Category: Reviews (page 1 of 3)

2016 Book #1: The 5th Wave

5thwave.jpgThis is what happens when I see a pretty disaster pr0n movie trailer and think I’ll like the book because of it. Okay, it’s not terrible: it’s run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic YA. You know what to expect. In my defense, I didn’t know it was YA until I picked it up at the library and saw the YA taped to the spine. I cringed a little, then checked it out anyway.

I’m not saying that I don’t like any YA (how many times have I said this after I read one I didn’t like?) – I just usually don’t seek them out because they’re even more of a mixed bag than the adult books I read, and my reading time and attention span are pretty limited at the moment.

So. The 5th Wave. A giant mothership full of aliens has just shown up in the air above Earth. They sit around for a while, then use an EMP to knock out electronics. There goes communication, electricity, etc. The humans take a while to catch on, but they figure out pretty quickly that the aliens’ intentions can’t be good. Things get worse and worse (I won’t ruin the surprise of the waves for you), and sixteen-year-old Cassie finds herself on her own with a mission to rescue her kid brother. There’s lots of disaster and lots of alien mischief and lots of everything else you’d expect. And don’t forget an awkward teenage love triangle.

Which is the part of this novel that really annoyed me. Soooo you’re probably going to die pretty soon, but you have to stop everything to have the awkward teenage moment. Because if something like this was really happening, battle-hardened teenagers would automatically resort to their instincts, like dogs stopping everything to circle around a few times before they poop. Ugh.

Annoyances aside, The 5th Wave was packed full of the disaster I expected – and even more death and horror. Things could have been worse. Oh, and if you’re looking for some kind of closure, note that this is the first book in a trilogy: there is no closure. That said, I don’t think I’m interested enough to read the best of them, and I just heard that the second isn’t even as good as the first. We’ll see. It might happen.

Oh, and here’s the trailer that got me into this trouble:

Happy 2016! On to greener pastures.

Featured image credit: Sea Turtle

2015: The Year in Books

2015 has been an interesting year. I’ve been really busy, mostly because of dogs. That and an extended foray into Minecraft from which I only recently returned. Books were on the back burner this year. I only blogged about fifteen of them, but I read forty-two, according to Goodreads. That’s a little shy of my annual fifty-book goal, but it’s not too shabby, either. I got busy and had Other Things to Do. 2016 will probably be the same.

That said, here’s my usual list of all the books I read, not just the ones I blogged about. Bold means I really liked it, italics means I hated it, and plain text means it was reasonably good.

That’s a good bit of bold! I did pretty well this year despite my lack of reading enthusiasm. But which is my favorite? That one’s a little difficult. This year has been long and stressful, and I hardly remember anything about most of these books. I think I’ll offer a pairing this year of my favorite and one of my my least favorites, as they’re by the same author (and even in the same series!). So? Drumroll, please…


Yep, that’s Rabbit, Run by John Updike. I’d put off reading it for years because I thought it was about basketball, and I was so surprised by how much I liked it!

Which leads me to the first of my least favorite books of 2015:

reduxI hated Rabbit Redux, the next book in the Rabbit Angstrom series, at least as much as I loved Rabbit, Run. It catches up with Harry a few years later, when he gets himself and his kid mixed up with druggy sexcapades, and it’s so extreme that it’s almost unreadable. It’s like DeLillo’s search for new extremes (usually involving the desert), but with moving people into his house with his kid and letting every single thing fall apart. It was painful, and it makes me not want to read any of the rest of the series for fear that Updike will continue to look for new extremes.

And here’s the second. I can’t leave this one out because this might be my least favorite of all time, and I’ve read a lot of books:


You know that movie we all love? Whatever you do, don’t read the book. It’s terrible and will ruin your childhood and possibly your entire life. For a point-by-point breakdown, read my review.

Well, there you have it! Hopefully I’ll be better about reading and reviewing books in 2016, but we’ll see how that goes, as Puppy.

2015 Book #14: It

itcoverI finally read It. It’s been on my tbr shelf (and my tl;dr pile) for at least a decade, maybe even longer than The Stand was. (I’m having a hard time keeping away from the obvious puns. Gah.)

If you read my review of The Stand, you know that I couldn’t get beyond the made-for-tv movie I’d seen so many times. It ruined the book for me. I was really worried that that would happen with It, but I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t. I think that happened for a couple of reasons: 1. I don’t think I’ve seen the movie as many times as I’d seen The Stand. I’m pretty sure that I’d usually fall asleep by the time the second half starts, so there were parts of the book that I’d assumed I’d forgotten about in the movie that, as it turned out, weren’t even in the movie at all. 2. The movie is soooooo different than the book. What’s funny is that while it’s soooooo different, it’s essentially almost exactly the same. I’ll get to that.

You’re probably familiar with at least the gist of the plot, even if you haven’t seen or read it (I say that, but I didn’t know what Salem’s Lot was about…): A bunch of kids in Derry, Maine, are killed, including ten-year-old Bill Denborough’s brother. Bill and six of his friends track down the monster, who usually appears as the adorable (heh) Pennywise the Dancing Clown. They go into the sewers to fight it, and they think they killed it, but they aren’t sure, so they promise to come back if it reappears. Which it does, about 27 years later, when they’re all adults. Scary things happen.

So. In a lot of ways, It was exactly what I expected after seeing the movie so many times. In other ways, it was not at all like it. I won’t spoil the fun (heh again), but there’s a scene in the book when they’re kids, just after they’ve defeated It, that is…surprising – and, I think, shocking and unnecessary. (WTF, Stephen King? You know exactly what I’m talking about.) Otherwise, a lot of the differences between the book and the movie were probably made for budgetary reasons, especially when it was made around 1990, before the heyday of CGI. Which makes me excited about the new one in the works: It is the perfect movie for a CGI makeover. I’m generally not one to get excited about movie remakes, but this is an exception. There’s a whole world in the book that couldn’t translate well to film without CGI. The only problem, of course, is that Tim Curry will always be Pennywise in my head, and I can’t imagine anyone else playing him. For the rest? They can do better. The book isn’t half as corny as the made-for-TV movie. (I guess I should put a spoiler alert on this video, in case you don’t know what It is.)

This isn’t really a review, is it. (Are my reviews ever reviews?) If you’re a fan of Mr. Stephenking and you haven’t read It, you should. Yeah, it’s long. Now that I’ve read several, I think I can claim that it’s one of his best, though none so far can touch the Dark Tower series.

Oh! I forgot about the Dark Tower references! If you read my reviews regularly, you probably also know that I’ve become a Dark Tower (and Stephen King) junkie, and I get tremendously excited when I see a Dark Tower reference in a Stephen King novel. And there are lots. The turtle, one of the beams, makes an appearance, and It itself is some sort of relation to another important character in the series. There are also the little mentions peppered around just like in the rest of his novels. So much fun!

Is It a good place to start with our friend Mr. Stephenking, you ask? Yes, indeed. Possibly the best, though The Shining might be a little more accessible just because it’s shorter. And most people seem to like Salem’s Lot, though I didn’t. As much as I love the Dark Tower series, I wouldn’t start there. But God forbid, don’t start with The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon. I’m still annoyed at that one.

2015 Book #13: The Good Earth

goodearthI guess it’s for the best that I’ve put off reviewing a couple of books lately, as I’m tired of audiobooks and it’s taking me forever to read It. I read (listened to) The Good Earth almost a month ago, and my procrastination has nothing to do with how much I liked it. It’s really fantastic.

The downside is that I’ve waited so long to write about it that I don’t have much to say. So it goes.

The Good Earth is the first in a trilogy about life in agrarian China. Wang Lung, a young man, lives with his father and farms his land. He marries a slave from a nearby wealthy family, and his exposure to their lifestyle makes him crave it for himself. As the wealthy family loses money, they begin to sell off their land, and Wang Lung is able to by parts of it piece by piece after good harvests. One year, after he has children, a terrible drought forces Wang Lung and his family to move to a southern city and experience near homelessness there until the poor people living around him break into a lord’s house, and he and his wife steal some of that lord’s money and are able to return to their land. They have several years of good harvests and continue to buy the previously wealthy family’s land, and Wang Lung becomes ever closer to his dreams of his own wealth and estate.

(Summaries around the internet give the story a different slant. Interesting.)

I really enjoyed The Good Earth. It had been on my radar for several years, but I hadn’t read it because someone whose opinion I respected years ago told me that it would bore me. That might have been the case when I was in college, but now it certainly isn’t. Without too much of a spoiler, I will say, though, that I’m very hesitant to read the rest of the trilogy because I have a feeling they’ll be depressing. Not that The Good Earth isn’t, in a way, even though Wang Lung and his family prosper.

What all of this means is that if you’ve been considering reading The Good Earth, do it. It’s worth it. It probably isn’t for action fans, but if you like historical novels (which I generally don’t), you’ll like this one. I’m not sure of a good gauge for the type of person who might or might not like it, though, which seems a bit strange. So. Classics and history but not YA? That sounds about right.

Photo credit: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

2015 Book #12: Rabbit, Run

rabbitrunHere’s yet another case of You Got an English Degree…How? I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I got through college and a master’s degree without reading Updike. (In my defense, this time is not as bad as when I got called out in a graduate class for never having read Jane Eyre…which I promptly read and enjoyed. That was several years ago.) Rabbit, Run and the rest of the Rabbit Angstrom series have been on my radar since, say, 2000, and I even own one of his books, but this is the first time I’ve ever read him.

Not far into Rabbit, Run, I became an instant fan.

I think I was turned off by the basketball on every cover of every Rabbit book ever. I thought I was in for a sports novel (which also might explain why I can’t get through Underworld). Fifteen minutes into the audiobook, I realized that Rabbit, Run is not, in fact, a sports novel, but a mannish family novel with some interesting similarities to DeLillo. And better yet, I haven’t ruined Updike for myself like I have DeLillo by studying him. Oh, yeah.

Rabbit, Run is about Harry Angstrom, who was, yes, a high school basketball star. But that’s pretty much where the sports end. Of course, that experience has in a lot of ways shaped his life, but that’s only part of the story. Harry is married to a woman named June and has one young kid and another on the way. He’s unhappy in his marriage for several reasons and runs off…for a couple months. One day, instead of picking up his car and then his kid, he takes the car and heads south. Several hours later, he heads back to town, finds his old basketball coach, Marty Tothero, and asks his advice. He ends up on a double date with Tothero, his girlfriend, and another girl named Ruth. Harry moves in with Ruth for a couple months before returning home when his baby is born. Of course, there are consequences.

I was so surprised by how good this novel is and how much I enjoyed it. I had no idea what I was in for, and I was so pleasantly surprised that I’m having a hard time not immediately reaching for Rabbit Redux. Seriously, y’all. If you haven’t read Updike, run to your local library or bookstore. And if you like our old friend DeLillo, you’ll like Updike, possibly even more.

Featured image credit: Jason Yung

2015 Book #11: Trigger Warning

triggerwarningI’m usually not a short story reader unless it’s in The New Yorker (collections are so disjointed!), but I jumped on Trigger Warning after I had such a good time reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane in 2013. I love Neil Gaiman. I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of his novels, and I’ve liked every one (except Good Omens, the one he wrote with Terry Pratchett, who I also love). Gaiman seems to write exactly the stories I like to read (like Calvino, but so much easier to process).

Anyway. Here’s yet another list, this time of some of my favorite stories:

  • “The Case of Death and Honey” is about Sherlock Holmes and bees. It’s hard to say any more without releasing a massive spoiler. Holmes hears about the mysterious disappearance of an old man in China. The man lived on a hillside and had several beehives, selling honey to surrounding villages. Then rumors circulated about the appearance of a white man asking about bees…
  • “An Invocation of Incuriosity” might be my favorite. A man and his son live at the end of the world, and the sun has just died out. The father takes his son into a secret room in the house, and they suddenly appear in a city millions of years before, near the beginning of the world. The father is rich and has other sons by other women and tells his son-from-the-end-of-the-world that he has to pretend to be a servant. Turns out the father has been collecting stones and other objects from the end of the world to sell to the city folk. So good!
  • “Nothing O’Clock” is a Doctor Who story! Whaaaat, you say? If you’re a fan, you probably know that Gaiman has written several episodes over the years. This story is set during Matt Smith’s tenure, and he and Amelia have to deal with the Kin (who appeared in a few episodes with David Tennant and Martha). Timey Wimey stuff happens, and it ran through my head like a TV episode.
  • “Adventure Story” is really interesting. It’s about family secrets and what people really consider adventures.
  • “The Return of the Thin White Duke” is about a Duke who is really a god and who is bored with ruling, so he goes off on an adventure that doesn’t turn out anything like he expected.
  • “The Sleeper and the Spindle” is a blended retelling of a couple fairy tales (I’m sure you can guess one) with a really good twist.

And I’ll stop there, though I liked so many more. The weakest parts of the collection are the poems, but they’re all pretty short and lead to Much Better Things. Trigger Warning is definitely worth a read (or two or three).

Photo credit: orangejon

2015 Book #10: The Neverending Story

neverendingI should have written this post right after I finished reading The Neverending Story, if only as a public service to save you the trouble of trying to read this stupid book. My anger has lessened as I’ve subconsciously begun to repress  the crap my eyeballs transmitted to my brain over several days. Ugh.

SO short spoiler-free review: DON’T.

For those of you who want to know the whole truth, I present some highlights, in bulleted form. I’m assuming you’ve seen the movie, as I’m pretty sure everyone has, so I’m sticking to the many differences.

  • The movie only covers the first half of the book – the relatively good half. The second is ridiculous and terrible. I’ll get to that in a minute.
  • At first I was like, okay, this is interesting. We get more background on Atreyu and Falcor.
  • Except Falcor doesn’t just drop in to save Bastian: After he goes through the swamp and loses Artax (who talks in the book, but only a couple of times, which somehow makes his death less sad?), he discovers that he needs to go to the far end of Fantastica (and yes, I spelled it correctly. In the book, it’s Fantastica, not Fantasia), which involves crossing this abyss, which is guarded by the Scariest Monster Ever. It turns out to be a ginormous spider-thing that’s made up of millions of tiny insects, and it has a web crossing said abyss with Falcor stuck in it, stung by the monster and slowly dying. Atreyu has the emblem-necklace the Childlike Empress gave him, which the spider-thing respects, so it tells him its secret: if it stings him, it will kill him in an hour, but within that hour, he can magically travel anywhere in Fantastica that he wishes. Yep. So Atreyu asks to be stung, effectively committing suicide, so he can travel to the south of Fantastica and…die? Except Falcor hears what the monster says, too, and wishes himself to Atreyu’s location, then flies him to the little people and on we go with the Southern Oracle and such.
  • After all of that and various other adventures, Atreyu and Falcor head back to the Childlike Empress to explain that a human needs to give her a new name. In the movie, the storm is going on, etc, and the Empress talks to Bastian through the book, then he yells her name into the storm and is magically transported to Fantasia. But no! Bastian is worried that once he gets there, they’ll laugh at him because he’s fat and awkward. MEH. SO the Childlike Empress has to go on a quest of her own go find an elusive old man on some mountain who can make Bastian say her name and show up. Bastian only does it because he has to.
  • THEN, by the time Bastian gets to Fantastica, it’s only a grain of sand, etc, etc, and he has to wish it back into existence bit by bit. This is the book’s halfway point. He creates a beautiful night forest with plants made of light. Then, he thinks there’s not enough trouble in the world, so he wishes to find the Greatest Enemy Ever. He wakes up the next morning and discovers that his forest has become a desert, then travels across it, eventually finding a lion who kills everyone except whoever is wearing Moonchild’s (ugh) emblem. Bastian is comfortable and stays there for a really long time until the lion hints that he should move along.
  • And then a long string of stupid and unnecessary adventures commences, each involving a wish. Bastian quickly becomes a selfish, dumb kid who makes terrible decisions. And I’ve forgotten to mention that he’s wished himself a new body: he’s big and strong and Middle Eastern and wears a turban.?. Yep. Moving on.
  • As Bastian becomes more and more of an asshole, Atreyu and Falcor figure out that every time he makes a wish in Fantastica, he loses a memory from Earth. (I’ve forgotten exactly how this relates to the SECOND movie, but the whole situation is turned around in Bastian’s favor, so Bastian is the good guy in the movie but the bad guy in the book.) They try to explain that he needs to leave Fantastica before he loses all memory of Earth and causes Fantastica to be forgotten and destroyed again, but Bastian is having too good a time and doesn’t want to go home.
  • It also turns out that, after he forgets almost everything and tries to declare himself Emperor of Fantastica but fails and runs away, he’s not the first: there’s a whole village of humans who gave the Childlike Empress new names but who couldn’t get back to Earth for various reasons. This part was a wee bit interesting, and the experience finally convinces Bastian that he needs to go home.
  • Bastian eventuall figures out that to get home, he has to find his true wish. Get ready for it! It is…drumroll please…to learn how to love. SERIOUSLY. Any possible redemption that this book was heading toward fizzled out in that very instant. Eff you, Michael Ende, is what went on in my head. UGH.
  • And it only gets worse! Other non-movie things happen, and eventually he ends up back in his school attic. The school is closed, so he crawls down some scaffolding, then runs home, where his dad is waiting. If my kid skipped school and was gone all night then came home safe and sound, I’d be furious. But no! Bastian’s dad is just glad he’s home. He makes Bastian some toast, and Bastian tells his story. Again, if my kid told me a story like that, I’d either be furious or immediately seek some professional help depending on whether I thought he actually believed it. But no again! When Bastian finishes, his dad starts crying, hugs his son, and says things between them will change – and not because Bastian is about to be admitted to a mental hospital. Bastian’s dad believes everything he says. REALLY. He even volunteers to talk to Mr. Coriander about Bastian’s little thievery incident, but Bastian says that he has to grow up and do it himself.
  • SO he goes to see Mr. Coriander, who also believes his stupid story. The book had disappeared from the attic by the time Bastian returned, but, luckily enough, Mr. Coriander says that he didn’t have a book like that to begin with, though he’d been to Fantastica himself some other way, that most people find their way there at some point. Groan.
  • And Bastian lived happily ever after.

Wow. I didn’t think my list would be that long. The Neverending Story is the worst book I’ve read in a long time, and I’ve read some doozies here lately. It’s also a HUGE example of a movie being better than a book. You don’t find those often. And this book is so terrible that you should leave your childhood memories alone on this one. Don’t spoil the whole idea by slogging through this piece of crap, and don’t even tell your kids that the movie is based on a book. There’s a reason everyone’s seen the movie but no one’s read the book.

End of PSA.

BONUS: Turns out some guy likes the movies so much that he outfitted a Neverending Story-themed custom van. Oh, yeah.




Featured image credit: Tina Ottosson

Wacko van images: ROOSTER.NEVC@YAHOO.COM

2015 Book #9: The Long Home

longhomeAfter spending some time with Andy Weir on Mars (and after slogging through the weirdness of Still Life with Woodpecker), I wanted to read something a bit more mundane. I’d never heard of The Long Home or William Gay, but Goodreads thought I’d like it since I love Larry Brown and the library happened to have a copy, so I jumped in.

And it was so good.

Also: very like Larry Brown in subject matter, though not in style. It’s like Larry Brown went literary. I’ll stop talking about Larry Brown now.

The Long Home is set in 1940s Tennessee. It begins with a flashback to ten years before: Dallas Hardin has taken over a sick man’s home (and his wife and daughter). He gets into an argument with a man named Nathan Winer, kills him, and dumps him into a pit next to his house. Ten years later, Winer’s son is a teenager and doesn’t know what happened. He ends up working for Hardin, building a speakeasy of sorts. The younger Winer falls in love with the sick man’s daughter and tries to rescue her from Hardin. Meanwhile, he befriends an old man named William Tell Oliver, who knows what happened but doesn’t want to tell anyone. Things happen. It’s a complex plot.

It’s such a good novel. I don’t know how I hadn’t heard of William Gay before, but I guess it’s because at some point when I was in college, I decided that I hated Southern lit, and I avoided it until a year or two ago. Ahhh, dumb youth. The Long Home is a great example of contemporary Southern lit and reminds me of Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. I’ll be reading Gay’s other books in short order. Of course, like almost every author I decide I like, he only published a small handful of novels, and he died a few years ago. So it goes.

If you don’t have an arbitrary hatred of Southern lit (or are ready to get over it), you should give William Gay a try. The Long Home is definitely worth a read.

As a side note, this novel reminds me of this song (specifically, this version of this song):

2015 Book #8: Wolf in White Van

wolfinwhitevanWolf in White Van only landed on my radar because of its author: John Darnielle is a member of one of my favorite bands, The Mountain Goats. (I’ll add a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite songs to the bottom of this post.) I probably saw this book in an upcoming books list on The Millions, and it seems there was quite a bit of hype for a first novel, not that the author is unknown by any means. I read the blurb and was a bit skeptical, but once I got my hands on the book (okay, downloaded it from OverDrive), I was won over almost immediately.

It’s a novel told in reverse, like Time’s Arrow (which is better) or Lotería (which is oh so much worse). The protagonist, Sean, has suffered a disfiguring facial injury that has left him ostracized by his parents and most of society. He generally stays at home with frequent visits from a nurse. He spends his time working on a mail-order roleplaying game called Trace Italian, which he came up with when he was a teenager and in the hospital. We slowly discover what his world is like and what has happened to him.

Oh, this book is so good. It’s my favorite novel-length novel so far this year (which, of course, counts out The Strange Library). It’s so much better than I expected – and very different. It’s what I’d imagine John Green‘s novels might be like without all of the insufferable sap. (I say I’d imagine because I’ve never actually read one word John Green has written, and I absolutely refuse to. I’ll link back to this post when I break down and read one of his novels…)

Seriously, y’all. Mountain Goats fan or not, you need to read this book.

And here’s the promised Mountain Goats playlist:

2015 Book #7: The Martian

martianI’ll go ahead and warn you about the huge spoiler a little down the page because there’s no way I could review this book without talking about the ending. So if you haven’t read it, here’s the short version. Read it. Skip the review until then. It’s worth it, I promise.

Onward. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I picked up The Martian. I knew it was sci-fi, but I didn’t know what kind or how far-out it would be. I thought there might be evil aliens lurking in corners, waiting to spring on Mark Watney at every corner. Turns out that’s not it at all.

The Martian is about an astronaut stranded on Mars. Shortly after he and his crew landed, there was an accident, and they thought he was dead, so they followed orders and left. Except he wasn’t dead: his suit had been punctured, and it was sending out incorrect data. The rest of the crew heads home, and Watney has to figure out what to do. The next mission isn’t supposed to arrive for over a year, and he only has supplies for a couple hundred days. So…

A lot of the novel is made up of Mark’s log entries, which describe what he does to try to stay alive. After not too long, though, someone at NASA sees him on a satellite picture, so at least they know he’s alive. Watney had a dual role with the crew: botanist and mechanical engineer. He can fix stuff. So he makes a several-day journey to pick up one of the lost rovers, brings it back to his base, and gets it working again, allowing him to communicate with NASA. And that’s only the beginning.

So here’s the *MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT* you’ve been waiting for. By the end of the book, I was so emotionally involved because of all of the things Watney survived that I would have been so angry if he died. This book might have dropped to two Goodreads stars solely to reflect my frustration level. But no! Andy Weir was reasonable and allowed Watney to survive, eventually returning to Earth. I especially liked the very end, in which a kid asks him if, given the chance, he’d return to Mars: “Are you fuckin’ crazy?” Yes, indeed. *End MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT*

Oh, how I enjoyed this book. Weir did an amazing amount of research and applied it brilliantly. I should probably mention that I listened to the audiobook as I was walking a certain dog, and I think I liked it more because of that. The Martian is the perfect book for audio. At one point, I was worried I’d have to walk home crying. I’m not sure the book would have had the same effect.

Which all means you should read The Martian if you haven’t already. It’s realistic sci-fi at its best.

Featured photo credit: NASA

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