Rupi Kaur: milk and honey

•April 20, 2018 • 5 Comments

i had to leave
i was tired of
allowing you to
make me feel
anything less
than whole
― Rupi KaurMilk and Honey

23513349.jpgmilk and honey
by Rupi Kaur
(poetry)

This book is a volume of poetry with illustrations on some of the pages. There are four different sections: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, and the healing. Each section has a set of black pages indicating the division, with the new section title written on the pages.

Some of the poems (like the one I quoted above) I thought were very good, and they resonated really well for me. Others… didn’t. I won’t say I thought they were bad, but they weren’t for me. And the way the book was laid out made it hard for me to focus on the poems that did resonate with me. There was a lot of white space on most of the pages. Like, a LOT. Some of the poems were two or three lines long, and the rest of the page was blank. So my eyes practically flew over the pages of this book, barely stopping long enough to register when I really liked one of the poems.

Most of the poems, I feel, weren’t written for me. I am not the intended audience for them. I am too much older than the author, and have already learned a lot of the things that are revelations in these poems. I also had a good relationship with my parents (I can’t tell if Kaur did or not) so that family dynamic wasn’t a source of conflict.

I have heard people say that she is the Millennials’ poet. I am not a Millennial, so maybe that is why the poems don’t resonate with me. It’s not the style of verse. This is not so far different from the style of some poetry I wrote when I was in high school.  So–yeah. Free verse doesn’t bug me. Random line breaks and lack of capitalization don’t bug me.(Though, I have to say, her use of periods at random points really bugged me where line breaks do not. I tried to write this sentence for the review in the style I mean, but I just can’t.)

It’s the content that I can’t connect to for the most part.

It does seem (from the reviews I’ve read on Goodreads) that most people either love or hate this poetry compilation. I don’t fall into either camp, but perhaps that is because I can see merit in the act of publishing a book of poems. In some ways I view this the same way I used to view Harry Potter or even the Twilight series: it might not be the best literature out there, but at least people are reading again. If milk and honey (and Kaur’s second book, the sun and her flowers) get people reading and writing poetry again, it will have been worth it.

Rating: 3 stars

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Drew Hayes: … Fred, the Vampire Accountant

•April 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

26532283The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant
by Drew Hayes
narrated by Kirby Heyborne
(fantasy, humor)

I would have enjoyed this more had it been written as a novel instead of as a series of short stories. Now: I knew going into it that it was short stories. It wasn’t so much the quick review of prior stories at the beginning of each new story that bugged me; it was the fact that there was no blatant break between the stories. I have listened to some audio book short story compilations where there is an audio clue that one story is ending and the next is beginning. I would have really appreciated that in the production of this book. I don’t blame the narrator; he did what I’m sure he was instructed to do, and read the title of the new story at the beginning of each new story. However, since the book’s producers didn’t leave a longer than usual gap at the end of the prior story, there was no easy way to tell that the title of the next story wasn’t the start of a new sentence.

So… my annoyance at that little omission aside… (but really, it was an incredibly simple fix that would have increased my appreciation of the compilation SO MUCH…)

Right. The stories themselves. The concept is amusing. A boring guy gets turned into a vampire, and continues to lead a boring life–or, unlife. Really fun idea, and Drew Hayes does a good job with the execution. Obviously I liked some of the plots of the stories better than others, but as a whole I enjoyed them a lot. I liked the various characters, too. Between a kick-ass Agency employee who hunts troublesome monsters for a living, a perpetually cheerful zombie, an apprentice necromancer, a were-steed, and various other supernatural beasts, there’s a lot of character depth and drama in these stories. I do plan to read or listen to more of them, if only to find out more ways that Fred can get into and resolve adventures with fairy tale monsters and yet almost never resort to violence.

Rating: 4 stars

Carl Sagan: Cosmos

•April 7, 2018 • Leave a Comment

35416916.jpgCosmos
by Carl Sagan
narrated by LeVar Burton
(science non-fiction)

Still a great book. Some of the science is dated, but the message is the same, and still very powerful.

I enjoyed listening to this one. LeVar Burton did a great job with the narration, and the science wasn’t so deep that I felt I needed to have it in print in front of me so that I could look it up to learn it better.

If I had realized earlier how similar this was to the TV show, I’d have read this book long ago. I somehow confused Cosmos and Contact in my head, and so was procrastinating this book because I wasn’t ready for the depth of that one.

Rating: 5 stars

Neil Gaiman & Yoshitaka Amano: The Sandman: The Dream Hunters

•April 6, 2018 • Leave a Comment

538865The Sandman: The Dream Hunters
by Neil Gaiman
illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano
(graphic novel?, fantasy)

This is sort-of a graphic novel, in that is set in the realm of the Sandman graphic novels. (It might not seem to be, but between the title and the appearance of the character Morpheus (aka the King of All Night’s Dreamings), it is.) It is also not a graphic novel, however, because it is told in prose with accompanying illustrations.

Whatever it is classified, it is lovely.

The story is as beautiful as the artwork, though don’t expect a traditional happy ending. This is told as a fable, and as such it teaches lessons that must be learned through trials, love, sacrifice, and loss. Some characters experience some of these, and others experience them all. It is not exactly sad either, though. It is bittersweet, and beautiful.

Connie Willis: Doomsday Book

•March 28, 2018 • Leave a Comment

24983.jpgDoomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel #1)
by Connie Willis
(science fiction, time-travel)

This is the first book in the series, but I read it second. (I read book 2, To Say Nothing of the Dog, first.) I really enjoyed this book. One thing I’ve noticed about Willis’ writing style, though, is that it’s very deliberate. Don’t read her books expecting a fast-paced adventure romp. Expect a detailed read that is incredibly well-researched and planned, with deep characters (even though not all of her works show the character development of the minor characters, you can tell that they have a background and aren’t placeholder characters). But the pacing is deliberate. (I personally can’t call it slow, but some readers might.)

As a basic summary: this book has a split POV and simultaneously follows Mr. Dunworthy in future England and Kirvin in medieval England. Kirvin time-travels back to the 1300’s at the start of the book, and Dunworthy remains in the timeline she traveled from. There are complications, of course, starting with a flu epidemic that seems to be everywhere. Without getting into spoilers, I found it fascinating to see how the middle ages were portrayed here. Really nicely done.

If you’re like me, there will be some aspects of this story you see coming. There will be others that are more surprising, but it’s not a mystery novel so there aren’t major plot twists at the end. I did find it fascinating, though, how even some of the more minor (one could say inconsequential) details of one timeline impacted events in the other timeline. This book was masterfully woven together, and while it’s not for everyone, those who do enjoy it will love the detail put into it.

Warning: there is lots of death in this book (including children and an animal or two). It fits the plot, but still. If that’s a trigger for you, maybe skip this one.

Rating: 5 stars

Robert Heinlein: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (DNF)

•March 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

{2AB99675-34A1-4A99-B91F-F963F980FC4F}Img100The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
by Robert A. Heinlein
narrated by Lloyd James
(science fiction)

I have mixed feelings about this book, which is why it’s taken me so long to write this review. First off, I DNF’d the book in January. I’m never sure whether I should write reviews for books I didn’t finish, because obviously I missed a portion of the book and so can’t review the ending or the book as a complete entity. On the other hand, I couldn’t finish the book, and that counts as something worthwhile for other potential readers to know, too. So: I didn’t finish this book, but I’m reviewing it anyway.

I read (well, listened to) the first 21% of this book. During that time, I was reminded of how well Heinlein writes. Technically, this is a good book. The subject is interesting, and in many ways it’s still as relevant as it was when it was written. The concept of a sentient computer is still used in modern sci-fi. A lunar colony is still something that features in current fiction and movies.

So, with all of this, why couldn’t I finish the book? In short, for all the topical relevance and technical skill, this book has not aged well.

The main character (Manny) speaks in very broken English. In the section I listened to, I didn’t notice anyone else with quite so drastic a “foreign” feel. This didn’t make sense to me, since the setting is a penal colony on the moon, where multiple of Earth’s nations have sent their convicts. To me, it only makes sense to have someone with so drastic an accent compared to everyone else if that person is brand-new to the setting… and yet, Manny was born on Luna. No excuse there. While the narrator did a good job of differentiating the voices, I couldn’t stand the way Manny’s speech patterns worked. Heinlein may have had a good reason for these patterns, but I got nearly a quarter of the way in to the book without understanding it, so I doubt an explanation was waiting for me.

There was also pervasive sexism in the book that I couldn’t take in today’s culture. Comments like “I would never hit a woman” might have seemed progressive when this was written, but they feel sexist to me. Also, there were just too many little things that didn’t age well in this regard for me. Things that implied only men did some jobs, or that women were more delicate. It’s hard to describe without having a hard copy of the book in front of me to quote from, and I didn’t write down any quotes as I was listening to the audio book. Still, it didn’t work for me.

Interestingly, race wasn’t portrayed with the same issues as gender. Skin tone was commented on, but people could buy body makeup which altered their skin tone convincingly enough to fool onlookers, and this wasn’t seen as a bad thing. It wasn’t portrayed as any different than dying one’s hair or wearing lipstick. That part was fascinating and refreshing. It wasn’t enough to keep me reading, though.

I didn’t have a problem with the narration, but I didn’t love it either. It fit the book nicely, but again: it wasn’t enough to keep me reading.

In the end, I put this book down because I didn’t care about it. I didn’t care what happened to the characters, how the plot advanced, whether any new relationships developed, etc. There was nothing in this book that I cared about, not even anything I hated. Frankly, it bored me. And there aren’t enough hours in the day to read boring books.

Ernest Cline: Ready Player One

•March 2, 2018 • Leave a Comment

61d6DhRCBSL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
(YA dystopian sci-fi/fantasy, light LitRPG)

I think I expected too much from this book. Many, MANY of my friends raved about it. What I heard of the premise sounded interesting. And it’s got tons of 80’s references — what could be better?

Well, frankly, this book could be better. This is Cline’s first novel. It shows. There are (many) places where we get unneeded info-dumps. There’s a lot of telling instead of showing. There’s stuff that felt like it was added because the author liked it and then didn’t get edited out even though it had no impact on the story in any way, shape, or form. ((Example: realistic sex dolls. If you’re going to include one, don’t do it as a flashback of “I tried this, and realized it wasn’t real and so I stopped.” If you’re going to include it, either make it relevant to the plot, or show the MC wasting time with the doll while other characters are making progress in the hunt.) I have made this kind of mistake with my own fiction, and included scenes only because I liked them. Luckily I had good critique partners who slapped some sense into me.)

Cline is a screenwriter. That ALSO shows. (For the record, I think this has the potential to be an AWESOME movie.) But while a screenplay can leave the emotional part up to the actors (though they still need some direction), a novel cannot. A novel must show the characters’ emotions. The Bad Guy does some killing of people in the real world in this book. Our MC seems to shrug it off without it making any difference on his life whatever. One of the secondary characters behaves in a much more believable way about it, and I think he is possibly the most realistic character in the book.

As to the book itself: I could see this as both an adult book (80’s content & nostalgia) and a YA book (written about teenage main characters and without the depth I’d expect from an adult sci-fi novel). However, in my mind, it is a YA book more. For one thing, it explains all of the 80’s references that those of us who actually lived through the 80’s don’t need explained. The main reason that I see this as a YA book though, is the depth of the plot and characters. It just feels young.

This review so far might seem very harsh… but that’s because my expectations were so high. When I could sit back and enjoy the nostalgia romp, I enjoyed the book. Sometimes I enjoyed it a lot. I particularly enjoyed when I picked up a clue before it was explained to me (ie 2112). It just didn’t live up to the hype for me. I still have a hard time believing that Wade managed to learn/read/play/memorize everything he said he did in five years and still graduate from high school. And I can’t help but roll my eyes at the way diversity seemed shoehorned in at the end of the book. But… it was still fun.

It’s telling, though, that I think The Great and Powerful Og is my favorite character in the book. He’s the character who is closer to my age (and the author’s age) and actually lived through the 80’s. (Bonus: in the movie he’ll be played by Simon Pegg? Yes please!)

(Very random side note: I like the covers with 80’s videogame characters on them the best. Everything else seems poorly designed in comparison.)

Tl;dr version: This read like it was a book adaptation of an 80’s movie. I liked it, sometimes a lot and sometimes less. I felt the beginning of the book was too much of an info-dump and there was generally too much telling instead of showing. But for its flaws it was still an enjoyable read.

Rating: 3 stars