Friday, June 20, 2014

Things I Never Knew I Desperately Needed

Every now and then I stumble across things on Ye Olde Internette that tells me that people are making some amazing things out there.  I love it when I see the perfectly absurd next to the perfect quintessence of craft.
Here are some things that made me smile.  And want.

1. Coloring Books That Aren't Just for Children
(Best Coloring Book)
Sometimes, I don't want to be an adult.  But usually at those times it's still possible for me to enjoy the finer - and sillier - things in life.

2. A secret passage into/from my library.
Because sometimes you just want to be alone, you know?  Because sometimes my books are my favorite people in the world.
"What's that?  It's time to go to work?  Hmm, I appear to be stuck in my super secret cubby hole.  I guess I'm not going in today."
If you don't think this is great, you are wrong.  Sorry.

3. Poetry I Can Understand
Poetry and I have never really gotten along.  I think it's because my soul is dead and I have a reptilian heart.  Or something like that.  However, I think I can get behind these.

4. Ridiculous leather journals
For your ridiculous viewing pleasure, here are:

The Most Gigantic Leather Journal Ever.

Lotsa pages, man.  Lotsa 'em.
A Crazy-Thick Leather Journal
I feel like, if I started writing in either of these, I would start growing a glorious flowing beard, and feel inclined to wear robes.  Next, I would learn the secret language of the animals and be able to summon unicorns.
Such is the magic of a fine leather journal, which is why, if you can afford one, I highly recommend picking one up - but probably one that's significantly less than $1500.

For context. Look at that thing!
5. Fandom-based stuff
I am not ashamed of liking the things I like.  As I approached 30 a few years ago, most of my hang-ups sort of evaporated.  I have a unicorn messenger bag.  Yes.  I used it every day...until the corners of my notebooks/books started punching holes through the fabric.  If I like a TV show or series of books, I have no problem advertising my love through apparel or accessories.  
This is sort of my "Postage Stamp Theory of Life."  Yes, you can get a whole boring roll of plain ol' American flag Forever Stamps.  But they cost the same per stamp as the Pixar ones.  Take the extra 15 minutes to stop into the post office and buy the Vintage Circus Stamps.  It'll make paying bills a little more fun.
To that end, why not have a Game of Thrones-inspired dragon egg cookie jar?  And wouldn't you meals be every so slightly more fun when you salt and/or pepper with the TARDIS or a dalek?

6. This horse...for reasons
I have no explanation.  I just know that my Halloween costume ideas just became far more ambitious...
Some days it's hard for me to convince my cowlick to not stand straight up.  And this horse has this for a haircut.
Anyone discover anything totally awesome that's share-worthy?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: Caliban's War by James S. A. Corey

Caliban's War
Book 2 of The Expanse

We are not alone.

On Ganymede, breadbasket of the outer planets, a Martian marine watches as her platoon is slaughtered by a monstrous supersoldier. On Earth, a high-level politician struggles to prevent interplanetary war from reigniting. And on Venus, an alien protomolecule has overrun the planet, wreaking massive, mysterious changes and threatening to spread out into the solar system.

In the vast wilderness of space, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante have been keeping the peace for the Outer Planets Alliance. When they agree to help a scientist search war-torn Ganymede for a missing child, the future of humanity rests on whether a single ship can prevent an alien invasion that may have already begun . . .

Alright, I gave the first book the benefit of the doubt, mostly because the intriguing-yet-not-thrilling plot picked up to a frenetically awesome pace toward the end of the book, setting the stage for Caliban's War to have a thrill-a-minute adventures.  (SPOILERS from book one) After all, when an alien-created protomolecule is absorbing humans and their characteristics, and then making inanimate object sentient, surely the next book is going to be amazing, right?  No?  You human will realize we're not alone....and there will be adventures...No?  We're not going to have a "first contact" story?  We're going to have backroom politics instead?  And lovers' spats?  Really?  Okaaay.  If you insist...

Once again, the authors (yes, "authors" - the pen name is for two people) alternate perspectives by chapter.  Only one narrator has returned from the first book:  Holden, the naive yet good-hearted captain. Our now-cranky-instead-of-hopeful captain is joined by three others:  a scientist looking for his kidnapped daughter, a marine who saw her entire platoon get killed, and a feisty and foulmouthed grandmotherly politician.  While I give props to Corey for having female protagonists this time , I can't say that any particular POV was engaging.  None of the characters truly had their own voice - except for maybe Avasarala, who swears almost every sentence she utters.  Prax, Bobbie, and Holden all have the same voice which is about as interesting as plain oatmeal.

Once again, there is the same problem with the prose being dull.  Normally I am not one to notice writing unless it's really bad.  However, this isn't bad writing, it's just bland writing.  There is no life in it, and unfortunately the characters add nothing, so once again absurd action sequences are shoe-horned into the story to, ahem, "keep the tension up."  I don't need to dredge up the "If Michael Bay directed Titanic" gif again, do I?

Just as with the first book, the narrative slowly reveals the actual drama and who is behind it, but by that point of the final reveal I was so uninterested that I just want to speed read clear to the end.  I mean, for the love of corn, the very first sentence on the blurb is "We are not alone" - so why does it take until the FINAL page - yes! the last page of a 624 page book - for any indication that the alien protomolecule is genuinely doing something?  There are a few passing mentions of its activity, but mostly the alien thingamajig is shunted aside for Avasarala to swear at someone or for Holden to moon over his girlfriend.  Blergh.

As I've said before, there are very few books over 350 pages that couldn't benefit from some severe editing.  Knowing I could have read almost two other paperbacks for the same amount of pages hurts my soul a little.  The fact that this book flares into Super Awesome Space Adventure in the last 20-30 pages doesn't really make up for having to read over 500 pages first.  The story ends on a massive cliffhanger and while I want to know what's going to happen next, I'm leaning toward "I'm not falling for that again."

3 stars!

Will I continue reading the series?   
Eh.  *avoids eye contact*

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Review: Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
Book 1 of The Expanse

Humanity has colonized the solar system - Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond - but the stars are still out of our reach.
Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, "The Scopuli," they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for - and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.
Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to "The Scopuli" and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.
Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations - and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

Ah, the quest for another satisfying science fiction epic carries on...
If you're looking through current Sci-Fi publications, you're sure to stumble across James S. A. Corey's "The Expanse" series.  So far it seems well-received, and with three books of the series already released, it can be a good bet to place your chips on.

The story itself easily falls into the "space opera" category, with many adventures in the greater reaches of space - but only our solar system.  While that in itself is, of course, a miracle by modern standards, I suppose I'm used to science fiction having a bit farther of a reach.  Even though space is incomprehensibly big, limiting the story to just our solar system gives it a deceptively small sensation, like having tea in a closet next to a ballroom.  I dunno.

The plot of the book, once it becomes apparent, hinges on the strained inter-human politics of the solar system.  Earth and her colonies have a mutual mistrust.  Even the colonies themselves aren't exactly simpatico.  Mars feels a certain camaraderie with the Belters - but only as long as the Belters are supplying them with the minerals they need.  Not only are the politics of each group different, but spending lifetimes in low gravity is starting to change the physiology of Belters, making the two groups stand out from each other even more than their differing politics would indicate.

The real driving force is the underlying mystery of "who is trying to orchestrate a solar system-wide war?"  No one seems to gain from the chaos and everyone seems to lose, yet everyone is eager for war.  However, the horrors of war are a pale shadow of what is truly happening, which is only revealed in small chunks as the story progresses.  Miller is seeking a lost daughter of a rich magnate, while Holden is hell-bent on revenge for whoever was responsible for killing his crew and blowing up his ship.  The plot is interesting:  who is responsible for starting this war?  What happened to Miller's target?

Unfortunately, where the narrative loses most of its momentum is with the two main characters.  Holden and Miller alternate chapters, taking the reader at their sides as their uncover darker mysteries than seem possible.  But it's the mysteries that are interesting, not the characters.  Miller is a disgraced detective who's trying to prove that he's not washed up.  Holden is a sometimes-angry, sometimes-chivalrous former navy officer out for revenge - and sweet lovin' with the only woman around.  Sure.

Here's the thing:  "James S. A. Corey" is actually the pen name of two authors.   Each author took on POV character and wrote the chapters.  This isn't a terrible idea, really.  However, the chapters are written in third person, not in first, so the "voice" of the narrator has to be more generic 3p-Limited, a camera following the characters and reporting.  No two people write the same way, so the style they settled on is so bland that only the Michael Bay-esque action sequences keep the story lively.
"Things might be getting boring..!"    "Add an explosion!"

I'm generally not a stickler for "Show, don't tell," but even I started to notice things in this book.  We are told how the characters feel.  We are told that they are honorable (or angry).  We are told how they're changing.  (I can't decide what's worse:  that the reader is told that "this is a character arc btw", or that they reader can't tell that with the prose alone.)  When I think "Oh, he's being honest?  That's what that conversation is supposed to mean?  Really?" or "He changed?  When did that happen?  Was I supposed to notice that," it's hard to take it as a good sign.

Given that the solar system is half female, it's also a disappointment to see so few meaningful female characters.  Essentially there are two:  Julie, the missing woman that Miller was told to find (aka "The Damsel in Distress") and Naomi, one of Holden's crew (aka "The 'Love' Interest").  Hardly anything legendary here.  More than once, I wished Devi Morris would show up and start shooting first, asking questions later.

On the cover of my edition, George R R Martin has a quote, "It's been a long time since we've had a kickass space opera..."  Now, one of the co-authors is his assistant, and while I'm not going to accuse anyone of nepotism, I would just like to point out that he isn't exactly saying that this is the next great "kickass space opera."  (Funnily, on later editions, the quote is pared down to simply "...kickass space opera..."  So yeah.  I"ll just leave that there.)

I know I'm sounding a little down on the book, but despite the watered-down narrator and intangible characters, I liked the story.  Liked it - didn't love it.  The final few chapters have enough genuine excitement and creepfest plot development to make a reader want the next book.  However, I would have enjoyed this book more had it lost about a third of its length and gained about more interesting - and possibly female - protagonists.

3 Stars!
Will I read the sequel?  Yep, doing it right now. 
More explosions!  Quick!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Top 10 Beach Reads for this Summer

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly blog event sponsored by The Broke and the Bookish.

Hey!  Summer!  Reading for fun and edification!  Getting tan and mosquito-bitten while doing it!  YAY.

350Science Fiction
In the event you missed it, I've been having my own personal Science Fiction fiesta for the last few months, and I don't really expect that to change any time soon.  I have a lot of both "classics" to catch up on, and newer books to discover including:
Cordelia's HonorBujold's Vorkosigan saga is supposed to be terrific.

On Basilisk Station.  Yay for books written by men with strong female protagonists! in a Strange LandFrequently makes appearances on "Best Science Fiction" lists.

Beggars in Spain.  Recommended to me by a friend as an excellent example of the genre
"Lost Fleet" series.  I only read the first one, but it was enjoyable enough that I would like to continue/finish it.  None of the volumes are terrible long, all about 300 pages or less. 

Young Adult and Friends

14061957 between starship battles and clones dueling each other, it might be good to take a break and sip from the  the good ol' YA fountain.

The Secret of the Unicorn Queen series.  Anyone else remember these books?  10-year-old me is squealing inside with the excitement.  I won't even be embarrassed reading these in public, such is my love.

Gamer Girl.  This looks super cute - and like a quick read. 
11235712Cinder/Scarlet.  I appear to have missed the boat on reading these.  I

"Chronicles of Lumatere" series.  Elizabeth's reviews have convinced me that this needs to be on my "readthisreadthisomgrightnow" list.  So once I'm off my Sci-Fi binge, here I go!
Ruin and Rising.  I know that not everyone loves these books the same way I do, but for reasons currently defying my understanding, I love them.

Any suggestions that I missed?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review: Under the Never Sky (Trilogy)

 Under the Never Sky trilogy by Veronica Rossi
1. Under the Never Sky
2. Through the Ever Night
3. Into the Still Blue

I started reading this series a couple months ago and thought I should write a review of the first book, but then I was reading the second one, "so maybe I should just write both reviews together" and then I was getting the third one from the library, so now I'm doing to ultra-lazy thing and writing all a review for the trilogy as a whole.

So, yeah.  This is a series of books.  I read them.

Perhaps it's a matter of going in with overinflated expectations, but the first book was  underwhelming to me.  Not that it was bad, mind, just not thrilling.  The little bits of technology and the world that Rossi invented is interesting:  Pod Dwellers have "Smart Eyes" (think super-futuristic Google glasses) and the tribes have individuals who have developed super senses.  It's a neat little setup, but most of it comes off as window dressing by the end of the story.  Interesting window dressing, but window dressing all the same.

Unless you didn't read any of the blurbs on the books, it's obvious from the get-go that this is going to be a YA romance in a sci-fi setting, and that's okay.  However - and perhaps this is my cold, reptilian heart speaking - the romance was nothing to swoon over.  There will never be a reader who isn't certain that Perry and Aria are going to get together.  But nevertheless, we have to dedicate the first book to "will they or won't they" and the entire second book to "the travails of a difficult romance" as if the audience should care more about a couple because they have to fight for their love.  It's not that the romance is unbelievable, it's just that it's not really enough to be the only motivating force in the narrative.

By the time the third volume finally arrived at my local library, I had forgotten enough of the first two books to make me less keen to finish.  However, I was just curious enough to see how the whole shebang ended to read through it.  As expected, the googly eyes and canoodling still are present throughout the final book.  This probably wouldn't bother me so very much except all the frickin' characters are so dang melodramatic about their lovelives.  One guy has lost the love of his life (at eighteen or nineteen) and pretty much becomes a walking a$$hole for the first chunk of the book, leading to some stupidities that could have been avoided.  The main pair are brought together and torn apart so many times - and yet they always have the energy to settle into a mope.  When a secondary character actually scolds the heroine for "Bella'ing" (my term, not the author's), I had to wonder if this wasn't some kind of a joke.

"But wait," you ask.  "If you didn't love them, why did you bother to read the entire series?"  An excellent question, young grasshopper.
I guess the storyline and the setting are just interesting enough that a reader will want to know the ending, even if they aren't thrilled with the books on the whole.
If you're wondering: the ending doesn't exactly blast open any new inroads into any genre, but it's satisfying enough for this series.

I suppose I was just interested enough that I hoped the books would get better.  Even though they never really take off, at no point did I feel like the story was floundering.  So there's that.  It's not terrible; it's not the best thing ever written.

3 stars across the board!