The Lost World – review

It feels a bit silly to me to write a review over a classic book.  Maybe because there are so many reviews out there already—maybe because the people reading my review are more likely to have read the book themselves, and thus are judging my opinions.  When I review a newer or less-heard-of book, I’m alerting people to its existence, promoting it (for better or worse).  I’m not really promoting classic books.

But I feel like I should review all the books I read this year, so here goes.

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle.

I’m a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, and it was refreshing to read more of Doyle’s work.  Despite this book being written in the POV of a character by the name of Malone, rather than good ol’ John Watson, there’s no hiding Doyle’s style.  It felt familiar and pleasant.

I knew the general idea of the novel before I started reading it.  I was never a big fan of the Jurassic Park movies, but I was excited to read the book that pretty much started it all.  I liked Malone, and Challenger, and the rest of the crew.  Doyle has a way of writing lovable jerks—I don’t mean the charming kind, either.  Challenger was hot-tempered and violent and stubborn, but for some reason, I liked him anyway.

There were lots of beautiful scenes in this book, between the jungle and dinosaurs, but honestly the image that sticks with me the most is the tick Malone finds on his leg one morning.  Spoiler:  He thinks it’s a grape, until he touches it and it pops, blood going everywhere.  I shiver just thinking about it.

I guess that’s about all I have to say about it, really.  I liked the book a great deal, and if you’re into easy-to-read classic books, this is one that should go on your list.  4/5 GR stars.

Aaaand I still have a book I read in March that I need to review.  I don’t know why it’s so hard to just write that review; it was a perfectly good book, but I can’t bring myself to do it?  We’ll see.

I’m currently reading Bitten by Kelley Armstrong in real book, and Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen in ebook. 

And you good folks should check out my girlfriend’s comic—Punch-A-Bear by Tabia B.  It’s updated twice a week (though she’s currently on vacation [visiting me!] so there’s a bit of a lull).  It’s funny and adorable, and it needs to be seen by more people.

Posted from my phone, so please excuse extra typos! ESJ

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Dark of the Moon – review

A few weeks ago, I went to the SoKY BookFest.  Here in Kentucky, there aren’t a lot of writerly/readerly things, so I’ve been looking forward to the BookFest for several months.  As soon as I stepped into the huge conference room and saw table after table, stacked with books and attended by the (140) authors, I thought, “Why can’t we do this every month?  Every week?”  After picking up over $60 worth of books, though, I figured out why it would be a bad idea for me for this to happen more frequently.  I wanted every book.  They were all so beautiful and the authors were right there, and they wanted to talk to me and sign their books for me, and I wanted to buy all their books.

I took a break to listen to Henry Winkler speak (yes, the Henry Winkler), get an autographed copy of his book, grab lunch, and then went back in to get $40 worth of more books.  Then I went to a panel where I listened to three ladies discuss their realistic fiction writing techniques (and had an intense break-through moment regarding my own book–thank you, writerly atmosphere of BookFest).  Overall, it was a wonderful experience and I hope to attend again in the future. 

That brings me to tonight’s book review–

Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett.

I was drawn to Author Barrett’s table by the adorable Sherlock Holmes plushie sitting on top of her books.  She writes a series of children’s books called The Sherlock Files in which Sherlock Holmes’ decedents go around and solve his unsolved cases.  But my attention wavered when I saw the cover of Dark of the Moon.  Here recently, I’ve been wanting to read only books written by women, with women as lead characters–that will hopefully pass the Bechdel test–so the feminine eye on the cover drew me to this book.  

I know I’ve heard the story of the Minotaur, but it’s been long enough that I couldn’t tell it to you.  I briefly entertained the idea of looking it up for a quick read before getting into this book, but I was sucked in so fast, I really couldn’t put the book down long enough.  Anyway, I still haven’t looked it up, so I don’t know what parts of the book are directly from the original story and what’s from Author Barrett’s mind, as this is a retelling of the Greek myth. 

The main character is teenage Ariadne, known to her people as She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess.  Her mother (She-Who-Is-Goddess) is her best friend, as other teenagers on the island are afraid of her for her potential power and proximity to Goddess.  Now, her mother is not Goddess.  This was confusing for me.  Ariadne’s mother is She-Who-Is-Goddess, not Goddess.  So.  Yeah.  It does get explained in the book, so I understand now, but it still sounds confusing.

Ariadne is a lonely young woman, with only her mother and her brother to love her.  And her brother is the minotaur, trapped under the palace where he can’t kill everyone mindlessly.  He’s not a monster–he just doesn’t know his own strength and isn’t able to understand most of what is said to him.  Ariadne goes to visit him whenever she gets a chance…

Until one day, a ship arrives, bringing tributes from Athens.  The Athenians don’t know that they should fear She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess, so Ariadne is able to make a few friends out of the pack, including Theseus.  He’s a charming, quiet young man, but with a secret–he aims to kill the monster under the palace.

Ugh, I loved this book.  The writing is wonderful and the characters are sweet.  It passes the Bechdel test over and over again (yay) and the romance parts are very secondary to the bigger plot.  I was pleasantly surprised at how little romance there was, actually.  

The story is told from Ariadne’s POV (first person, past tense) and Theseus’s POV (first person, present tense), which sometimes threw me off but it wasn’t awful.  Ariadne is strong and fierce, while still being kind and scared of her destiny.  She gives me hope that there are plenty of young women characters out there to love.

5/5 GR stars.  I’m very happy to have a signed copy of this book.

Room – review

Room by Emma Donoghue.

TW for rape, kidnapping/imprisonment, child abuse/neglect.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I went into this book.  I’m sure I knew at some point what it was about—otherwise, it wouldn’t have gone on my To-Read list, but clearly I had forgotten, or else I hadn’t actually ever understood.  Either way, it’s been on my list for a while and I finally figured I’d give it a shot.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.

The book opens on Jack’s fifth birthday.  The story is told from his POV and he seems like a fairly normal kid, with a loving mom, but as the book inches forward, little details are revealed until it’s clear their situation is far from typical.

When Jack’s mother was nineteen, she was kidnapped and put in a shed-turned-dungeon in her captor’s backyard.  Measuring eleven-by-eleven feet, the single room structure is where Jack was conceived, born, and raised for all of his life.  He’s never left the Room.  They have a skylight, but the structure is entirely soundproof and the only way out is through a door that opens with a code. 

The kidnapper, called Old Nick, makes appearances in Room sometimes, but Jack never sees him.  Old Nick doesn’t come around until after nine o’clock at night, at which point Jack is safely hidden in a wardrobe, where he sleeps.  He hears Old Nick talking to his mother, though.  Jack doesn’t know what a lot of things mean, but the readers do, and so much of it is horrifying. 

Jack’s a sweet boy whose friends include Dora the Explorer—he touches her face when she comes on the screen to say hello to her.  Everything he sees on TV is fantasy, fake, because all that is real is the Room and what’s inside.  He doesn’t even know that Outside is a real thing, where he and Ma could go.

But when Ma decides they have to get out, she needs her little hero to do the unthinkable.

Chilling and precious at the same time.  It takes a little while to get used to Jack’s voice but he is an intelligent child and once I adjusted to his off grammar, it was a fast read.  I admit that I had some problems with the fact that, at five years old, Jack is still being breastfed, though I understand the reasoning for it…but that didn’t stop me from cringing every time he said something about how “the left is creamier,” etc.

Once they get out of Room, there’s a lot of problems adjusting to life Outside.  It’s terrifying for Jack to be more than, well, ten feet from his mother and to not see her sometimes.  He has to talk to other people, which isn’t easy for Ma either, seeing as she’s so out of practice—and on top of everything else, they have to fight off paparazzi. 

5/5 GR stars, and a recommendation for those who think they can handle it.

Posted from my phone, so please excuse extra typos! ESJ

Ultraviolet – review

Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson.

Teenage Alison hears colors and tastes sounds.  She doesn’t know the word synesthesia (yet), but all her life, when one of her senses was engaged, others would be affected too.  She knows she’s different and she doesn’t dare tell other people about her “colors,” but she has always managed okay. 

Until now.

When Alison wakes up in a hospital and discovers that a few weeks are missing from her memory, she’s told she experienced some kind of mental breakdown and had to be put away for a while, until she can get readjusted.  Gradually, a memory comes back to her—getting into a fight with a classmate after school and killing her.

No one believes her when she tries to confess, but that classmate does appear to be missing. 

Her fellow patients at the mental facility include a cute bi-polar pyromaniac, a young woman with anorexia, and a guy who doesn’t trust anyone because they might be aliens.  Her therapist doesn’t listen to her, her mom wants nothing to do with her, and her best friend only visits to be nosy.  Life’s not looking too good.

Then Dr. Faraday appears.

With the new doctor’s help, Alison finally begins to open up as well as learn about her special senses.  Together, they are determined to find out what really happened when she thought she killed her classmate.

It was interesting to read from the POV of a synesthete and get descriptions about how a voice tastes or how colors felt, etc.  I would definitely like to read more books like that.  I will also be reading more books by the author—at least one of which is a spin-off (or sequel?) to Ultraviolet, and it’s going on my To-Read list.The plot was fascinating.  It’s not so common anymore that I can read a book all night at work and want to keep reading it when I get home the next morning—rarer still for me to stay awake just to read.  But this book did that. 

Plus, Faraday was dreamy.  I like that.

5/5 GR stars

I’m almost done with two more books (getting behind on the reviews, yikes), reading quickly so I can get ahead on my GoodReads challenge, preparing to read nothing during April (Camp NaNo, bring it on!).

Posted from my phone, so please excuse extra typos! ESJ

Vampires in Their Own Words – review

Vampires in Their Own Words by Michelle Belanger (editor). 

Have you ever heard of a psychic vampire?  When I first learned the term a few years ago, I was told it described a person who drained energy from people around them, and they were to be avoided if you liked, you know, not being exhausted. But for Michelle Belanger and others who self-identify with the term, it’s very different.

The general idea that I, a non-vampire, got from the various essays is that psychic vampires do not process energy the way most people (like me!) do.  They do not get the necessary energy the way I do, nor can they get the energy they need from other living things, i.e. trees or non-human animals.  Instead, in order to be healthy, psychic vampires manipulate the energy of other humans and take it for themselves.  It should be noted that vampires still need to eat and exercise and whatever to get energy, but there’s a kind of energy they can’t get from those things that they still need in order to be happy and healthy–it’s much more eloquent in the book

Psychic vampires have chosen the word “vampire” because it’s the closest word in the English language to match what they do, which is take vital life force from other humans–it just isn’t blood.  (Some of them do drink blood, though it’s a very small amount, especially when you go into it thinking they are like the vampires in fiction who drain their victims.)  This book is a collection of essays written by self-identified vampires:  Some who drink blood, some who do not, some who like to look the part of the archetype, some who hate the archetype, some who double as donors for other vampires, some who prefer the spelling vampyre, and some who avoid the word completely but still identify with the definition of a psychic vampire.

The essays within describe various ways vampires deal with their condition, how it affects them personally, the relationships they formed because of their condition (especially with donors), etc.  Most of them are very relatable.  I have no problem believing that psychic vampires exist and most of the writers seemed to mean no harm.  They are respectful of their donors, they don’t intentionally take energy from people who don’t consent, etc.  Admittedly, a few of the essays came off as being extremely pretentious and I had to skip some because I couldn’t handle the tone, but they were the minority, and it’s normal for me to skip a few essays in compilations about anything. 

I’m glad this book exists and I hope it will help open minds and educate.  I definitely learned a few things.  Unfortunately, the less-awesome essays brought the book down a bit–but I still strongly recommend it for those interested in the misunderstood psychic vampires. 3/5 GR stars.

Island on the Edge of Normal – review

The Island on the Edge of Normal by Guy New York.

Finally!  A poly novel that doesn’t rely solely on the sex appeal.  For those who regularly read my book reviews (no one?), you may have noticed that I have a few hang-ups with the romance genre…but I keep reading romance books.  I like the idea of the genre, but so many of the books are just soul-crushing in their possessiveness and jealousy and immaturity and perfect-looking characters (gah, gross).  I’m also not a fan of graphic sex scenes.  I’m all for characters having sex, but I don’t need to see it happen.

Being poly, I have been looking for a romance-type novel that shows non-possessive polyamory that focuses on emotions other than lust, with realistic (in appearance and behavior) characters and relationships.  Most* of the poly novels I’ve found up to this point have been erotica or close to erotica, with “the two sexiest men she ever saw” type characters.  Insert a lot of eye-rolling.  I got so frustrated about it, I wrote my own novel to match my criteria.

But now, now!, now, I have found a novel that is so close, it has restored my optimism.  There are some sex scenes, but—remember, coming from someone who doesn’t like graphic sex scenes—they were fantastically written and emotional and they added to the novel and relationships rather than being gratuitous. As the characters fell in love, I wasn’t groaning wretchedly, I understood.  The characters work well together.  Their attraction to each other isn’t forced, it doesn’t come out of nowhere just to move the story along.  Issa and Paul are an awesome couple, full of love and very open-hearted.  James is a good guy who struggles with doubt and insecurity, with a few demons in his past.

When blocked writer James decides he needs to get away for a while, clear his head, and get those creative juices flowing, he heads to an island.  The island is recommended to him by a friend, whose uncle lives there with his son and wife, who are more than happy to let James live in their house for a few weeks.

Shortly after arriving, his hosts, Issa and Paul, tell James that they have an open marriage.  Issa is going through a breakup with a girlfriend, and Paul has his own girlfriend off-island.  Originally unnerved but open-minded, James quickly falls in love with the talented and passionate Issa, who returns his feelings. 

James’s original goal is to get past his writer’s block, and that he does.  Through an series of memories that are written down and then burned, we learn James’s story with his ex-girlfriend (aka, the reason for the block in the first place).  The memories tell us how they met and fell in love, and what eventually tore them apart.  While he’s letting go of his haunting past, one pile of ashes at a time, James is also struggling with his feelings for Issa, his friendships with Paul and Paul’s teenage son, Stephen, and his, well, new and exciting interest in a Frenchman who is visiting the island for just a few days longer.  Wink, wink.

I downloaded this novel when it was free for a day, but it’s worth the $6 on Kindle that it normally is.  5/5 GR stars, definitely check it out.

*At The Foot of the Throne is a novel that shows non-possessive polyamory that focuses on emotions other than lust with realistic (appearance and behavior) characters and relationships.  It isn’t a romance-type novel, but it deserves mention here anyway.

Posted from my phone, so please excuse extra typos! ESJ

The Magicians – review

The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman.

Says George R. R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones: “The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea.”

That got your attention, didn’t it?

A few years ago, my aunt picked this book up in the store, saw Martin’s review on the back, and declared those to be fightin’ words. She bought it, loved it, and passed it on to me. I, admittedly, went into this book with my defenses up. Out of the six reviews on the back, three of them mention HP or JKR, and I was not prepared to take that lightly.

But I pretty quickly fell in love with the MC, Quentin, when I realized… he was me. In the very first chapter, Quentin thinks about how he isn’t actually walking down the freezing cold street with his friends, on his way to a college interview–no, he’s in Fillory. In Quentin’s world, there is a series of books that he read as a child, that everyone read and loved as children. Everyone had read them, just about everyone enjoyed them, but everyone had moved on–except Quentin. He’s incapable of moving on from that book series. He still loves them just as much, he’s obsessed, he wants to talk about them, but his friends get tired of him talking about them so much (grow up, Quentin, they’re kids’ books). That’s so me and Harry Potter.

The books take place in a beautiful world called Fillory, and that’s where Quentin goes to escape his life.  Fillory is a magical place with talking animals and little kids for rulers, so it has more of a Narnia feel. But whatever.

It comes down to the same. Quentin is stuck in what would, to anyone else, be a happy life. He has friends, family, money, excellent grades and potential–but he wants Fillory.

Then he gets to go to a secret school to learn magic. Sounds familiar, eh? But while the Boy Who Lived started his magical schooling at age 11, Quentin starts his at age 17. Hogwarts is middle/high school, Brakebills is a university. That’s what George R. R. Martin’s review is referring to—this book is full of sex, drugs, and alcohol as the (literally) genius students learn magic, get bored, fall in love, and eventually fight for their lives.

Quentin, actually, is a pretty difficult dude to love sometimes. He’s clearly got some clinical depression going on, he complains about everything—he’s literally never happy, even once he gets to Brakebills. Sure, he enjoys it for a while, but it doesn’t last long and he’s always looking for something else to affect him, something else to get his heart racing. Never satisfied.

Then, years after graduating, he learns that Fillory is a real place.

You can’t go in thinking it’s going to be anything like HP. The book starts before Quentin learns about Brakebills, goes through his entire education there (five years of it), and gets him to Fillory. This sucker takes place over quite a few years, so it’s a big shift if you go in thinking, “Well, I guess we’ll get through year one…” No.

My favorite character is Eliot, one of Quentin’s classmates and eventual best friend.  The way I’ve taken to describing Eliot is as such: He’s like if Sirius had a baby with Fred and George, and the baby was gay. Yeah, he’s that fabulous.  And he’s what takes the book from “yeah, this is interesting and cool” to “holy wow, I love this book.”  He’s one of those characters.

It’s been a few years since I read the book, but the other night, I finished the sequel, The Magician King.  (Spoilers for the first book begin here.)  I glanced down the first page, saw Eliot’s name, and made an inhuman-like sound.  I have missed that boy.

The book opens on the kings and queens of Fillory: Eliot (the high king), Quentin, Julia, and Janet.  They’re just, you know, hanging out and being kings and queens of Narnia the beautiful, magical land they grew up reading and dreaming about, and loving every minute of it.

Well.  Kind of. 

Quentin is, predictably, getting bored with things.  He loves living in his castle and being waited on hand and foot.  He loves hanging out with his best friends all the time.  He loves Fillory.  But he misses Alice (of course) and he’s on the look-out for an adventure.  He’s getting restless, as is his nature.

So when the kings and queens of Fillory witness a man inexplicably die right in front of them, Quentin sees his chance to shake things up. 

The writing is hilarious and fun.  Quentin is as complain-y as ever, but I felt like he was easier to read in this book.  It might be that he’s grown on me, but I wasn’t rolling my eyes at him as much as I remember doing in the first book. 

The plot is exciting and original, but not what I would consider the best—if only because it means we don’t see Eliot for about half the book.  Julia and Quentin are returned (suddenly and unexpectedly) to Earth and, well, we go with them.  The book is split up so that we follow Quentin and Julia in the present day as they struggle to get back to Fillory ASAP, and also get to go back and read Julia’s story—what happened to her between her failed Brakebills exam and when she meets Eliot, how she learned magic without the Brakebills instructors, and why she’s the mopey, quiet young woman who doesn’t use contractions in her speech that she is today.

I like Julia and everything, but Eliot.

Lack of Eliot lost the book a star.  Parts of Julia’s story almost lost it another star, but Eliot’s actions at the end of the book saved that star.  4/5 GR stars, with a recommendation to check out the series.  There is another book on the way (possibly two?) and honestly, I’ll probably Google the plot to see how much Eliot’s in the next one before I read it.  Juuust sayin’.

Posted from my phone, so please excuse extra typos! ESJ