Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday 37 - Difficult to read books

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
  This week's theme: Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Me To Read

The hard-to-read because they were boring/annoying/frustrating

1. This is a book I'm currently reading, and it's so painful. The author is trying really hard to be scientific about the supernatural elements, but all the science is spectacularly flawed. The main character's father is in the FBI, and the MC has a ridiculously easy time hacking into all his classified information. And the dialogue is just painful. The only reason I'm still reading is because I need a "U" book for my A-Z Challenge.


2. Hoo boy, I had a lot to say about this book. Everything from the writing style to the selfish and vain MC to the really bizarre plot twists (plot holes?) bugged me. At least the ending redeemed it...kind of... (unapologetic review here).


3. This book was really hard for me to finish. Reliving the same day seven times, watching the bitchy main character attempt to redeem herself yet still manage to come off as bitchy. Oy. (full rant here)


4. This book is one I plan on giving another shot. I was bored to tears reading the first two or three chapters, so I stopped, but I feel like it's worth reading.


5. Two hundred pages in, and you haven't even gotten on the freaking boat. Moby Dick is just waaaaaaay too long and dull. It's more of a harpooning lesson or a guide for sailors than a story. I tried rereading it twice, for a total of three attempts, but I can never make it past the first few hundred pages.


Hard to read because of disturbing/difficult subject matter

6. This book was really dark and had me gagging and feeling sick so many times. Unbelievable cruelty, and not very much light at the end of the tunnel. Also, spectacularly sexist.


7. Reading about psychopaths and their gruesome murders is sickening. It's worse when what you're reading is nonfiction. Enough said.

8. All Ellen Hopkins books are difficult to read, but I think this one was the most disturbing. It also tried to cover far too many issues at once, which made it even more overwhelming and painful.


9. Reading about the main character's struggles with mental illness and depression is very difficult, and even more so when you realize it's semi-autobiographical.


10. This book is heartbreaking. I cried.


Were any of these books difficult for you to read? Did you enjoy books I was bored with? Did any of these bring you to tears?

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: (the trainwreck that is) Unraveling

12157365Title: Unraveling
Author: Elizabeth Norris
Genre: Young adult, science fiction

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Sixteen-year-old Janelle Tenner is used to having a lot of responsibility. She balances working as a lifeguard in San Diego with an intense academic schedule. Janelle's mother is bipolar, and her dad is a workaholic FBI agent, which means Janelle also has to look out for her younger brother, Jared.
And that was before she died... and is brought back to life by Ben Michaels, a mysterious, alluring loner from her high school. When she discovers a strange clock that seems to be counting down to the earth's destruction, Janelle learns she has twenty-four days to figure out how to stop the clock and save the planet.

The only reason I finished this was because I needed a "U" book for my A-Z challenge this year.

You would think that a story about radiation-melted bodies showing up around the area would be very intense, especially when every chapter counts down to some mysterious catastrophe. You would expect that when a book decides to provide a scientific explanation for someone's supernatural abilities, the science would at least make sense. You would hope that the FBI would have enough security surrounding their work that curious and stubborn sixteen-year-olds can't hack into daddy's case files.

Unfortunately, none of the above are true.

This book was remarkably boring at times for the subject matter. I kept waiting for things to happen, or for some urgency to be there, but it didn't kick in until the last 20% of the book. I was pleasantly surprised by the explanation for the countdown and the way the resolution was handled, but getting to the end was such a chore.

There were also a lot of "issues" brought up in this book, and I felt like the story was trying too hard to make the main character sympathetic by harping on her struggles. Her father is largely absent because he works in the FBI. Her mother has bipolar disorder and needs taking care of. She was betrayed by her best friend at a party, and doesn't remember anything that happened that night. Oh, and she gets hit by a truck, dies, and is resurrected by a stoner she's never thought twice about.

I'm glad the author gave Ben Michaels a personality, but must every guy in every young adult book be "unexpectedly beautiful"? Cue eyerolls. I'm very annoyed with the explanation of how his powers work though. This is a mild spoiler, but you find out about it pretty early on and it's not part of "the big reveal" so I'm going to mention it. [IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE MILDLY SPOILED, OR HATE MINI SCIENCE LESSONS, SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH]. Ben can supposedly manipulate molecular bonds. He says that he cannot create or destroy them, only move them around. I would buy it if he said he could repair broken vases. The molecules in things like vases are generally static and regularly organized, so it makes sense you could just move things around and put them back together again (we don't talk about glass. That's a different beast). But what Ben does is repair people. I'm a bioengineer. I wish it were as easy as "manipulating molecular bonds" to heal people. Unfortunately, the human body isn't just molecular bonds, it is full of complex biochemical pathways. Cells are dynamic. You can't just put molecules together and expect your cells to come back to life. Let alone a freaking spinal cord.

The whole "junior detective" thing with Janelle and the FBI was also very tiresome. I'd be appalled if it were that easy for a kid to access classified information, and even more annoyed that supposedly intelligent teenagers think they can solve problems that hundreds of trained professionals can't.

This book was very hard for me to get through, and I would not recommend it. I would instead direct you to read Ultraviolet, a book with a similar concept but much more realistic and well-written.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Review: Words of Radiance

17332218Title: Words of Radiance
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary
The eagerly awaited sequel to the New York Times bestselling The Way of Kings.
Having met the challenge of a posthumous collaboration with the great Robert Jordan to complete his classic, bestselling fantasy series The Wheel of Time® with three #1 New York Times bestsellers in a row, Brandon Sanderson is at last free to return to the decade-spanning task of creating his own multi-volume epic, one that he hopes will make a comparable mark on the field. That epic is The Stormlight Archive and it began in 2010 with Tor’s longest, most elaborately embellished novel ever, The Way of Kings.
In that first volume, we were introduced to the remarkable world of Roshar, a world both alien and magical, where gigantic
hurricane-like storms scour the surface every few days and life has adapted accordingly. Roshar is shared by humans and the enigmatic, humanoid Parshendi, with whom they are at war. Among those caught up in the conflict are Brightlord Dalinar Kholin, who leads the human armies; his sister Jasnah, a renowned scholar; her student Shallan, a brilliant but troubled young woman; and Kaladin, a military slave who, by the book’s end, had become the first magically endowed Knight Radiant in centuries.
In Words of Radiance their intertwined stories will continue and, as Sanderson fans have come to expect, develop in unexpected, wonderfully surprising directions. The war with the Parshendi will move into a new, dangerous phase, as Dalinar leads the human armies deep into the heart of the Shattered Plains in a bold attempt to finally end it. Shallan will come along, hoping to find the legendary, perhaps mythical, city of Urithuru, which Jasnah believes holds a secret vital to mankind’s survival on Roshar. The Parshendi take a dangerous step to strengthen themselves for the human challenge, risking the return of the fearsome Voidbringers of old. To deal with it all, Kaladin must learn to how to fulfill his new role as leader of the restored Knights Radiant, while mastering the powers of a Windrunner.
With this second book, the Stormlight Archive grows even more richly immersive and compelling. Sanderson’s fans, old and new, are likely to lift it at least as high on the bestseller lists as its predecessor.

I love Brandon Sanderson books, and I have come to have sky-high expectations for them.

Now imagine a book that easily soars over those sky-high expectations.

That's this book.

Honestly I'm just in shock that a book could be so...well, let's see, entertaining, shocking, emotional, witty, thought-provoking, comforting, and freaking HUGE. Just look at these status updates:

I read this book almost a month ago, but these characters and this world have taken up permanent residence in a corner of my mind (and heart). I had a really crappy day and was feeling incredibly lonely and upset, so I picked up this massive brick of a book and started reading. I got so lost in the world and was so invested in the characters that I stopped feeling upset and lonely, and I was just completely sucked in. Books that can do that are special indeed.

This book focuses on Shallan, who I loved in Way of Kings. She's as witty and stubborn as ever, but you also see how truly strong she is. There is one point where a character is complaining about how much life sucks and Shallan just looks at him and tells him exactly how it feels to be broken. And then this happens:

“He saw it in her eyes. The anguish, the frustration. The terrible nothing that clawed inside and sought to smother her. She knew. It was there, inside. She had been broken.

Then she smiled. Oh, storms. She smiled anyway.

It was the single most beautiful thing he’d seen in his entire life.” .

Yeah that part. I think I might have cried a little.

This book is intense, with all sorts of things things coming together. Szeth is still out slaughtering, the Parshendi are growing stronger, and of course, Odium is coming. You get to see quite a few chapters from the Parshendi point of view, which is very cool. You also learn a lot more about the knights radiant and how their powers work.

All the characters from book 1 continue to be awesome, and in fact all of them are even more endearing. Adolin, who I thought was a spoiled brat for most of book 1, is now a courageous and admirable young man (and also such a sweetheart). Dalinar continues to struggle with politics and his goal to restoring honor to the Alethi. Kaladin continues to have his moments of power and moments of self-loathing, but he continues to grow so much. We see more of Navani, and she continues to be excellent, and we also see more of Renarin this time around. I'm very excited for Renarin in book 3!

I don't know, this is just a beautiful story. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it gave me a lot to think about, and it made me feel happy when I was down. What more can you ask of a story?

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: The Martian (GO READ THIS ASAP)

16046182Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Genre: science fiction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

This was so much fun! One of the funniest books I've read. If you haven't started reading this yet, what are you waiting for? GO GO GO.

The best way I can describe this book is as a snarky version of the movie Gravity. In Gravity, you have Sandra Bullock struggling to survive in the midst of exploding space stations and dramatic music. It's nerve-wracking and intense, but come on, weren't there times when you were rolling your eyes and saying really? ANOTHER exploding space station? Really? In The Martian, Mark Watney is stuck on Mars indefinitely, armed only with a small space probe and a sense of humor. You don't need to turn on your sarcasm, because Watney does it for you. He launches into nerdy jokes and colorful descriptions of daily life on Mars.

Things are constantly going wrong, and Watney is constantly coming up with ingenious ways to fix it. This guy is a mechanical engineer and a botanist, and he puts that knowledge to good use. I must say that as an engineer I was delighted by the technical stuff, but I can also say that even if you aren't big on technical details, you'll know what's going on.

Another things I appreciated about this book was the inclusion of the ramifications on earth. There's a media frenzy, of course, and NASA is frantically trying to figure out how to fix this situation with the media looking over its shoulder. The President puts in a good word about courage and hope and all those other big words we like to throw around, and nations abandon their differences in order to bring someone back home to Earth. It's a tongue-in-cheek look at politics and bureaucracy in our world, and it's great.

I have never laughed so much while reading a book. I loved Watney's optimism and sense of humor. Even in the most traumatic situations, he finds something funny to say. I guess it's his way of surviving - if you gave up hope while you were the only person on Mars, there'd simply be no way that you'd make it. The interludes with Venkat and the others at NASA were refreshing and kept the survival story from getting dull.

Go read this.


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Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Champion

17707500Title: Champion
Author: Marie Lu
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult, Science fiction

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
He is a Legend.
She is a Prodigy.
Who will be Champion?
June and Day have sacrificed so much for the people of the Republic—and each other—and now their country is on the brink of a new existence. June is back in the good graces of the Republic, working within the government’s elite circles as Princeps-Elect, while Day has been assigned a high-level military position.
But neither could have predicted the circumstances that will reunite them: just when a peace treaty is imminent, a plague outbreak causes panic in the Colonies, and war threatens the Republic’s border cities. This new strain of plague is deadlier than ever, and June is the only one who knows the key to her country’s defense. But saving the lives of thousands will mean asking the one she loves to give up everything.
With heart-pounding action and suspense, Marie Lu’s bestselling trilogy draws to a stunning conclusion.

I finally got around to finishing this series. It wasn't a bad ending, but I was disappointed.

When I started reading this series, I was hooked. Not because Legend was the best dystopian novel I'd read, or because it was particularly insightful or life-changing. It was simply addictive, and I loved the intelligent characters and the fast pace of the series. Prodigy blew my reservations about this series out of the water with its fearless twists and dramatic character growth.

Champion...I think overall Legend was a weaker book, but since I had such high expectations after Prodigy, I liked this one the least.

After that terrible cliffhanger in Prodigy, we are left wondering how things could possibly be resolved in Champion. Resolutions take their own sweet time, which is ironic considering how fast this book goes. In fact, any issues in the previous books become even more confounding and complicated, made even more so by the conflicting emotions of June and Day. Both of them must make sacrifices to save the nation, and sometimes that means hurting one person you care about in order to save the rest of them. June and Day have both grown an admirable amount since book 1, but in this book, June's sense of duty was absolutely maddening! More on that later.

I liked learning more about the world in Prodigy, and seeing how neither the Republic nor the Colonies was actually a great place to be. This pattern continues in this book, with a visit to Antarctica. I really liked the concept of a lifelong points system, and I also really liked the discussion on how to determine whether an action is good or bad. Marie Lu does a great job of showing us different societies that seem like they're out of a glossy magazine at first, but actually hide some pretty bad plumbing. This book is highly political, but instead of a lot of clever maneuvering as in Prodigy, this one is more of the dull "let's pretend Anden can actually do things even though the bureaucracy is very much in the way". It was tedious and annoying, especially after the action of the past two books.

mini rant about that ending:
JUNE ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME. Like June, I too am a terribly logical person. But even I have enough sense to realize that emotions don't follow rules. You can't just separate love and pain, and it's better to have both than have neither. Yet June is somehow convinced of the opposite. That would be good and fine if it were herself she were talking about, but she imposes her strange beliefs on Day instead. YOU DON'T GET TO MAKE THESE DECISIONS FOR OTHER PEOPLE, JUNE.

You don't just get to decide that you aren't worth someone's love or pain. You don't get to walk out of someone's life because you think it will be objectively better for them, leaving both yourself and that person devastated. And you ABSOLUTELY don't get second chances ten freaking years down the line. Ugh.

While I enjoyed the world and the fast pace, I didn't like the resolution of some of the conflicts, and I felt like a lot of complex issues became too simplified at the end. This was not a bad book by any means, but my expectations were so high that I ended up a bit disappointed.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Fantasy Friday: Funny fantasy

This is a meme hosted by Rinn Reads where anyone can join in and talk about anything Fantasy!

I usually read high fantasy, but I've started reading some urban fantasy lately and I'm enjoying it. I've discovered that I love books that make me laugh, and a lot of urban fantasy features snarky main characters or just funny situations. There's just something about making me laugh that makes me that much more willing to let go of my annoyances with a book and just enjoy it.

I kind of wish there was more high fantasy that didn't take itself so seriously. All those epic battles and revenge-fueled villains and dramatic showdowns are all well and good, but a little wisecrack here and there wouldn't go amiss. In that regard, I really enjoyed Half A King by Joe Abercrombie, since it featured quite a few instances of witty (albeit dark) dialogue. Also, that one conversation between Adolin and Shallan in Words of Radiance. Yeah, you know the one. I laughed so hard I had to stop reading for a few minutes. A book that keeps you on the edge of your seat is memorable, but a book that makes you smile stays with you forever.
One of my favorite fantasy books is one I read as a child, and as I grow older, it only gets funnier. It is by the ever brilliant Sir Terry Pratchett: The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. It's pretty much a satiric commentary of every fantasy trope ever, and even as a child it made me grin. The great thing about this book making me smile as a child is that I want to keep going back and reading it, not just because it's a brilliant satire and a very clever and witty story, but because all those smiles give me the warm fuzzies. Talking cats in general just make my day. Fictional cats are just so great - very independent and clever, with an "I couldn't care less about what you mere humans think" attitude about the world.

9533378More recently, I read and enjoyed Hounded by Kevin Hearne. It was recommended to me by multiple people, so I branched out of my high fantasy bubble and gave it a try. It was hilarious, and I loved the sarcastic and badass protagonist, Atticus Finch. I'll admit there were some eye-rolling moments, but the fact that Oberon and Atticus made me laugh made me look past that. Like I said earlier, I'm more likely to forgive annoyances if the book makes me laugh. It helped that I listened to this as an audiobook - the different voices made me laugh even more than I would have if I were reading a physical copy.

I've also read and enjoyed The Others novels, Written in Red and Murder of Crows (look out for reviews coming soon!). In this world, humans are a minority and the Others (or animal-like shapeshifters) are really in charge. They aren't like the usual vampires or werewolves; they see humans as meat and don't have any qualms about eating you if you so much as annoy them. As frightening as they are, they also prove to have a soft side and enjoy little creature comforts like dog biscuits (the Wolves) and shiny things (Crows). It's hilarious seeing such intimidating predators act like children when they see their favorite treat.

Maybe I just have a thing for talking animals? I did love Redwall as a child...

What fantasy books have made you laugh? Do you have any recommendations?

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Review, possibly rant: The Assassin's Blade

18243700Title: The Assassin's Blade
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genre: Young adult, fantasy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:Celaena Sardothien is Adarlan's most feared assassin. As part of the Assassin's Guild, her allegiance is to her master, Arobynn Hamel, yet Celaena listens to no one and trusts only her fellow killer-for-hire, Sam. In these action-packed novellas - together in one edition for the first time - Celaena embarks on five daring missions. They take her from remote islands to hostile deserts, where she fights to liberate slaves and seeks to avenge the tyrannous. But she is acting against Arobynn's orders and could suffer an unimaginable punishment for such treachery. Will Celaena ever be truly free? Explore the dark underworld of this kick-ass heroine to find out.

The blogosphere has practically exploded with excitement for the third book in this series, Heir of Fire. With all the amazing reviews and book-pushing happening with this series, I figured it was about time I gave it a shot.

Some of these novellas were very good, but others, not so much. The Assassin and Pirate Lord was a good start, and I felt like I got a good feel for the world and the fierce, righteous gorgeous, best-assassin-in-the-world-while-only-sixteen Celaena Sardothien. Yeah. She's the best at everything, and she knows it. That got a few couple of skeptical eyebrow raises on my part. My skepticism only grew in the second novella, which is told from a healer's adoring and awe-filled point of view.

I think The Assassin and the Desert was my favorite novella, possibly because Celaena started acted like a human being. She struggles with things for once, and surprise surprise! she realizes that she actually cares about people. The "villain" of this novella was complex and unexpected, which I enjoyed.

The next two novellas flesh out Celaena's relationships with Sam and Arobynn. Celaena and Sam were adorable, and Arobynn...I think he was supposed to scare me witless, but I was just confused. I mentioned that the villain of Desert was complex, and I was looking forward to more of that complexity with Arobynn, but that didn't happen. Arobynn does the whole "I may be mean to you but it's only because I care" thing, but that's about it. I'm really hoping he stops being such a caricature in the novels, because right now, this supposedly scary guy isn't cutting it.

Another thing that bugged me a little was that the novellas read more like one prequel novel instead of five prequel novellas. I expected this to be a couple of unrelated adventures, with maybe a few overall tie-ins. Instead, I got a string of novellas that not only referenced the others constantly, but also could not be read as stand-alones in any capacity. I'm confused as to why the author didn't just publish a prequel novel instead of these highly inter-related novellas.

I enjoyed the world of assassins, and I enjoyed Celaena and Sam (including how that relationship turned out. Does that make me evil? I just appreciated that not everything was all happy rainbows for our dear assassin). Celaena has grown a bit over the course of the novellas, but I'm still not quite rooting for her.

In a nutshell, I'm not sold on Celaena Sardothien, but I'm intrigued enough to keep reading.

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: And The Mountains Echoed

16115612Title: And the Mountains Echoed
Author:Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Historical fiction, contemporary, adult fiction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
An unforgettable novel about finding a lost piece of yourself in someone else.
Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations.
In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most.
Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.

I liked this book more than The Kite Runner and less than A Thousand Splendid Suns. This novel is a lot less urgent than the previous two, and part of it is that it takes giant leaps across time and space as the novel progresses. It's an interesting way to tell a story; each chapter picks up with a less significant character from the previous one, continuing the overall story of Pari's family and the ramifications of one man's heartbreaking choice.

There were some stories that really stood out to me. I loved the chapter on Pari's uncle (blanking out on his name right now) and his relationship with his master over the decades. It was beautiful and heartbreaking, and you can almost excuse him for coming up with the Terrible Act that sets the rest of the story in motion. Almost. I also appreciated being able to see Abdullah and Pari's relationship as children and again in their later years.

Other stories seemed unnecessary. This isn't to say that they weren't poignant or beautiful, but they just didn't seem to have a place in this family's story. The two that come to mind are the chapter about the brothers with a serious case of sibling rivalry and the chapter about Markos and Thalia. I really liked both stories, and both were definitely poignant, but this book was the wrong place for these stories to be told. They made an already long book even longer and more tedious, and I felt like they would have been better off as short stories in their own right.

I'm a little annoyed that everything that could go wrong for this family did go wrong. Is there no hope? Must tragedy always strike just when you think things are getting better? I suppose this is kind of the point; the war and the destruction of a homeland leaves marks on its people, even after they have left.

Read this book when you're in a contemplative mood, or on rainy days with a blanket and a warm cup of cocoa. It's not a particularly happy book, but it's beautiful and worth experiencing.

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