Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had an amazing grandma, and this book reminds me of her. My Grandma Jones always had a refrigerator with chocolate syrup and cold milk, and I was welcome to as much as I wanted. She never made fancy meals, but the simple dishes she prepared were amazing, like beef and noodles with mashed potatoes. She made me feel loved and protected.

The Hempstead women exude those same characteristics. They are strong, confident, independent women who take in a wayward boy without any hesitation and immediately make him feel safe and cared for. I'm grateful to this book for sending me back in my mind to being at grandma's.

Outside of that nostalgia, there is also a wonderful short story of a man dealing with his grief by visiting a childhood place of wonder. He recounts his adventure with a marvelous neighbor girl that led him to fantastical experiences. Gaiman has an incredible talent for filling your mind with the wonder and magic of an experience through word alone.

This is an quick weekend or even evening read that can be easily recommended, especially to those who may not have read Gaiman before.

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Review: Abaddon's Gate

Abaddon's Gate Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've really enjoyed the Expanse series so far. I like the pacing, the action, the characters. Even so, this third book feels like a well trod path. We're seeing a lot of the same sites on this third trip around; there's a Mao behind nefarious dealings, the protomolecule is enigmatic and deadly, there's a lovable new side character....yes, I've walked this path before. Of course, I like these things, so I'm not terribly put off, but I'm also finding I'm not as eager to pick up the book. I certainly get a lot of pages for my story dollar, but even with all of those pages the story arch is only advanced a tiny bit. More damning to me is that the new characters are starting to lose texture. Maybe I just chose not to see it earlier, but here Ashford is clearly a bad. Anna is clearly a good. Clarissa/Melba is clearly bad. I couldn't invest myself in these characters. Anna was terribly bland, especially appearing on the heels of Avisarala, who was so interesting.

All of that said, I'm definitely going to continue reading the series. It may be a well trod path, but I'm willing to continue walking it because I enjoy what I see along the way.

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Review: Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds with this book. I completely understand why this book is winning so many awards, but I think it is a really difficult book to appreciate. The story is told from the perspective of an artificial intelligence that managed a ship and the automated crew aboard that ship, referred to as ancillaries. The author does a superb job of creating the voice of that creature. It is precisely due to this voice, though, that I think many will be put off. One Esk is dispassionate, calculating, and struggles to socialize in a natural way. One Esk's observations of those around are often clinical, measuring the seconds between a verbal prompt and response, or observing facial ticks.

One Esk serves the empire of Radchaai or Radch for short. The Radch is a severe and uncompromising civilization that sees the purity of humanity as an ultimate goal. The Radch has spent millennia performing "annexations" where foreign worlds are either made to submit to the will of the Radch, or annihilated. The people of the Radch observe a system of heirarchy where prominent families maintain influence and power. Those aspiring to improve their station in life look for a more prominent family to offer them clientage.

It is very difficult to empathize or sympathize with any element of this story. It all feels very foreign and unlikable. The concepts presented, however, are incredibly interesting. I believe that if you pick up this book with the understanding that it isn't a typical action packed space opera you will have the right expectations. I do strongly recommend it, but with the reservation that you may appreciate it without enjoying it.

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Review: Morning Star

Morning Star Morning Star by Pierce Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quick summary: if you enjoyed the first two books you should definitely read the conclusion. It is everything you enjoyed in the first two. If you had reservations with either of the first books however, the third book will probably provide you with those same reservations.

In my review of Red Rising I had some specific gripes, and many of them carry through here:

1) Knights of the round table....IIIiiin SPAAAAAAAaaaace! The institute taught the golds to fight as medieval knights do; with lances, swords, maces, and other hand to hand combat weapons. We even had bow and arrow thrown in. Honest to God, in the era of space exploration, bow and arrow fights. Cue Indiana Jones with his pistol against the baddie with scimitars. Golden Son addressed that a bit by giving the kids pulse fists, grav boots, and other techie toys, but height of battle is still waged with razors in close quarters combat. Morning Star doesn't really add anything new here. We see some larger fleet battles, but it all strikes me as very Flash Gordon. I mean, we even get freaking Valkyries on gryphons!


Kavax au Telemanus!!!

2) It's hard to feel any sort of real suspense when it comes to Darrow. He is the protagonist. He is telling the story, first person. Any time he finds himself in peril the sense of suspense is dispelled by the knowledge that there are pages after the current one, and I'm pretty sure we're not going to see a switch from the Darrow first person point of view. Darrow has the answer for every situation, either through cunning or might. If he falters, his friends help him, or his enemies fail. When the situation seems most hopeless, DEUS EX MACHINA! He actually planned for that six months ago and through a very chancy set of assumptions, guessed exactly what his opponents would do so that he could perfectly counter them.



3) Red Rising had a clear separation of the good guys and the bad. I'm thrilled to say that this is one area that has seen tremendous improvement. The characters morph through Golden Sun and into Morning Star to be varied creatures. Sure, we still have a few villains that are just plain bad, and we have some noble heroes, but Darrow, Sevro, Mustang, and the rest are no longer simply good or bad. They are forced to make decisions that they know have consequences.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this book. I really did! It put a nice tidy bow on the series. I think what rubs me wrong, and ultimately left me feeling like this was the least of the three book series, is how much this felt the same. The characters became very muddled for me. I felt myself caring less and less. Add to that my growing sense that this entire series was a monstrous bro-fest. I can't take another minute of Darrow looking longingly into Cassius, fist bumping sevro, or war crying with Ragnar. In many cases even the women are bro's. At points I started to mentally substitute Hulk Hogan into the narrative.


"What are you gonna do, brother, when Hulkamania comes for you?!?!?"

Sevro is something of a Macho Man Randy Savage and the Telemanus' are a clan of Hacksaw Jim Duggan's. Many conversations are just particularly wordy versions of:

"Bro?"
"Bro!"
"Brah."
"Braaaah"
"BRO!"

Perhaps I'm being overly harsh. After all, I did enjoy the book. Maybe I just had bad expectations. I was entertained, and I would still recommend the series. I just can't be as enthusiastic about that recommendation as I hoped I could.

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Review: A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Monster Calls is a monster story. No, wait...that's not right. It's a fairy tale. Wait, that isn't quite it either. It wears the costume of those types of stories, but under that facade it is grief. You'll find this book in the YA section of the store / library, and the copy you pick up may even be filled with illustrations. Don't let that fool you. While it may be targeted at teens, the content will resonate with anyone who has loved someone with a chronic illness like cancer. Set aside a couple of hours in a quiet, comforting place and settle in with this book, that's all the time you'll need to finish it. Be prepared to have all of the ugly feelings associated with your grief bared before you.

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Review: Caliban's War

Caliban's War Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Caliban's war leaps ahead some period of time since the events of Leviathan Wakes. The protomolecule has been mysteriously active on Venus. Regardless of the number of eyes on the change, no one can determine exactly what is going on or the true intent of the alien entity. Of course, without a direct enemy to the whole of humankind humans are happy to continue fighting each other. Where Wakes was concerned with the mystery of July Mao, Caliban's War is concerned with the mystery of Mei Peng, a toddler with an immune deficiency who is kidnapped from a Ganymede nursery moments before combat erupts. Her father, Prax, is single-minded in his determination to find her. Holden and his crew meet with Prax by chance and decide to take up his cause.

If you are like me and have been watching the television episodes as well, you'll meet Avasarala here, who was introduced early as the assistant undersecretary in the show. It's nice to have that actresses distinctive voice in my head as I read that character.

Personally I really enjoyed this second volume in the series, and I'm sure I'll be reading more. There are lots of parallels between the first and second book. We have a missing girl, an unknown party inciting violence, and massive powers on the brink of all out war. There are subtle differences, though, that keep it fresh. Rather than dealing with organized crime the major factions of Mars and the UN are now directly involved. We're still not seeing much of the inner workings of Mars, but we do get another Martian main character in Bobbie. We get to see a different kind of battle with Avasarala and her work within the UN.

With regard to the characters, much of the book deals with the trauma that has damaged them, and how they deal with those wounds. It's refreshing to read characters that endure extreme events and come away changed. Holden, Prax, and Bobbie all take foolish actions driven by their personal traumas. Each finds a way to reach closure in their own way.

I'm eager to continue with the series, and I'm sure if you enjoyed the first book you will enjoy this one.

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Review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Never Let Me Go is way outside my normal reading. I tend to read sci-fi that is action packed. Give me a heady future world any day. Even so, I'm usually open to trying something unfamiliar, and this is definitely new territory for me.

Without giving too much away, Never Let Me Go is a conversational memoir by Kathy as she reminisces on her childhood at Hailsham, a private boarding school. She describes her memories of developing friendships with Tommy and Ruth, and how their lives intertwined through their teens and into adulthood.

I read this book at a time when it probably had the best chance of impacting me, which it did. I have three children in elementary school, ranging from 1st through 6th grade, and from time to time I see some of the magic of the world disappear in their eyes. Ishiguro captures that sentiment exquisitely here. It's incredibly sad, yet something that I can't protect them from, nor should I. Their naivety slowly gives way to unforgiving experience. In the same way, Kathy and her friends transition from children growing in a protected, yet nurturing environment, to dealing with the hurts that only friends can inflict on each other, and finally to the realization of opportunities lost that can never be recaptured. Ishiguro masterfully describes the subtle ways that those closest to us can use that intimacy to both bring us great joy and great pain. He also captures those frustrating situations where questions are left unasked, apologies unsaid, due to the history and emotion that each of our relationships carries.

I'm not sure I would read this again, nor will I likely seek out more of Ishiguro's work, but I'm glad for having read it. Never Let Me Go explored emotional territory that I don't often visit, and similar to Pixar's Inside Out showed that it can be a healthy endeavor.

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Jade Mason