about Seivarden and Breq traveling. It’s all important to the story though, so hang in there.

By the end things were rip-roaring along so fast that I had no choice but to launch myself into the next book. See that review for more thoughts and some light spoilers.

Pages: 416
Year: 2013
Publisher: Orbit

Read: 21.9.16-25.11.16
Stars: 5

Leviathan Wakes - James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse 1) by James S.A. Corey

I read this after watching the show, I think, wanting to quickly catch up with the crew of the Rocinante after such a thrilling melding of detective story and space romp. The rather stationary plot of a missing girl, versus the bouncing ball of a crew looking to right a wrong, serve justice and not get blown up in the process was intriguing. But then the ball kept on rolling.

I decided not to read the rest of the books upon which the SyFy show The Expanse is based, because reading this revealed that almost half the book was yet to be accounted for. And there was a whole new character that hadn’t been introduced in the book yet. I started reading a page or two about the next book and realized how much further ahead of the show I’d be.

This book was a rip-roaring riot. I laughed, I gasped. I loved the gritty way the future worked, the way things felt real and important. I loved the thought out way things had grown with Mars, Earth and the Belt. Any second I’m gonna start confusing the book and the show. But that’s the thing! The authors are working on the show and the book felt like a very cool in depth look into the background. They’ve said that even if you read all the books, you’ll still be surprised and delighted by the show.

But man, they’ve done a good job setting up the characters, giving us more time to know them and the imminent threat of war. Oh boy, the threat of war.

And now having seen the first half of season 2, seeing the rest of this book come to life, I can honestly say they did a great job portraying some of my favorite scenes and expanding on them. Man, what a great series this is going to be. I can’t wait to start reading Caliban’s War.

Pages: 592
Year: 2011
Publisher: Orbit

Read: 8.9.16-17.9.16
Stars: 5

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The One and Only Ivan - Katherine Applegate

I'd wanted to read this for at least a year, but have been unproductive in my reading habits for a long time. After feeling bad that I wanted to buy this, didn't, buying Crenshaw instead, I got it from my library ASAP and devoured it in a couple of sessions. Unsurprisingly, it's short, if not a particularly easy read.

I always find flaw with books I read, and especially the great ones that are well-wrought, I seem to find some niggling detail that I can't let go of. Frankly, I need to get over it, because I think One and Only deserves the hype. The world where other animals and humans cohabitate, or, rather, interact closely, is a difficult one, and the nuance of it is often overshadowed. Applegate has brought out wonderful and genuine, if somewhat slippery, sympathy for the captor of these animals, Mack. The period of introspection that Ivan finally allows himself with the introduction of the young elephant Ruby also shows us Mack's journey, if not as completely. Maybe I wasn't the only one who imagined Mack's financial hardship and his narrow future after the shuttering of his circus mall... Applegate manages to balance our cheers for the free as well as the weight money lays on the humans of her story. A theme she continued in Crenshaw...

I like how Applegate formatted this, rendering Ivan's thoughts poetically, suiting his artist's soul. His sparse sentences and short use of words underlines a point he makes early on, humans use too many words, far more than gorillas ever need to. The illustrations as well are beautiful and tender, furthering illuminating the glimpses of emotion.

It ends, of course, with a full look at the bright future of the animals, presumably to reassure and explain to precocious readers just how a captive gorilla becomes a natural leader of a pack. I thought the end lacked the emotional climax I would have wanted, but was by no means flat or unsatisfactory. I guess I just like things to end with something more...

But I'm probably just being picky here, too.

Pages: 320
Year: 2012
Publisher: Harper Collins

Read: 21.6.16 - 23.6.16
Stars: 4.5

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Crenshaw - Katherine Applegate

Thursday night I was standing in the brightly colored children's section of the bookstore, I held three books in my hand and knew I could barely afford one. I put back the intriguing The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse and a new book by the beloved Karen Cushman, Greyling's Song. I did that thing that I'd always imagined doing but never dared. I took home Crenshaw and returned it the following Monday.

That which piqued my interest was that it was by the same author as The One and Only Ivan, a book I was sure I was going to love and wasn't sure I didn't already own digitally. It also had a boy and a cat on the cover, and was somehow about this cat being able to talk, so therefore slightly magical. I rarely watch movie trailers this day, so I didn't even read the book flap, trusting enough in these previous criteria that the book was worth full retail price.

I didn't return the book only because I read it, but also because I didn't really want to own it.

Crenshaw was a short and interesting novel about poverty and homelessness from the perspective of a child, Jackson, but also about the line between needing an 'adult' honesty from your parents, sharing in the family problems and being honest not just about problems but about your needs.

Crenshaw is the name of an imaginary cat who is at least five feet tall, likes bubble baths and walking on two feet. He was the star-by-proxy and was so enjoyable to read. I could easily see this book being turned into a charming movie, with Cary Elwes voicing him. But I'm biased because of his performance as The Baron in two Ghibli movies.

This book isn't very complicated, and yet it is. The main character is ten, and the novel sets out to accomplish a single, complex point: deal with the possibility of being homeless. I will spoil for you the fact that this is done with some fine-feeling and a happy ending, but I won't hash out the details. Whatever you do, do read this, to your child, at the beach, while taking the train to Grand Central,

Do it for Jackson or do it for Crenshaw.

Pages: 256
Year: 2015
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Read: 17.6.16-17.6.16
Stars: 3.5

Before the Awakening - Greg Rucka

Fun, gripping and well written, I'd love to not only read more by Greg Rucka, I want to find the other great Star Wars novels out there. The battles between space ships, between stormtroopers, between desperate aliens out in the desert were interesting and clear to witness.

Finn & Rey's stories gave great insight into their characters, but unlike Poe's they could not delve much into their history.

Finn's story was shorter by a few pages, but gave a neat view of the mechanisms of the First Order, how they controlled their citizens, or rather, controlled their stormtroopers. More than anything, this established Finn's loyalty to the people he fought beside, and how he struggled determining right from wrong long before the movie.

Rey's story was surprising in that we were set up for betrayal, but I was surprised at how she was betrayed. Instead of feeling frustrated for her loss or at her for not seizing an opportunity, I felt the weight of her situation: being stuck, waiting. And I really sympathised. Something that was felt briefly in the movie was expanded upon here.

Poe's story is the highlight of this volume. If you wanted more of the dashing pilot who stole our hearts, you will not be disappointed. Coming in as the longest (again, by a few pages) of these three, we are told about Poe's family, his history and his introduction to the Rebellion. We get a glimpse of the Republic as it exists in The Force Awakens (something we don't see much of in the movie) and get the emotional context of Poe's brief introduction and capture in the movie. When Finn inadvertently rescues Poe, it appears to us as the start of a beautiful friendship in the movie. With Poe's story, we get the real sucker punch in retrospect: Poe wasn't expecting to ever be rescued.

That's what made me pick up the volume, and maybe you'll do the same now, too.

Pages: 224
Year: 2015
Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press

Read: 13.6.16-17.6.16
Stars: 5

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

In my opinion, the premise should be enough to get you into this story: a disabled boy in Nevada becomes a mute servant girl in a magical kingdom every-time he closes his eyes.

Not yet? Read on. Since he was six or so, Nolan has been treated for epilepsy, but what looks like he’s having a seizure is actually him leaving his body to piggyback the life of a girl on the run, a servant protecting a princess from a coup. Nolan meanwhile doesn’t have much of a life, he doesn’t have any friends, barely knows his punk sister, all he has are notebooks filled with a world that makes no sense and swimming whenever he can keep his head on straight long enough.

This book really grabbed me from the get go, considering the premise isn’t something trifling, and it was great. Sign language and disability are important topics not to be treated lightly, and Corinne Duyvis doesn’t shy away from being real with the reader. She found readers to help with all the aspects, as you can see in the acknowledgments, and has produced a fascinating book. I will say this without spoiling anything, that while I was committed to finishing it with the first chapter or so, and read the first half of the book consistently over two weeks, when I hit the 75% mark a twist that I thought was just a way-point turned into such an epic conclusion that I couldn’t stand it. I had no way and no one to convey my alarm at what happened. I’m not hyperbolizing much when I say: it blew me away.

I can’t tell you. But I want you to read this, I want you to be taken aback as well by what happens.
This is a stand alone novel, but the world is by no means lacking. There is no skimping in this book. I thought at first that I didn’t have as good a sense of the world that the girl, Amara, is traveling through as I did of Nolan’s desert city. To be fair I’ve never been to either, yet Nevada came more easily to me than the cobbled streets in a magical city. I think this is the juxtaposition of things we can easily supplement with photos and more words than creating a whole new fantasy world in our heads. This has less to do with authorial ability and more with that just being the way things are, the way our culture exposes us to different things.

So let your imagination go wild when imagining the pubs and harbors and market stalls in Amara’s world. Unless you’ve been to Nevada, you’re doing the same thing there anyway. Enjoy!

Pages; 400
Year: 2014
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams

Read: 25.2.16-27.3-16
Stars: 4.5

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