Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

61tsy8ttx1l-_sl500_

 

This book was a victim of its own hype. I wanted to LOVE this book. I was SO EXCITED about it. But, in the end I only liked it, which feels like a huge disappointment.

Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes have to participate in the Metagalatic Grand Prix. If they come in anyplace but dead last, they can prove humanity’s sentience and we as a species can continue existing. We will be welcomed into a wide galaxy full of interesting and wonderful happenings.

If they lose, it is game over for humanity. Maybe the next species that comes to dominate the planet will do better.

The main storyline wasn’t terrible. The side stories of all the species that have recently won or hosted the Metagalatic Grand Prix were interesting. Overall, it was somehow too much? The side stories were distracting. They were interesting and the kind of world building I’m usually into but…I just wanted to get back to the main story. I could imagine this wouldn’t be bad serialized. But, it wasn’t my favorite novel. I will say though, that I listened to this book and maybe if I had read it, I would have had a different experience focusing on it. That being said, I thought Heath Miller did a lovely job reading it. The characters were all distinct and I was never bored with his performance. So, while reading over listening may have helped, I’m not sure it would have helped all that much.

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

img_4182

This book was so stinkin’ cute! This story follows Dimple, ready to concur her first year of Stanford and get going on her life as a app/web developer. But, she still has to wait for the summer to be over. She’d like to spend that time at Insomnia Con, a summer learning experience where she can learn to develop an app with a partner. If she wins the Con, she’ll get to meet her hero, Jenny Lindt, who will also partner with her to finish the app and get it out into the market. She’s so stoked when her parents agree that she should go. Really, though, she should have seen that they had an ulterior motive.

Rishi is excited to meet the woman that his parents want to arrange for him to marry. He assumes that this lady knows what’s up, so he goes to Insomnia Con, requests to work with her as her partner on the app and… is surprised to find out that not everyone has been as forthcoming as his parents were. Even though he couldn’t give a toss about web development, he’s still determined to make it work, even volunteering his art skills for Dimple’s app.

Will it work? Will it all end in a disastrous pile of flames? Will they win? Does Dimple meet her hero? You should read it and find out.  Or, listen to it, like I did. The book is narrated by Sneha Mathan and Vikas Adam and they did an excellent job. I recommend this, especially if you like light stories with well developed, complex characters. So good.

Unrelated, thanks to this book I feel like those four semesters of Hindi I took in college have finally found a use. Listening to the audio book, I was so happy to understand that bits and pieces of Hindi in the text. I still remember some words! Amazing! I was also pleased as punch to occasionally provide an explanation of something for my Mom, who was also listening to this with me. But, no worries if that isn’t something you have in your background. These small bits of text add to the story and they won’t create a stumbling block for you and your understanding. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a bilingual household, because I didn’t, so it is really neat to find fictional representations of what that might look like.

 

This is the second book I finished for the Asian Lit Bingo Challenge!

 

 

 

Review: The Reader by Traci Chee

So, Beth already reviewed this book and I wasn’t paying attention at all when I started reading it that we already had a review of it. To be honest, I was just thinking to myself, “crap, I’m going to fail my own challenge! I have to step up my game!” (And, then I did go and fail my own challenge.) This book was totally worth the read. It is a number of stories that are intertwined. The first is the main narrative about Sefia, a young girl who has lived as a nomad with her Aunt Nin since her father was murdered and after her Aunt’s kidnapping has to go it alone in order to find her Aunt and take her revenge against the rescuers. Along the way she meets Archer and is hunted by the kidnappers. The second narrative is the story of Lon, a fast learner and apprentice to the Master Librarian of a Secret Society. And, then there is the story of Captain Reed and his ship and crew that are bound for the edge of the world.

 

I listened to this book on audio and it absolutely sucked me in. The book was read by Kim Mai Guest and she did an amazing job of bringing all of the characters to life. Like Beth, I cannot wait to for the next one to come out!

 

I checked this book out from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries.

Review: Field of Flight by Michael T. Flynn

51rxlibe4ll-_sl300_

 

When I started this book, I was fully aware that it isn’t my kind of book. But, I thought, you can’t have a conversation with someone if you don’t know what they’re thinking. You can’t have a conversation with someone if you don’t listen.

So, I listened. And, for starters, this is not well written at all. If this book had an editor, they should give whatever they were paid back because they did not do their job. There was a whole autobiographical part at the beginning that was completely unnecessary (or, it was a different story altogether). I think it was meant to establish Flynn as an authority on military intelligence, but I spent most of this section trying to figure out why he was telling us the things he was telling us. I then spent some of the later chapters trying to figure out how the first chapter related to it. If you’ve read other reviews of this book (I can’t stop myself after I finish a book from seeing how other people liked it on goodreads), you will know that it was full of typos and other copy-editing issues. Audiobooks don’t have problems with typos.  But, even without seeing the errors, this text was still… just not very good. It seems like Flynn has a huge ax to grind against “being politically correct” and “not calling Islam what it is”. Sorry, not calling “Radical Islam” what it is. But, he also seems to not wholly be on board with making a distinction between radicals flying an Islamic flag and non-radical followers of Islam. I mean, he’s willing to say the words that not all Muslims are radical Muslims, but most of the rest of the book I felt like he wasn’t making that distinction. And, I need this to be clear. Just like I’m sure we can all agree that not all Christians are the Westboro Baptist Church and that not all Atheists are Ricky Gervais or Christopher Hitchens. Some of them are really chill people.

He also doesn’t seem to think that Islam as a religion is any different than Nazism and Fascism as belief systems. That is pretty troubling, especially when you can be both Islamist and Fascist. There were more troubling things about the texts. He seems to call for more critique from the Muslim community of the Radical actions of parts of the community. I don’t know what part of the world he’s in, but I’ve seen plenty of critiques coming from the Muslim community. (There’s a facebook group called Muslims against ISIS and there was a convention this summer to reject ISIS in the UK. Back in 2014 a number of Islamic scholars wrote an open letter to the ISIS leadership about why their state was not supported by Islamic texts. Maybe instead of calling for this kind of critique, we should cover it when it happens in the news?) Flynn also is worried about the education system in the Islamic world. He points to the number of schools (madrasas) where children are taught by memorizing passages of Koran, which is a disgusting level of indoctrination. Depending on the actual amount of that that is happening, that is really troubling. But, hooo, boy, if you want to talk about troubling things in education systems, you don’t have to look that far from home to find upsetting things. How many of our students here are being taught one specific line and never to question that? Shouldn’t we be upset by that? (Especially when that’s something we could immediately do something about?) The text also seems to suggest that we’ve been openly hostile to Israel, our best ally in the Middle East, of late. But, I thought we just promised Israel some billion dollar amount of military aid? (With strings, sure, but what agreement doesn’t involve some kind of give and take?)

Anyway, what I got from this book is that there are RADICAL ISLAMIC FORCES in the world that want to destroy America and replace all democracy with an Islamist theocracy and leadership that encourages citizens to spy on each other. To avoid this terrible future, we, the Judeo-Christian democracy-loving West, need to fight Islam, and private citizens/companies should help gather data on these anti-democratic forces.  So, basically, in order to remain Christian and free and not become Islamic and afraid our neighbors are spying on us, we should be anti-Islamic and spy on our neighbors. Of course, I’m reducing and parodying his argument here for effect, but there was a lot of anti-Islamic rhetoric here. I’m for freedom but I know we live in a complex world, so I’m not all that happy when our leaders (and their potential advisers) seem incapable of nuance.

Normally at this point in the review, I tell you, “hey, if you like X kinds of books, then check this one out!” And, I guess I kind of can. If you believe the Islam is everything that is wrong with the world, then this book is for you. It was written to preach to the choir. Or, at least I hope it was written to preach to the choir. If it was written to lay out a reasonable argument and sell people an idea, it failed.  This book was a mess. It was not well-written. It had all kinds of troubling reasoning and it didn’t make any kind of solid case. It played with stereotypes and stated it was making distinction that it then failed to maintain.  Zero out of ten. Do not recommend.

 

I got this book from the wonderful and amazing Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

Review: Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

I have become one of those people who decides to read a book, checks the library for it, and then if A. the library doesn’t have it or B. the waitlist is longer than my patience, then I buy it. This isn’t something I do to be virtuous. This is something I do to curb the rate at which I acquire books. Because I own an obscene number of books. And, I pick them up at library sales and bookshops like they’re going out of style. I can’t seem to help it. As an audible subscriber, this means I often have more than one credit in my bank. If the library has it, I check it out. I listen to a lot of audio books, so this is a good system for me. But, having a surplus of credits is often a problem (is it, though?) I have. Audible has a solution for that. They have 3-for-2 sales pretty frequently and I end up picking three things that seem interesting but I don’t always pay really close attention to what they are about. This is how I ended up with Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell. I had read other Sarah Vowell books before and enjoyed them and I needed a third book.

 

 

51s1i4g9ctl-_sl150_

 

I had no idea what it was about (or, at least, I didn’t remember what it was about) when I started listening. It is the story of how Hawaii came to be a state. It is an interesting look starting with traditional Hawaiian culture, looking at the influence of colonial powers, business interests, and religion, and ending with the coup staged by the “Committee of Safety” in 1893 and the subsequent dancing around that eventually ended up with the US taking over Hawaii.

 

It was a really interesting story and one I probably wouldn’t have listened to otherwise. When I think about the American history that I was taught growing up, they really didn’t cover the colonial expansion that netted us Guam, American Samoa, and the Philippines for awhile. Thinking about this expansion and who has rights to what territory seems particularly important now as we currently live in a world where the Standing Rock Sioux are peacefully agitating for their water rights and getting nothing but hell for it. Vowell’s book is thoughtul, well laid out and tells a believable tale about how a people can change based on the influence of those they come in contact with and how other people can use those changes as an excuse to be more involved (and then eventually take over). I’m pretty happy I listened to it. Additionally, the audio format allowed for a really fun presentation. Vowell reads the main body of the text and has other readers in to play historical figures. Why read a quote from Teddy Roosevelt when you can John Hodgman do it? In addition to hearing Vowell, you also get to hear Maya Rudolf, Catherine Keene, John Hodgman, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Keanu Reeves, Paul Rudd, and John Slattery.  At one point while I was listening, I actually said out loud, “Oh, no! Paul Rudd, you sound like a racist d-bag!”

 

This book is for you if you are interested in American history and you are ready to hear about America’s colonial expansion through Sarah Vowell’s dry humor. If you’re not American history, dry humor, or feeling a little uncomfortable (if you’re an American) then this book is maybe not for you.

Review: The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

61roymmstel-_sl300_

First, I have to start with review by saying that these are fun books. They’re ridiculous books, but they are fun books. This is the second book in a series about a wolf pack in Alaska. Instead of centering on a woman who marries into the pack, it focuses on a woman in the pack, the love interest from the first book’s sister. There is a little drama. There is a little mystery. There’s an unbelievably hot scientist. There’s a happy ending. You know the drill. Amanda Ronconi who narrates the audiobook does a nice job. So, if you’re into fluffy, paranormal romance or if you’re looking for something light, I recommend you give this a go.

 

Potential Spoilers Ahead.

 

And now that I’ve said that, I need to talk about something that bothered me so much in this book. The werewolves are infertile with anyone but the partner they’ve bonded with. I can’t imagine that there is any evolutionary benefit to this. At all. It seems like the stupidest design feature of a creature ever invented and it also perfectly explains why werewolves as a species are dying out. I’d get it if werewolves were monogamous and pretty devoted (possibly to the point of being creepy) to their partners. I mean, I wouldn’t want it, but I’d get it. And, there’s evidence in the animal kingdom of some animals mating monogamously and/or for life (easier done when life is only a few months or years, I’d venture to guess.) But, being fertile with only one partner forever? Whu?? What kind of testing apparatus would the body have to have internally to be able to tell one partner from another? And, what about close genetic matches? I couldn’t stop either questioning how that worked or feeling completely flabbergasted that it happened at all.

 

Anyway, this featured heavily in the plot and it took me right out of the narrative because it was ridiculous. So, if you like fluffy paranormal romance but you also like at least a modicum of believable scientific accuracy, this book is not for you.

 

 

This book is my audio book selection for the Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Challenge.

First Listen of The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

the raven king
As you know we at Stacks are super excited for the release of The Raven King, the final book in her The Raven Cycle.  We are about a month away!  Today, Maggie Stiefvater posted clips of the Prologue and Chapter 1, read by actor Will Patton on her Tumblr.  There isn’t any spoilers since both excerpts have already been released online but Will does reads a mean book.  So go have a listen and come back and post what you think will happen to Blue and the Boys.  Can you believe it’s only a month away?!

 

http://maggie-stiefvater.tumblr.com/post/141617391621/maggie-stiefvater-heres-will-patton-reading

 

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

9780553418026_p0_v3_s192x300

I am late to The Martian party, people. I was told by every person I know (and a few people I didn’t) that I would LOVE this book. And, I said, “Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. I’ll put it on the list.” And, I did put it on the list. Then, they made a film out of it and I thought, “Oh, I’ll read it before I see the film.” And, then the film was released and I thought, “That really does look good.”

And, then my friend gave me the audio book to listen to on a road trip. R.C. Bray read the audio book and he nailed the main character. I’m in love with Mark Watney. Seriously. If Mark Watney were a real dude I’d have his poster in my office. He’s like the Chris Hadfield of fictional astronauts. Mark Watney might be my new book boyfriend.

In case you don’t know the story, it’s like this: We’ve gone to Mars! And, Watney is an astronaut on a Mars mission who accidentally gets stranded on the planet. Oops. The whole novel is about how we works to survive on the surface. How he feeds himself, how he makes contact with NASA, how he’s eventually rescued. There were so many tense moments and so many funny moments and so many wonderful, “let’s work this problem” moments. This book reminded me why thirteen year old Kate wanted to work for NASA. (She didn’t want to be an astronaut. She wanted to be one of the nerds on the ground that runs eleven thousand different scenarios so that things don’t explode or go wrong (and so there is a back up plan when things do explode and go wrong.) Thirteen year old Kate, much like [redacted] year old Kate is claustrophobic and could never be an astronaut. Riding on the subway freaks out her a little. Especially when it stops between stations, for the love of god.)

So, this was a really excellent book and I want to sing the praises of the narrator of the audio book for a moment. I can’t say enough good things about them. Bray did such an amazing job that two things have happened. 1. I’ve looked for other audio books they’ve narrated just because they narrated it and 2. I’ve pretty much decided that I’m never going to see the movie because Matt Damon isn’t Mark Watney. He won’t sound right.

I highly recommend this book. If you somehow also missed the hype and you’re interested in space, suspense, and occasional comic relief, she should pick this book up!

This counts as my Audiobook for the Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Reading Challenge.