Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Book Review - Armada by Ernest Cline


**There may be mild spoilers ahead but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.**

Having never read Ernest Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One, I seem to have approached his second book without the preconceived notions I’ve read in most other reviews whining that it was just a rehash. I got to enjoy the sci-fi/fantasy book, movie, TV show, and video game nostalgia of my childhood unfettered of expectations.

Armada, the story of a high school kid turned galactic hero, lets you know early on that it’s a mash-up of Ender’s Game, The Last Starfighter, and a few others. And yet it worked. Zack Lightman, the main protagonist of the story, was for me a refreshing change from the special snowflakes that seem to inhabit a lot of stories these days, all of the chosen ones destined for greatness from birth. Zack is one of many talented people capable of saving the day because they were trained to do so. He’s smart but not smarter than all the grown-ups around him. He has anger management issues. He disobeys orders. He’s an average teenager thrown into an extreme situation and responds as I’d expected the teens of today to react; with skepticism, sarcasm, and hidden awe. I especially enjoyed his relationship with his totally cool mom.

The biggest issue most have with Armada is the name-dropping, or as one reviewer called it, the “cheap pops” of all the 70s and 80s cultural references. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it until I got to the end, to see what direction Cline would go with the conclusion. In the end, they were more than just “an attempt at cleverness” as suggested by A.V. Club’s review. Or trying to be cool or flashing sci-fi “street cred.” I thoroughly enjoyed how the pop culture was part of the plot, how all of our years of consuming the culture were simply preparing the human race to not freak out when aliens do actually show up, like in the many scenes of panic in Independence Day (also referenced in Armada). Cline taps into the language of sci-fi pop culture. Not the obvious quotes that anyone could google, but the minutiae that only true fans obsess over with lines like:

When Zack is contemplating why an alien ship would be in his small town, he thinks, “If there was a bright center to the universe, I was on the planet it was farthest from. Please pass the blue milk, Aunt Beru.”

“And now, like my father before me, I was paying the price for my lack of vision.” In reference to Zack thinking about how he wasted his time playing video games to the point he though he was hallucinating them.

Those aren’t just quotes from Star Wars. They are an immersion into the story and reflecting it into real life as “nerd” culture does. We have our own language and he uses it well to tell this story, like when Zack’s best friends “the Mikes” are debating the merits of Bilbo’s sword Sting versus Thor’s Mjolnir. They are personally invested in the outcome. I also liked how Zack doesn’t blindly trust in how things ended. He has his father’s gift of skepticism in the face of a supposed Utopia.

While the characters all acted as you'd expect of gamers and sci-fi nerds, they were believable, likable, and very diverse in age, race, and gender. I’d definitely recommend this to any sci-fi fan and all of my sci-fi customers at Half Price Books. And I think I’ll need to read it more than once to pick up on things I might’ve missed the first go-round.

Oh, and I almost forgot one more thing. I’ve read several reviews about how it isn’t really a young adult novel because they wouldn’t necessarily get the references. That’s because it wasn’t written to be a YA novel. Just because the protagonist is eighteen does NOT mean it’s YA fiction. “Perks of Being a Wallflower” has a teenage protagonist but that isn’t YA either. It’s literature. You know, like the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird. 

**I did receive a copy of the book from Crown Publishers (Penguin/Random House) through the Blogging for Books program for an honest review.**

This review will also be posted on my Goodreads account.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

More Reading Challenge Stuff

 and a new book for review! I recently signed up for Blogging for Books through Crown Publishing Group and my first free book, Armada by Ernest Cline, arrived two days ago. A review should show up in the next few days as I'm thoroughly enjoying the book so far (only up to pg 71). One unexpected and totally amazing thing turned up before I'd gotten past the first chapter. I tend to remove the dust jacket from my books as I read so as not to damage it. I know, I know. The point of a dust jacket is to protect the book. What can I say? I'm weird. I like it to look beautiful sitting on my shelf, dust jacket intact and pristine. Anyway, the point of that book ramble is that when you remove the dust jacket, it looks like this:
 
 
Picture borrowed from the Blogging Bookshop


As soon as I've finished, I'll let you know just how amazing it is with some quotes, some nerd info, and maybe a bit of squeeing. Then I'm going to acquire Cline's first book Ready Player One and repeat the process. How can I be so sure that the books will be awesome? They got Wil Wheaton to read the audio version! So, yeah. Kind of a duh for me. :)

As far as the reading challenge stuff, I've finished three more books on my list. They are as follows:
  • Secret of the Haunted Mirror (Three Investigators Series) by M.V. Carey for the category of book from my childhood
  • Paper Towns by John Green for book that became a movie (which I totally want to see)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a book that got bad reviews, which still amazes me
When I first started reading Gatsby, I was annoyed by the shallow characters and their vapid lifestyles. I came close to putting it down and moving on to the next book on my list. I'm glad I didn't. The whole point of the book was to illustrate just how shallow and vapid those people were, how having money made them into pretty much horrible human beings. Only Jay Gatsby, and to a lesser extent Nick, had any redeeming qualities, any humanity at all. Even now it's very timely and indicative of how the current ruling corporate class feels about the rest of us. I plan to check out the Baz Lurhmann adaptation of the book as I hear it is well worth watching and captures the spirit of the story if not the exact details.

My next book for the challenge will be either Looking for Alaska by John Green or one of the Bronte classics. I'll be using Armada for my book that came out this year instead of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee as I've heard lots of negative feedback that make me hesitate to read it. Apparently the representation of Atticus Finch in the sequel isn't very flattering and I don't want to ruin a story I love by tarnishing the image of the hero. And I really can't invest time in a book that is sure to piss me off by making said hero into a racist, especially after what made him a hero was to stand up against societal pressure of the time, to not be a bigot like his friends and neighbors. No thanks. I get enough disgusting racism and hate in the news and on social media without putting it in my relaxation time too. Okay, rambling done for now. I'll be back very soon with a new Cozy Mystery Monday review and the review for Armada. I'm also sorely lacking in reviews for all the great stuff I got from NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion. Off to read lots!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Reading Challenge Update

Earlier this year I posted about trying a reading challenge with specific categories. I took the challenge to read fifty books with ideas ranging from "Friend Favorite" to "Written over 100 years ago" by the end of 2015 to coincide with my Goodreads challenge to simply read 50 books in a year. I'm on track with the Goodreads count (24 of the 50) but not so much on the other one. With CampNaNo coming in a couple of days, reading time will be severely limited. Then the new semester starts in September where my instructors choose most of my reading until December. As it is, I've completed only these seven categories:
  • Number in the title - One of Chuck Wendig's writing guides
  • Female Author - The Whole Cat and Caboodle by Sofie Ryan
  • Short Stories - Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories (a cool anthology from the '80s)
  • Story with Magick - Spell Booked by the Lavenes (see review on this site)
  • New-to-you Author - If You've Got it Haunt It by Rose Pressey (CMM review coming soon)
  • Book you can finish in a day - Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (FABULOUS BOOK)
  • Recommended by a friend - Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (MUST READ for everyone)
As you may have noticed, I have several cozies on the list so far. They're quick and easy to read so they fill the list better than more serious fiction. I plan to read only two more cozies (the latest two Magical Cats mysteries by Sofie Kelly). The rest will take me out of my comfort zone to include several literary titles I should've already read and lots of things I'd never heard of or considered. Since I've completed so few I'll just continue reading until I've read them all, challenge or not. Next on my list? A book that got bad reviews - The Great Gatsby. This fact surprised me quite a bit. A literary classic on pretty much every school reading across the country got bad reviews. But then so did To Kill a Mockingbird. I loved To Kill a Mockingbird and can't wait for the sequel in July (filling the category of book published this year). It just goes to show you shouldn't always buy into the reviews (mine included) if something sounds good to you.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

New Altar


I finally got the new shelf for a small wall altar. Keeping my felines out of my magick should be a bit easier now. It has a dreams candle and my "wishes & dreams" jar with focus elements for learning genealogy professionally and writing. The incense is for meditation to put me in the right frame of mind to accomplish my goals. The bracelet was created by a dear friend who always encouraged me to do my best. I'll keep you posted on the results. :)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Cozy Mystery Monday - Charmed to Death

My next review returns to the Ophelia and Abby Mysteries with the second book in the series, "Charmed to Death" by Shirley Damsgaard. I'm pretty sure I'll start to sound like a broken record when discussing this series. Even with all the new paranormal/witchy cozies being published, I've yet to find any that can knock Ophelia and Abby out of the top slot.

The story picks up a few months after the first book. Ophelia Jensen has accepted her talents and begun training with her grandmother to learn the right way to use her gifts. It's in this second story that Ophelia received a set of runes, passed down from her great grandmother, that will become a major tool for her magick throughout the rest of the series. She's still hesitant, and occasionally impatient and flippant, about her abilities out of fear and ignorance. She'll eventually grow out of that as she fully embraces her magick.

This time around Ophelia must find out how the death of a kind local man is tied to the new corporate pig farm that just moved to Summerset, angering most of the farmers in the area (including Abby), and possibly the murder of her best friend Brian five years previously. It was his murder and her inability to prevent it that caused Ophelia to turn her back on her gifts. The pace of the story flows well, and though the who in the whodunit was fairly easy to figure out, the depth of their insanity was unexpected. My only quibble with it was the tired trope of modern witch hunters having direct ancestral ties to someone involved in the Salem Witch Trials. There are enough present-day paranoid (and sociopathic) people who fear witches without the need to dredge up Salem for an antagonist.

One of the things I like about this series is the author's respect for her protagonists. Abby is the strong, loving grandma we all know and love dearly but know better than to cross. Ophelia is intelligent and growing into her strength after years of hiding from the world. She doesn't generally wander off looking for trouble. It finds her and she uses her head (and her magick) to get out of sticky situations. A ditzy protagonist will turn me off a series every time, no matter how educated the person is supposed to be. Damsgaard also handles the magick with utmost respect, both with Abby's vast wealth of knowledge and Ophelia's realistic growing pains.

Three pistols for an interesting mystery, even if it was not a surprise. Four flying brooms for realistic representation of elemental magick and rune divination. And Abby. She's more than worth the price of the book all on her own.

http://melissaseclecticbookshelf.com/june-2015-witches-witchcraft-review-link-up/
June Reviews Link-up

Monday, May 4, 2015

Cozy Mystery Monday - Spell Booked

Cozy Mystery Monday is back after a bit of a break for mundane muggle stuff (the semester of homework ended yesterday). I debated whether to continue with the Ophelia and Abby Mysteries or to introduce another series. I've decided to alternate. Today I'm introducing the first book in a new series. Next week I'll go back to Ophelia. Then another new or new-ish series and back to Ophelia until I've reviewed all seven. The paranormal cozies have exploded onto the scene and there are so many new authors and series I want to explore. At the same time, I don't want to neglect the long running series that got me hooked in the first place. Now, to the new stuff!

This week I'm reviewing the first book in the new Retired Witches Mysteries, "Spell Booked" by national bestselling author couple Joyce and Jim Lavene. They've been writing cozies individually and as a couple for at least fifteen years, so they seem to do well. This is also the first of their books I've read so far.

The basic plot on this is a small coven of older witches, comprised of Olivia (the diva), Elsie (the ditz), and Molly (the practical one), are looking to retire as their powers are waning. The witches need to find replacements to inherit the coven and their book of shadows. They have one witch in their sights already, a librarian named Dorothy. Before they can make contact, Olivia is murdered. Naturally, the remaining witches and their new protege must find out who killed Olivia (with help from her spirit) without letting on to anyone (including Molly's husband who is a cop) they are witches.

From here the story gets a little iffy for me. The particular version of "witchdom" presented seems patched together in order to further the story without much cohesion or forethought. It's part modern Pagan and part Hollywood witchcraft. The women seem intelligent one moment and completely flighty the next. I think my biggest problems with this were the new witch, Dorothy (who is a blithering idiot most of the time), and the "Witches Council" that comes across as useless or adversarial by turns. Oh, and the idea of a witch losing her powers as she gets older. As someone heading into her Crone years, I was bothered (read insulted) by the idea that age meant weakness or loss of power. The women could no longer perform the most basic of spells without the spell backfiring on them. And the waning of power was not balanced by the wisdom we gain with age. It also included my biggest pet peeve when portraying modern witches; the instant spell. This is not Harry Potter. We don't wave a wand or light a candle and POOF! Spells take time, patience, and much more effort on the part of the caster. And the outcome is not guaranteed simply because we want it.

I didn't care for the constant need for absolute secrecy about the magick for fear of reprisal. Not from the muggles. From their own council. Yes, I know it's mainly to protect the witches from ignorance and prejudice. But a witch should be able to confide in her spouse about her magick. That aspect felt contrived to create conflict between characters that would otherwise have no drama. Not even the cat familiars could elevate this story for me. All in all, I'm not sure I'll bother with the rest of the series. And I'll have to think long and hard before I decide whether I'll try anything else by the Lavenes.


 for a whodunit that tried to keep you guessing. The who in the whodunit, while unexpected, had no lead in for the reader to even hazard a guess.


Two brooms for a magick system that might improve as the series progresses *crossing fingers* here. Though I'll never care much for the insinuation that old witches should just give up and retire to Boca.


2015 Witches &a Witchcraft Reading Challenge

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Holding onto Anger

I recently had a discussion with a relative about holding onto anger. I know everyone says that's a bad idea, it's harmful to my own psyche, it lets the other person win, and all that jazz. And with the class I'm taking, a semester learning about the Holocaust, I am torn. I'm learning in detail what hate, blind hate that ignores ethics and morals, can do to people. It reminds me of a line from Theoden in "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. When the people of Rohan are losing the battle against the Orcs and the Uruk-hai, Theoden asks, "So much death, what can men do against such reckless hate?" And there is no easy answer. Though I never want to feel the kind of anger that would push me to take a life or stand aside and let it happen, there are times I don't want to let go of my anger. There are individuals who've made me so angry or taken something so important that I don't feel that forgiving them is the right thing to do. Is this childish? Selfish? I'm not sure and frankly, I don't think I care. I will say that it has to be something EXTREME for me to be willing to continue to be angry or even hate a person. I don't wish to hold onto negativity for something simple.

Amanda
Five years ago something happened that I can never forgive and forget. I will NEVER stop being angry about it. In the early morning hours of 2 Jan 2010, my oldest niece (who would've been 24 that April) was driving home from visiting a friend. Her car ran out of gas on the Dallas North Tollway, a freeway with no shoulder. In the minutes it took her to text someone for a ride a drunk driver, one Khary McWilliams, slammed into her car, killing her instantly though we wouldn't know for certain until they got her body temperature up to check for brain activity. That is enough to make anyone furious but that isn't even the end of it. Two years later, it was decided by the courts that the man who did this, the man who drank well beyond his limit and got behind the wheel of his car, the man who took my niece's life was given probation as his punishment for taking a life. His attorney said this about putting McWilliams in prison, "with all due respect to the Richardson family, sending Khary to the penitentiary is not going to bring their daughter back. … At some point he's going to get out and is he going to be a different man than he is today? I submit to the court the answer to that is yes. I don't have to educate the court on how hard being in prison would be on someone like Khary McWilliams." Is that not the point of prison? To be hard on someone who committed a crime, who took someone's life, so they don't do it again? Why be soft on the criminal when the victim got no such consideration? And at the time of sentencing, the criminal admitted "to having driven after drinking on other occasions. He also admitted to having drank alcohol in the time since the accident." Unfortunately, it'll take the death of another innocent motorist before my niece receives any justice.

So hell yes I'm still angry. I want to be angry. Someone has to be angry for the sake of potential victims. He's living his life, celebrating holidays, and being with his family. My niece will never have that chance and our holidays are all bittersweet. I'm willing to say I HATE the man. Always will. I know it won't bring my niece back but neither will forgiving the killer of his crime. He doesn't deserve it. He'll never earn it. Nothing he can do will change the fact that he killed her and got away with it.