Darth Pony

Ruling the galaxy is so overrated.

City of Ashes

City of Ashes  - Cassandra Clare

I’m not going to review City of Ashes indepth because this was basically a gleeful hate-read. Long story short: I acquired four books in this series before learning much about it. I read the first book back in 2014 and thought it was terrible but mildly entertaining, and after my last read I was in the mood to hate on something.

 

So here we are.

 

I hate Clary. I haaaaaaaaaaaaaate Jace. I don’t like Simon. Or Isabelle. Or Alex. I want to like Magnus, but he’s doing the whole centuries-old-pedophile-dating-a-mortal-teenager thing and he is not making it easy for me. I hate the derivative cliché-fest that is Clare’s fanfic origins shining through. And I hate, hate, HATE the whole incestuous romance angle. After the first book, I was 100% sure it would come out later that Jace and Clary are not siblings. After reading this book, I am 1000% sure that particular “twist” is forthcoming. But for now they think they are siblings, and it’s gross.

 

But gosh darn it, the story isn’t terrible, even if it is derivative, and it’s fun to hate. So much fun, in fact, that I think I’ll move straight on to hating book three!

 

@.@

On a whim, I turned to Google to see if the last two books in a series I've been side-eyeing were ever published. The answer is no, and the likely reason is that one of the co-authors is awaiting trial on manslaughter charges.

 

 

I can't even process this. My gast is utterly flabbered. I don't know why I'm sharing this. Maybe so other gasts can be equally flabbered and I won't be alone in my flabbergastedness. So, yeah. This is a thing that happened. Huh.

Notorious

Notorious - Roberta Lowing

If you want to say something, say it, he says. Don’t use poems to frill it up.

I think this quote might perfectly sum up my feelings for this book. And this coming from a woman who loves literary novels because purple prose is my jam. Notorious is the sort of book I imagine Kate Morton would write if she started taking herself waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too seriously: jarring jumps through time; unlikeable, unreliable narrators; prose occasionally so purple it obscures all meaning. The biggest mystery of this literary mystery is the mystery itself. I’m not joking. 130 pages in, all I knew was some people had died, there might be some art theft involved, and the desert is a great place for naval-gazing. So I threw in the towel and started skimming, which entirely defeats the purpose of a literary novel, but oh well. I cannot be bothered with cliché burnt-out CIA agents and drama-llama-ding-dongs shouting poetically at the sea in a storm. I got suckered by a gorgeous cover and I’m bitter. (Don’t worry, I’ll get over it.)

We That Are Left

We That Are Left - Lisa Bigelow

You can’t live in Australia for any length of time without hearing all about the Battle of Gallipoli and Australia’s role in WWI. But you can, apparently, live in Australia for a full decade without hearing much of anything about the Australian experience in WWII. Enter We That Are Left, which follows the lives of two Australian women in wartime.

 

I really liked this book for its educational value. I spent so much time Googling stuff and falling down WWII history rabbit holes. (Did you know they sold souvenirs salvaged from the wreckage of Japanese midget submarines that were sunk in Sydney Harbour? Or that some German POWs plotted elaborate prison breaks just for something to do, knowing all the while they were basically on a big island and there was nowhere to escape to? So many Google rabbit holes!) I give it top marks for expanding my knowledge of my adopted country’s history. Unfortunately, I found the history far more interesting than the fiction.

 

There’s no plot to this book, per se. It’s more of a slice-of-life historical focusing on the everyday struggles of Mae, a housewife and new mother, and Grace, a young woman working at a newspaper. Mae’s storyline tries to give insight into the lives of the families of missing/dead military personnel, while Grace’s storyline tries to give broader insight into the state of the country as a whole.

 

Mae suffers depression and denial after her husband’s ship, the HMAS Sydney II, goes missing and is presumed sunk. Thanks in large part to government censorship and the rampant rumor mill that strives to fill in the gaps, she spends much of the book refusing to get on with her life because her beloved Harry is surely a POW and must be trying to get home and is definitely not dead, nosiree. I think I might’ve liked Mae if I’d gotten to meet her at some other point in her life before the effects of war tore her to pieces. As it is, the reader meets her when she’s a whiny, judgmental, cranky pregnant lady, and then gets to know her as a whiny, judgmental, cranky, depressed war widow in denial. Maybe it was an accurate portrayal of someone in that situation, but not seeing enough of not-stressed-pre-wartime Mae, I didn’t have a frame of reference for how much war changed her. Long story short, I didn’t like her. At all. I found myself sympathizing more with the people around her than I did with her, and I don’t think that was the intent.

 

Grace battles sexism in the workplace as she pursues her dream of becoming a reporter. She wants to have a career in journalism and get her man, and she’s so full of pluck it oozes from her pores. I felt her character was the more interesting of the two, and it was a shame that her storyline was used primarily as an expositional tool for info-dumping historical events into the narrative. Putting her in a newsroom secretary/reporter role for this purpose was clever, but the drawback is that Grace is a passive observer most of the time. She sees the government censorship issue through the eyes of her employer. She hears about things like Japanese subs trying to bomb Sydney from other reporters. Even when she’s the one out there reporting, she often takes a back seat. (See for example the entire chapter on the Australian Women’s Land Army which, while educational, does little to move the story or Grace’s character development forward.) It’s interesting from an “I love how much I’m learning about WWII Australia” angle, but not so much from a “Wow, I love this character” angle.

 

Holy cow, I’m chatty today! But I have one more thing to say, and it’s totally inconsequential, but it made me laugh. The author says this book was inspired by her grandfather, who died on the Sydney, and her grandmother, who died before the ship was finally found in 2008. So basically, Mae and Harry are her fictional grandparent stand-ins. How awkward was it to write their sex scenes? O.o

The Mouse is Dead, Long Live the Mouse

My old trusty gaming mouse started dying back in April of last year, but replacing it wasn't in the budget. After NINE MONTHS of accidental double-clicking, occasional cursor jumping, and me being afraid to click things as a result, I can finally relax.

 

I have a new mouse.

 

 

And there was much rejoicing!

 

Artemis

Artemis - Andy Weir

If you loved The Martian like I did, you probably also wondered how Andy Weir would follow that unexpected success. Well, wonder no longer. Behold! I present to you Artemis—or, as I started calling it after a few chapters, Mark Watney with Boobs Explains Things to Me.

 

The plot is basically The Italian Job on the moon, only with lots more welding, which is actually more entertaining than that sounds. Let me be clear: I was highly entertained. “Then why the less-than-gushing three stars?” you might ask. Well, the unfortunate answer is Jazz Bashara, our first person asshole narrator.

 

She’s basically Mark Watney with boobs. Only less mature. You know the part of Mark Watney that typed “Look! Boobs! (.Y.)” as soon as he knew he had a huge audience? That part, only concentrated and wholly untempered by humility or common sense. So let’s say Jazz is fifteen-year-old Mark Watney trapped in the body of a twenty-six-year-old Arab woman. (Actually, pretty much everyone on the moon is Mark Watney. The official language of the lunar city of Artemis is Snark.)

 

I loved Mark Watney and wanted to be his buddy. I found Jazz Bashara annoying, and my annoyance level went up every time she broke the fourth wall to be condescending to the reader, which happened a lot. My dislike of her did provide some extra entertainment value in the sense that watching her suffer was fun in a schadenfreude kind of way. Maybe I’ve got some internalized misogyny going on. Or maybe the Mark Watney character just doesn’t work as a woman. Or maybe Jazz is just an asshole. Maybe all three.

 

Other annoyances:

  • The constant reminders that moon gravity is 1/6th Earth gravity. These were double annoyances, what with them usually being delivered via Jazz’s condescending fourth wall breaking.
  • Jazz’s memory being excellent until it was convenient to the plot for her to forget something. This happened more than once.
  • The excessive exclamation points and interabangs (interabangs! ← totally justified exclamation point). I got the feeling everyone on the moon is really shouty, even in their internal monologues.
  • The portrayal of Jazz as being both hyper-intelligent and stupid as bricks. I mean, I know intelligence and street smarts often don’t go hand in hand, but Jazz is supposed to have both, and yet we still get stuff like this:

 

Jazz: Now that I’ve agreed to commit industrial sabotage for a million space bucks, I need to play it cool and stick to my regular routine so no one suspects me when things start exploding.

 

Also Jazz: I’m gonna blow $2,000 of my measly $11,000 savings on one night in a hotel room so I can practice sleeping on a nice bed for when I’m a millionaire.

 

(The fact that this is the one stupid misstep she made that had no consequences just made it that much more annoying.)

 

So there you go. I was entertained and annoyed in almost equal parts, and my takeaway is that snark-filled moon heists are good fun no matter who’s pulling them.

 

I’ve already gone on about this book way longer than I intended to when I sat down to write this review, but I still have one last note before I go. I’ve seen some praise for all the diversity in this book. Being super-duper white with a deeply-ingrained white default, I can’t speak to how well Weir did on representation. I suspect he didn’t do that great because when you release a book in 2017 with a woman from Saudi Arabia wearing a niqab as a disguise for criminal purposes, well, even this super-duper white woman is going to give you the side-eye.

Jim Henson's The Storyteller

Jim Henson's The Storyteller: The Novelization - Darcy May, Anthony Minghella, Jim Henson

If you watched The Storyteller when it aired back in the late 80’s, this book is pretty much exactly the same, minus the commercial breaks and amazing Muppets. All nine featured stories are here; the good, the bad, and the most messed-up Cinderella version I have ever read.*

 

I was young enough when the show was running that the fairy tale magic was everything and the usual fairy tale misogyny went over my head, but now that I’m older I would argue with the late, great Henson’s assertion that these tales are timeless and applicable in a modern era. (Unless you really do want to teach your children that if they’ll just put up with horrific abuse they’ll be rewarded with princes and princesses and babies and kingdoms and riches beyond measure. Yep. Timeless.)

 

But I came for the fairy tale magic and the nostalgia, and I got both. Out of the nine, the only tale that remained truly timeless for me was The Heartless Giant. That one got me in the feels as a kid, and it got me even harder as an adult. Overall, it was an enjoyable read, but I kind of missed John Hurt’s narrating.

 

 

*I’m not kidding. Sapsorrow is horrifically messed up. I mean, I get the running away from home so the princess doesn’t have to marry her father the king (he wasn’t into it either, but they had to do it because Ye Olde Official Royal Wedding Ring fit her finger and kings can’t change stupid laws even to avoid incest, apparently). But tell me, princess, why you fell in love with the prince. Was it the way he looked down on you and treated you like dirt? Or the way he gave you a sharp kick and ordered a dozen of your goose friends be killed for his banquet? Or the way he looked straight at you and never saw you until you put on a pretty dress and combed the mice out of your hair? Ugh! You should’ve kept your mouth shut and let him marry your mean sister.

The Ship Beyond Time

The Ship Beyond Time - Heidi Heilig

This was an excellent follow-up to The Girl from Everywhere. Better pacing, better romance, more action, higher stakes, better proofreading (pedants rejoice!), and a somewhat bittersweet ending that simultaneously gave me some closure and made me wish this was a trilogy instead of a duology. I really enjoyed it and I’ll miss Nix and Kashmir. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Heilig’s next series.

Have You Heard of Botnik Studios?

Botnik Studios (link) is a team of people way smarter than me who are working on the AI and predictive algorithms for Amazon's Alexa. Apparently, this involves such things as feeding it the entire Harry Potter series and having it write a new chapter (things get super dark, super quick), and teaching it to write scripts for The X-Files (I laughed so hard I cried and also triggered an asthma attack).

 

I just thought I'd share. You know. In case you need an excuse not to get anything constructive done for the rest of the day. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to find my inhaler before I watch the predictive algorithm-generated cooking show videos.

 

Reading progress update: I've read 206 out of 356 pages.

The Ship Beyond Time - Heidi Heilig

I am really enjoying this book and the series as a whole, but OMG. How many nautical metaphors do you really need to cram into one paragraph?

 

. . . [tears] flooded in, too fast to bail.

. . . I shuddered like the ship in a storm.

. . . sobs struggled up through my chest like bubbles from a rift in the floor of the sea.

. . . I clung to her as though she were a raft.

. . . fragmented thoughts popped up like flotsam from a wreck.

 

And as a bonus, because in reading the three short non-nautical-themed sentences that close out the paragraph you might have forgotten the MC was raised on a sailing vessel, the first sentence of the next paragraph starts thusly:

 

Finally, the tide of my own tears ebbed

 

I don't know, people. I think Heilig could've crammed more in there. I mean, there were three whole sentences in the paragraph with no nautical metaphors. Maybe something about barnacles or lampreys or ocean currents or sea turtles. What do you think?

The Girl From Everywhere

The Girl From Everywhere - Heidi Heilig

This book has a lot going for it: good writing, flawed characters, an interesting and new-to-me twist on time travel (sort of), pirates, myths and legends, history, anarchy, existential crises, etc. If it hadn’t been so slow to get going (and if it hadn’t tried to sell me on a love triangle), it would have been near perfect.

 

My inner pedant demands I mention the numerous typos in this print version, but the author is such a human ray of sunshine that I almost feel bad for noticing them.

William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth

William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Return - Ian Doescher

—O knavery

Most vile, O trick of Empire’s basest wit.

A snare, a ruse, a ploy; and we the fools.

What great deception hath been plied today—

O rebels, do you hear? Fie, ‘tis a trap!

~Admiral Ackbar, Act IV, Scene 3

 

Yes, good Admiral, ‘tis a trap! I was lulled into a false sense of security by the general awesomeness of Star Wars meets Shakespeare and everything was going swimmingly—until I was forced to picture Harrison Ford as Han Solo singing a jubilant love song. A trap indeed! Minus half a star for that!*

 

*Not really for that. I just enjoyed this slightly less than The Empire Striketh Back and slightly more than Verily, A New Hope, so I rated accordingly.

William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth

William Shakespeare's the Empire Striketh Back - Ian Doescher

Nay, nay! Try thou not.

But do thou or do thou not,

For there is no “try.”

~Yoda, Act III, Scene 7

 

Apparently I was not the only one put off by the excessive use of the Chorus in Verily, A New Hope. Enough people complained that Doescher mentioned it in the acknowledgments of this book and talked about how the criticism shaped his narrative approach moving forward. The improvement is vast. Many thanks to my fellow complainers who came before me. The squeaky wheels really do get the grease sometimes!

 

I went into this with a little trepidation. Empire is my favorite film of the original trilogy and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stop my inner pedant from being hypercritical. Fortunately, Doescher hit his stride after tossing aside his chorus crutches and there wasn’t much fault to find in this one. What little faults there may be are insignificant next to the power of Yoda speaking some of my all-time favorite Star Wars quotes in haiku. That was about a million times more delightful than I thought it would be (and I thought it would be pretty damn delightful).

 

I’ll leave you with perhaps my favorite line of this play, which is not a line at all, but stage direction:

[Exit, pursued by a wampa

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope - Ian Doescher

Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears. ~Luke Skywalker, Act V, Scene 4

 

My friends, I have made a tactical error. I should have read these books in the order in which they were written (4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3) instead of chronological order. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the huge difference in quality between Part the Third and Verily, A New Hope. It was rather jarring, like descending a staircase and not realizing I had one step still left to go instead of level ground. It’s a bit clumsy in comparison to the prequel novels, with more noticeable errors and an over-reliance on the Chorus. It’s still rollicking good fun, but I feel like Doescher and Quirk Books hadn’t quite hit their stride when this was produced.

 

Learn from my folly! 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3. And then 7, which I think is out now. And eventually 8 and 9. And possibly 10, 11, and 12, but now we're getting way ahead of ourselves.

William Shakespeare's Tragedy of the Sith's Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third

William Shakespeare's Tragedy of the Sith's Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third - Ian Doescher

After three books, I am still stunned by how much more sense the Star Wars prequels make as Shakespearean plays. I would pay real money to see this whole series of adaptations acted onstage by classically trained thespians. Get on it, Disney, and make it snappy. I want to see Patrick Stewart in the cast list, and that blessed man isn’t getting any younger.

 

As with the previous book, I have to dock it half a star after once again finding myself wishing Samuel L. Jackson wasn’t quite so prolific. (I Like SLJ! I shouldn’t be feeling this way, Doescher, but you just didn’t know when to quit!) I can’t say for sure if SLJ’s movie titles appeared in the first book. If they did, it was done so smoothly I didn’t notice. Some movie titles must have been easier to work in than others, and unfortunately the more difficult ones were easy to recognize for what they were, even in cases where I’d never seen or heard of the movie. Did you know SLJ was in a movie called Trees Lounge? No? Me neither.

 

I almost added the half star back after the last scene, but not even the mental image of Vader shouting “Nay!” in James Earl Jones’s voice could make up for the massive distraction of the gratuitous SLJ movie title Easter egg hunt.

 

It is a pretty great mental image, though.

 

Nay, Padmé, nay! O, be not dead, my love! ~ Darth Vader, Act V, Scene 3

William Shakespeare's The Clone Army Attacketh: Star Wars Part the Second

William Shakespeare's The Clone Army Attacketh: Star Wars Part the Second - Ian Doescher

I swear, these Shakespearean adaptations are ever so much better than the movies. I loved this one almost as much as Part the First, but I had to dock it half a star for Doescher violently shoehorning Samuel L. Jackson’s movie titles into Mace Windu’s dialog.

This produce is pulp; fiction is your plan. ~Mace Windu, Act V, Scene 1

I mean, really? -___-

Currently reading

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare