Posted in 2018, Books, Reviews

“Grave Visions”: A Book Review

Grave Visions Alex Craft annoyed the crap out of me.

Not the writing, not the author, not the plot, not the setting, not the other characters in “Grave Visions”. It is Alex Craft herself.

I’ve been mulling it over for a couple weeks and I’m not sure if the author is doing it on purpose now that we know Alex is fae (it’s not a spoiler if it’s on the book jacket). She’s not fully human so maybe her priorities and actions don’t match up with human values.

I thought about going into why I think she is being selfish, stupid, annoying and hurtful with each major decision she makes. But, then I realized I was just getting upset with her all over again and I need to let it go.

Great book with a main character that I wouldn’t want as a friend, coworker or even enemy.

 

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Posted in 2018, Books, Reviews

“Binti”: A Book Review [Contains Spoilers]

Binti - Nnedi Okorafor
Binti – Nnedi Okorafor

This will contain spoilers. With a story that was 90 pages long, I’d be hard pressed to put down my thoughts without giving something away.

I picked up Binti thinking it was a Sci-Fi book. Normally I try to give books leeway when they get lumped in with Sci-Fi as it is often a misnomer (I’m thinking Margaret Attwood’s speculative fiction as a prime example). But Binti both presented itself (book jacket/library location) and was presented by others as Sci-Fi.

With my Sci-Fi mindset, I read Binti and was left confused and annoyed.

If Sci-Fi is just spaceships, aliens and a few math geeks then I suppose Binti fits.

The spaceship is alive and said to be closely related to a shrimp. This may have been the most disturbing part of the book for me since climbing inside a gigantic shrimp would likely give me nightmares for weeks (I’m not a shrimp fan).

Somehow this shrimp.. Err ship.. Is capable of interplanetary travel at incredibly high speeds but I couldn’t find any mention of how that is accomplished or how the aliens were able to board the ship while in flight without damaging it.

Enough about the shrimp. When I have to narrow it down to one thing that made the “Sci-Fi” label irk me was how the words math, energy and current were thrown around.

When faced with aliens who had just killed everyone else on the ship, Binti goes into a trance-like state while she thinks about math equations. I am not a math genius but I do understand the almost zen-like state you can enter while trying to work out a problem. I would even go so far as to say that some equations and proofs straddle the lines between math, language, and art.

So we have a math genius, aliens who have killed everyone else, and a shrimp ship. This is the point where I’m expecting something mathy to happen.

The paragraph starts like this:

“My mind cleared as the equations flew through it, opening it wider, growing progressively more complex and satisfying.”

To misquote Matt Damon, I am ready for Binti to Math the shit out of this.

After a satisfying “V-E + F = 2” Binti knows what to do. She … grabs a tray from the cafeteria and loads it up with food but then makes sure to take a piece of desert. Not in a funny way, she just really enjoys this dessert. And then runs and hides in her room.

Maybe taking food and hiding isn’t such a bad idea. But our math genius who scored higher than anyone else on the freaking planet doesn’t do the math to figure out how many calories she’ll need. And the book lost me right there.

What is the point of writing about a math genius if you can’t math out a simple equation of calories in vs time to your destination?

After the last page, “What is the point?” kept nagging at me.

I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about this book than I did reading it which has to mean something. I finally resolved my problems with Binti by taking off the hardcore Sci-Fi label.

Binti is a bright teenager who wants to learn more than what her insulated family can show her.

I am a caucasian female so I won’t pretend to understand or be able to connect to the part of her life that is a corollary to a person of color in the world today.

But I do understand what it is like to break from family expectations and travel a scary path to new places.

I understand what it is like to be excited to be doing something new and scared to death of having no one to share it with.

Before the slaughter Binti sums it up with:

“I was the happiest I’d ever been in my life and I was farther from my beloved family than I’d ever been in my life.”

When you move to a new country on your own, there are fears that coexist even though it seems like they shouldn’t be able to. There is the fear that you will lose parts of yourself and your beliefs that are special because of where you came from and the culture you grew up with. Alternatively, there is the fear that you will never be able to find a place you feel fully at home again because you won’t be able to lose enough of what makes you alien in your new location.

As Binti steps onto the ship she has to make the go/no-go decision about leaving home and I really liked this little snippet.

“I was on the threshold now, between home and my future.

I stepped into the blue corridor.”

Once I felt the connection with Binti on that level the red clay took on a more serious role. It was the physical representation of what she is willing to give up to travel on her chosen path. On my first read through, the red clay seemed to be there primarily to confuse and then placate the aliens.

What if I had picked up this book and it was listed as Fantasy and sitting beside books like The Wheel of Time or Lord of the Rings?

To see how far off I was, I started rereading passages and seeing if I could fiddle with them. I don’t mean rewriting. Sometimes when I don’t understand something, I’ll replace the word that is confusing me and see what pops out.

When I read “Mathematics” I immediately think of my experience with math in high school and college. It isn’t an abstract thought, I have too many years working with it to comfortably extrapolate it into what Binti is doing. I don’t think Okorafor is using ‘mathematical’ to mean the same thing I think of when I remember Calc 3 in university.

Here is an example, I’ve replaced the word “mathematical” with “metaphysical”. This is on page 31 shortly after the Meduse attack the ship.

“ And so I had become a master harmonizer by the age of twelve. I could communicate with spirit flow and convince them to become one current. I was born with my mother’s gift of [metaphysical] sight. My mother only used it to protect the family…”

I think the paragraph is pretty similar to how Okarafor wrote it. But I’m not stuck trying to figure out what “mathematical sight” means and how it would intertwine with someone who could “communicate with spirit flow”.

Instead of reading a book about a mathematical genius and waiting for some sciency thing to pivot the plot I have a new book.

Binti is a smart, independent teenager who is willing to risk everything to follow her dreams. She ends up in a horrible situation and searches for any possible way to survive, even a desperate prayer to a magical blue ancient artifact. And I no longer have to spend time thinking about why that blue artifact actually worked to help her save herself and many other lives. Magic or super advanced tech, they both work.

There are hints of magic, and the interpretation of advanced tech as magic, all through the book. I wish I had picked up on them faster. Near the very end, Binti finds out that others at the Oomza Uni are saying that she used “ancestral magic” while dealing with the Meduse.

Binti challenged my assumptions about what fits into Sci-Fi. It may never be among my favorite novellas but it was worth reading and the time spent mulling it over afterward.

Plot Synopsis – Includes Spoilers

Binti leaves her small and insular family after being accepted by Oomza Uni which is on another planet.

On route, the alien Meduse kill everyone on board except for Binti and the pilot. They plan to use the spaceship to gain access to Oomza Uni. Someone stole the stinger from the Meduse chief and it is being held at Oomza Uni.

Binti has a blue item she carries with her even though she doesn’t know what it does. The blue item she refers to as an “Edan” allows her to talk to the Meduse.

Binti convinces the Meduse to let her speak for them when they arrive at Oomza Uni. Her speech convinces the professors to return the stinger to the Chief Meduse to avoid more killing. They also offer a spot at Oomza Uni to Okwu, one of the aliens that took the most interest in Binti.

Binti uses the red clay mixture her family uses on their skin to heal the Meduse including restoring the stinger back onto the body of the Chief without a scar.

Notable Character Names:

Binti Ekeopara Zuzu Dambu Daipka of Namib

Also – “the one who survives”

16 year old girl from Earth, main character

Okwu

One of the Meduse aliens that kill everyone on the ship. The alien who talks the most to Binti while on the ship and remains at Oomza Uni with her at the end of the novella.

 

Posted in 2018, Books, Reviews

“Before the Storm” : A Book Review

Before getting into spoiler territory here is a little Before the Storm (World of Warcraft) by [Golden, Christie]

TL:DR Review

Nice, easy read but don’t bother if you aren’t a huge World of Warcraft fan.

Spoilers Ahead. Beware!

The theme of opposites coming together with horrible or explosive results jumped out at me.

The King devoted to the light is paired up with the Queen who yearns for shadows and quietude. When their forces meet in an attempt to find common ground it ends up with a seemingly inevitable conflict and the deaths of many involved.

An estranged husband and wife from opposing factions are brought back together. After a rough reconciliation they literally end up on top of a bomb.

Life and Death are brought together in the form of the forsaken. People who have died but were brought back to some kind of life in decaying bodies. They are most cut off from their former lives and families and struggle to find a new way to exist.

Since this is a book that is part of a larger universe, the chances that anything significant will happen to the characters was minimal. We know who survives the conflict and who doesn’t.

I finished the book thinking I knew more about the characters and their thought processes than I had before. But that doesn’t mean I agree or even understand them.

The Horde side warchief still remains an enigma to me. She seems like a study in opposites within herself. Ultimately, I was left with little understanding of what her goals or motivations are. She describes her own sense of honor as ‘somewhat fluid’.

On the other side, the Alliance king seemed almost too simple in his motivation to find peace and have everyone reconcile. While he seems to be taking the his role seriously and willing to fight for it, he also seems blind to some of the realities of his world.

In the end, some blanks have been filled in as I start playing the Battle for Azeroth expansion that launched this month. There are still so many blanks and questions left that, while I’m glad I read the book, I may be slightly more confused about some of the story than when I started out.

 

Posted in 2018, Books, Reviews

“Death and Daisies” : A Book Review

Death and Daisies Book Jacket
Death and Daisies by Amanda Flower

There was something much more relatable to within the story of “Death and Daisies” than the other cozy mysteries I’ve read.

Now, I don’t need a book to have characters I can personally relate to in order to love the book. But when it does happen, it creates a different kind of mental bond while I’m reading.

Fiona is trying to make her way in a new country while her family is less than thrilled about it. And, just because they all technically speak the same language in her new home, the barriers are real.

The immigration makes up a relatively small part of the book. A large part was the flower shop opening. I appreciated that she was facing some real challenges. I believe that some other writers might have taken a hand-wavy approach to this kind of shop opening and made it seem like starting a business is super easy when you are a basically good person.

The magic garden was a tantalizing place and idea that I wish had played a larger role. While the book is very clear that the garden has magical properties, the perception of the garden seemed to play a larger role than the garden itself.

I was left wanting to see more of the story happening in the garden. But with Fiona opening a new shop it made sense that the story might focus more of the action in town.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel and would read future books in the series. Who actually “did the deed” left very little impression on me compared to the characters themselves and the setting which is fine by me.

I appreciate that NetGalley provided me with a copy of the book to review. I don’t believe this changed my opinion of the novel any more than if I had checked the book out of my local library.

#DeathAndDaisies #NetGalley

Posted in 2018, Books, Reviews

“White Hot”: A Book Review

I bought “White Hot” when it was released without even reading the jacket. Ilona Andrews is one of my favorite authors right now. So much so, that I won’t buy Andrews’ books online if I can avoid it, or get it from a library. I get my lazy butt to a local bookstore, talk to people and buy a physical book off a shelf in the hopes that my voting dollars will keep them writing and in stores.

511CZ5jQ0xL.jpg

There is a combination of annoyance with myself that I waited this long to read it and happiness that I had an awesome book to read on a recent trip with long plane rides. I was so into the story that I didn’t even bother trying to hide the kinda steamy cover art. On a side note, Andrews’ art has never resonated with me like the writing does but I can appreciate what they are trying to do with it.

This is a romance book and while I don’t see myself as a big romance reader, I have to get over that part. But there is so much story, fantasy, and character exposition that it doesn’t tip over into totally gratuitous romance.

As a current Houston resident, I thought the use of the city’s roadways and districting was spot on. I appreciate that they took the time to superimpose the supernatural onto a city I can picture from memory rather than creating a new or significantly altered city for the fantasy setting.

If it wasn’t obvious, I loved this book. If you’ve read “Burn for Me” and enjoyed it even a little then this one is worth a read. Don’t wait a year like I did. My consolation is that I have “Wildfire” right beside me to dig into next.

Posted in 2018, Books, Reviews

“Terminal Alliance”: A Book Review

Terminal Alliance was a fun read with more poop jokes than I thought possible in a novel that I would ever enjoy.

The premise is so ridiculous that trying to nitpick at it would be futile. It combines a zombie apocalypse with advanced alien civilizations and then picks the head janitor on a spaceship as the main character.

If the book took itself too seriously it would be insufferable. Instead, it had me laughing out loud at jokes about various bodily fluids from aliens of all sorts.

On a separate thread, I enjoyed having a sci-fi novel with a female protagonist that didn’t have some kind of romance in it. The main character could have been of any gender or orientation and I don’t think it would have changed the book. That doesn’t mean it’s a G rated book, but the main character is not significantly motivated by a romantic relationship.

I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for something fun and doesn’t mind getting a bit dirty, mentally.

Posted in 2017, Books, Reviews

“Rituals”: A Book Review

RitualsI alternated between speed reading and tip toeing from page to page in Rituals. Anytime I end a series I enjoyed so much it is bittersweet. I know I’m not unique in that thought. But, the last 50 pages really did takes me days to get through as I’d just nip at the end of this story, not willing to let it go.

As I look back on the whole series the first and last novels are the ones that really stand out. The middle three might not be my all time favorites but they got from from A to Z and that justifies their existence and the time spent reading them in every sense.

There is a lot to spoil here if I were to write about any of the plot and I would be loathe to spoil this story for anyone. All I can say is that if you enjoyed the first novel or even think it might be a novel you might enjoy, grab it, grab them all, and keep reading!