narfna’s #CBR5 Review #62: The Host by Stephenie Meyer

hostSo, The Host surprised me, and The Host disappointed me.

Despite being told by several reliable sources that this book was actually . . . good? I still went in with pretty low expectations. I read all the Twilight books (even Midnight Sun and that damn Bree Tanner thing, even though both were totally useless, because I don’t know? Curiosity? Masochism? We don’t have time for a psychoanalysis here), and found them extremely problematic*. So when I found myself enjoying The Host, I should have realized that it wouldn’t be perfect enjoyment (but it does make me feel better about Stephenie Meyer having so much money).

*I didn’t necessarily enjoy book one, but I couldn’t stop reading it. Book three was soapy and overwrought. Book two was just . . . no. I found Bella detestable, and the message her behavior sent to Meyer’s young readers made me want to break things . . . but also I really like the fourth one because it is the weirdest thing I’ve ever read, and I know this has been pretty much fully covered on the internet, but A WEREWOLF FALLS IN LOVE WITH A BABY. 

The main character in The Host is Wanderer, a member of a parasitic alien race that has taken over Earth and enslaved the human race. They call themselves Souls, and besides the fact that they totally enslave alien races all over the galaxy so they can have bodies, they are peace-loving, kind, and have technology and healthcare that has all but eliminated suffering and premature death. Humanity barely fights back anymore. Wanderer is one of the oldest, most experienced Souls, having experienced life on almost all of the planets the Souls have colonized. But Wanderer’s host, Melanie, won’t let her get away with just taking away her human body. Her refusal to just fade away begins causing problems for Wanderer, both among the souls, who see Melanie’s body as defective, and for Wanderer herself. Melanie’s memories begin to change Wanderer and soon enough, the two have teamed up in order to find Melanie’s missing family. From there, love quadrangles, suspicion, and lots of people living in caves. Oh, and did I mention that the love quadrangle involves one guy being in love with Melanie and the other guy being in love with the alien parasite who lives in her brain. (So, yeah, this book isn’t without its bits of ridiculousness.)

Stuff I liked: the premise. I’m always down for alien invasions, especially ones that involve body snatching, and I like what Meyer does with her take on it. The aliens have already won, and the focus is on one of the aliens as protagonist instead of the humans. The first 1/3 of this book goes incredibly fast, and I really liked the way Meyer set up Wanderer’s world and emotional journey. Relatedly, the thematic consistency was pretty impressive (finding a home, chosen family, body stuff), especially in comparison to Twilight, the message I got from that being roughly . . . boyz boyz boyz TWU WUV.

Stuff I didn’t like: it was too long, sort of. Too long for the events that occurred in the story, anyway. The middle of the book was kind of a slog because nothing was actually happening except FEELINGS, and people talking about their FEELINGS. Meyer’s dialogue is also really cheesy and fake sometimes (although I will acknowledge a couple of lines were genuinely really good in that authentic this-could-maybe-actually-happen sort of way that all good books should aspire to). For the most part, I thnk Wanderer/Wanda was a great character, but in parts she also walks a fine line between being ‘complicated’ (having seemingly conflicted personality traits and desires) and being Mary Sueish. Meyer sort of set her up to be this way no matter what because of the nature of the Souls. Wanda herself comes off as pretty cool — the problem is more that other characters treat her like she’s the second coming of Mother Theresa, so good and so pure and so noble. But I also feel like this sort of works because Wanda and the Souls are friggin’ aliens. I’ve probably spent more time than I should thinking about this, and I’ve decided that’s probably a good thing. It’s at least better than Bella Swan sitting up in her room crying for three months straight and then taking a nose dive off a cliff just because her damn boyfriend dumped her.

Which reminds me, I really liked the ethical quandaries and shades of grey (that phrase is ruined forever) inherent in the Soul/human conflict. The souls are portrayed as gentle, kind creatures, and yet they enslave entire species (and until Wanderer/Wanda spends extended amounts of time with them, she has a hard time seeing the species they enslave as anything but hosts). The humans are violent and mercurial, and yet capable of adapting and treating Wanda, an alien, as more important than someone of their own species. The humans grew to love Wanda so much they violated their own rules by stealing her a body. I also liked that that the alien invasion wasn’t easily solved, and that it was more like background for the real story, which was Wanda finally coming to terms with who she is and what she wants.

I still wish Meyer would tone down some of the melodrama, but the vast majority of this book was worth my time. Hoping the sequel comes out soon so I don’t have to re-read this, though. God bless Wikipedia.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 32: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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This one has been reviewed so, so many times already, there isn’t much left to say. Take the following quiz:

  • Do 80’s pop culture references moisten your lions?
  • Were you waiting for the next great cyberpunk novel?
  • Are you a fan of sensitive and varied depictions of different races, genders, and sexual orientations?
  • Do treasure hunts still appeal to you on an instinctual level?
  • Are you charmed by geeks fighting an Evil Empire?
  • Might you be immune to the occasional irritation that could arise from an extended infodump?
  • Don’t you think there is something so appealing about a hero rising from inauspicious origins?
  • Have you ever dreamed of fashioning yourself a new life in an alternate reality?
  • Are old-style arcade games so totally your bag?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any or all of these questions, you really should read Ready Player One if you haven’t already. I’m ashamed it took me so long! But here I am, emerged victorious, to be neither the first nor the last to recommend it to you.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #59: Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre

doubleOkay, this book delivers on the promise I saw when I read Grimspace a couple of weeks ago. Wanderlust was kind of a mess, but I’m glad I stuck with this series, because Aguirre’s writing has improved by light-years just in the space of three books (I think at this point she had also starting writing one of her other series, so she was getting in A LOT of writing in a short period of time — practice makes perfect, and such). Unless this book is a fluke, of course, but I don’t think that’s likely.

Doubleblind (not sure why it’s called that, kinda driving me crazy), unlike Wanderlust and even Grimspace, has a tight, focused plot. Jax and her crew arrive at Ithiss Tor on a diplomatic mission, and if they don’t succeed, the human race is pretty much doomed. The Ithtorians are crucial in defending human civilization from the vicious aliens, the Morgut, who see humans as yummy snacks, but have historically feared the Ithtorians, whose blood is poison to them. Jax’s friendship with Ithorian outcast, Vel, makes her uniquely qualified among humans to negotiate the peace and bring the two races together as allies, but she’s got her work cut out for her, to say the least. The Ithtorians are isolationists in the extreme, having cut off contact with the rest of the universe 200 years before, and most of them are xenophobes. Jax has to not only navigate the tricky terrain of learning Ithtorian culture and how to be a diplomat (hint: no shooting), but she has to do it all without starting a galactic incident. All the while she has to deal with her lover, an extremely PTSD Marsh, whose trigger-happy presence could easily start said galactic incident.

I loved this book. Of course, I love these kinds of stories. Cultural differences, bridging gaps, conspiracies, aliens and spaceships, diplomacy, murder . . it’s good stuff. But this was also just a really good book. Having it set in one place did wonders for Aguirre’s writing, gave it purpose and focus, and she lent a bit of that to her characters. Jax has character growth up the wazoo, her relationship with Marsh in this is really good (if a bit intense), and her friendship with Vel is just great. And it was so much fun watching her navigate the tricky terrain of Ithtorian society, and yes, win the day. Really excited about reading the rest of the series now.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR5 Review #10: The Rook

For these and other thoughts about how mash-ups are taking over our society, visit my external page here

Leafing through the first pages of The Rook it’s astonishing how many reviews describe it as a “mix of _______ and ______”.  Downton Abby and Harry PotterThe Office and Doctor WhoGhostbusters and Niel Gaiman: it’s a positive bouillabaisse of all things Nerdily British or Britishly Nerdy. And though I wanted to avoid that trap, as I read one thought popped up in my mind again and again: “It’s as if the X-Men ran a government agency entirely devoted to X-Files.”

That mash-up covers the central conceit of the book, but misses the core of Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel (in part because he’s actually Australian and not British [though the book is set there] or American [though he did attend school here]). The core of The Rook is about finding out who you are by coping with the absurdity of adulthood. And, not coincidentally, he gives us a main character who has lost her memory just before we cracked the cover. As our heroine gradually learns her own name (Myfawny Alice Thomas), her job (administering a squad of supernatural troubleshooters within the British isles) and her own special gifts (manipulating other people’s biological process to her will), we learn them too. And when foreign cadre of supernatural Belgians threaten to bring down her office from within, we as readers bounce along on the trail of clues, looking for answers and thrilling at the intrigue of “Her Majesty’s Supernatural Secret Service”.

As a writer O’Malley’s wit crackles along the page, littering the plots’ surreal situations with knowing winks and quirky one-liners. Even if you normally eschew sci-fi silliness, or espionage-laden intrigue, if you appreciate clearly written, clever characters, you’ll find something to admire in The Rook. The mash-up of all our nerdy pet-passions creates both a wonderfully unique hybrid and a delicious stew with a little something to satisfy everyone.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #58: Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre

wanderlustI really liked the first book in the Sirantha Jax series. It was fun, breezy sci-fi with a female heroine. I had some issues with the writing, but it was so fun and new that I was easily able to ignore those issues and just enjoy the story. I guess the novelty’s worn off or something, though, because that wasn’t the case with Wanderlust. (Of course, my disenchantment with this book could also be that I wasn’t really in the mood to read it, but I had to because I had to get it back to the library ASAP before I owe them a million more dollars than I already do. It has been my experience in the past that reading books when you’re not in the mood for them can ruin the book for you, so take the rest of this review with a grain of salt.)

Wanderlust picks up a couple of weeks after Grimspace. Farwan Corporation is officially history, and the formerly politically neutered Conglomerate is looking to fill the power vacuum left behind. They name Sirantha Jax ambassador to Ithiss-Tor and charge her with opening negotiations to ally them with the Conglomerate. Jax doesn’t accept the assignment out of turn — she’s got to do things her way. But the book really has nothing do with the mission to Ithiss-Tor, because her and the crew never make it. They get sidelined by a seemingly endless parade of distractions, stowaways, alien attacks, and a trip to the worst planet in existence, Lachion. On top of all this, Jax’s health is declining and she has no idea why, and her relationship with March is on the rocks, mostly because she keeps freaking out and pushing him away. It’s incredibly frustrating.

The beginning and end of the book were pretty interesting, but the whole middle section was a slog. I hope these books never ever go back to Lachion, because if I have to hear Jax talk about Keri one more time I’m going to get violent. Keri as a character illustrates perfectly my problems with Aguirre’s style in this book. All we ever hear about Keri is her name, and what Jax thinks of her. I don’t actually have any fucking clue who Keri is as a character, so every time Jax starts bitching about her, I just get annoyed with Jax. It’s not great character work. Also, I don’t give a shit about the war between the clans on Lachion, and it’s the biggest setpiece in the book. The whole book feels kind of aimless, like Aguirre just started writing and then stopped because she figured it was a good place to rest in her story. I like my books to have a beginning, middle and end. An arc. This one didn’t. Hopefully the next four books won’t have this problem. And please, god, no more Keri.

I do, however, like Aguirre’s commitment to keeping Jax as fucked up emotionally as possible. It gives her somewhere to go. (Not a huge fan of the cover, either, especially as I like the ones for books 1,3, 5 and 6 so much. 4 is a dud, too.)

Robert’s #CBR5 Review #04: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Another “oops, forgot to cross-post this review” from my blog. Only two months behind. It’s fine.

The trick to creating a successful dystopian novel is to convince the reader that the wild alternate future could occur. Margaret Atwood has done it three times now with the first two books in her Oryx and Crake trilogy and the modern sci-fi classic The Handmaid’s Tale. The novels are all meticulously researched, pulling from current events, culture, and science to connect to the present understanding of the world and society.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodIn the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood relies on historical research to drive the creation of the Republic of Gilead. Various governments and social structures are combined into a believable vision of a religious totalitarian regime where women have no power in their own lives. Atwood uses everything from the mythology of the Bible and actual military revolution to push a realistic worst case scenario to its uninterrupted conclusion.

The research helps make the novel believable. Research alone, however, cannot create a compelling read. The Handmaid’s Tale generates suspense by structuring the story like an upside down pyramid. We meet Offred (Of-Fred) after the government of the United States has been overthrown and turned into the Republic of Gilead. Offred recalls how the rights of women were taken away one by one until everyone who didn’t immediately flee the country was trapped within its borders.

The broad narrative of social revolution shifts to a slightly more focused slice of life story about a typical handmaid. Continue reading

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 28: Children of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy

Ugh, I have so much catching up to do! I read this over a month ago, so let’s hope my memory functions well enough to make this coherent. Children of Scarabaeus is a sequel, so the Goodreads summary and my review will be spoiler-heavy. Thus, the rest of this is going under a cut.

Continue reading

Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #44: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

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A debut novel that lives up to its hype. A beautiful novel detailing the trials and tribulations of being 11 years old while the world is trying to end, if you haven’t read this book, then you absolutely must. Reasons why are detailed fully here.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #51: Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

grimspaceSON OF A BITCH.

I just wrote a really long, really involved, and if I might add, really good review of this book and I clicked save and GOODREADS DELETED IT. I wish I could say I was persevering enough to write a new one but I’m tired and cranky and I don’t have it in me to write a review like that again for this book. So I’ll give you the crap version.

Sirantha Jax is a jumper in a world where subspace is called grimspace, and only people with a special gene can access it. Long distance space travel relies on jumpers, who often burn out as a result. But Jax is still going. Just before the events of the novel, tragic stuff happened to her that is making her question her place in the universe. She’s rescued from certain persecution by a rag-tag band of heroes and joins their crew, where she is finally allowed to rest, heal, and find out who she is and what she really wants from life. Also, there’s a romance.

Grimspace is an obvious first novel. There are some significant pacing issues, and Aguirre lets Jax’s narrative voice get out of control sometimes (i.e. she becomes overly familiar with new people too quickly, referring to another character’s behavior using the world ‘always,’ even though she’s known them for like five seconds). And while the romance aspect was nice, especially since it’s rare to see an actual sci-fi book told from a female perspective, it didn’t quite work. Aguirre relied too much on romance tropes that were just out of place in a sci-fi novel (and this was meant to be a sci-fi novel, not a romance novel). The resolution was also a little too tidy. But. I really enjoyed it anyway.

Jax and her crewmates are great characters, and from the way she treats them, it’s obvious Aguirre has a good understanding of character arcs. Jax and March (the love interest) in particular have some nice moments (and not necessarily together). This was a good set-up for the rest of the series, which I will be picking up soon.

My first review was so much better.