Darth Pony

Ruling the galaxy is so overrated.

Rebel Rising

Star Wars: Rebel Rising - Beth Revis, Lucasfilm Ltd

A super short review because I haven’t got much to say:

 

I don’t know if anyone was really clamoring for a YA novel about Jyn Erso’s life in the years between Saw Gerrera rescuing her from Lah’mu and the Rebels breaking her out of prison on Wobani, but we got one anyway. It was entertaining (I enjoyed it a lot more than my last book by Revis, that’s for sure), but it wasn’t necessary. I didn’t feel like I got much more out of this than Freed already gave me in the Rogue One novelization.

Railhead

Railhead - Philip Reeve

Once upon a time in the 80’s I saw an anime movie on TV called Galaxy Express 999: Can You Love Like a Mother? It was episodes 51-52 of a 100+ episode series which I’d never seen. It was devoid of context and badly dubbed, but there was a boy on a train traveling through space and I was entranced. I never went looking for the whole series and had mostly forgotten about it until I started seeing reviews for Railhead pop up a couple of years ago. Sentient trains traveling through space? A young street thief caught in a galactic conflict beyond his comprehension? Intrigue and action and complex morality? Yes! cried my inner 80’s child. Sign. Me. Up.

 

Boy, am I glad I listened to her!

 

Railhead is absolutely full of interesting, flawed characters and has an intriguing, twisty plot, but it’s the freaking brilliant world building that really shines.

 

There were things that lived in the deep data: unregistered phishing nets, spam-sharks that would hack your mind and fill your dreams with adverts, half-mad military programmes left over from long-ago wars.

 

I can’t even articulate how much I love the future universe Reeve created, so I’m not going to try. The book does stand alone, but I’m super bummed there’s no sequel. [Edit: THERE ARE SEQUELS! I AM FULL OF JOY!] I want to ride the rails, making friends with the trains and listening to them sing while alien landscapes flash by.

 

I want to be a railhead.

City of Glass

City of Glass  - Cassandra Clare

This third installment in Cassandra Clare’s Ode to Harry Potter was not quite as fun to hate as the second. I blame the faux incest romantic angst, which was dialed up to unbearable levels. At least there were some decent plot twists and character development. Also, this is the book in which everybody and their werewolf calls Clary out on all her crap, Clary included, and it is glorious! There was a little bit of that in book two, but there was more here. A large percentage of Clary’s character growth came through other characters telling her how horrible she is and her realizing they weren’t kidding, and I was all for it.

 

I do believe Clare’s writing has improved with each book, which gives me hope for her current endeavors, but I don’t think I’ll put any effort into acquiring more of her books. I am never more fully aware that YA books aren’t written for me than when I’m reading books like this. Not that teen me would have appreciated it much more than adult me. I never had more than two or three romantic bones in my body (and The Last Unicorn shattered one of them permanently—oh! sweet agony!), and I’ve always gotten irritated when the characters keep putting the world-saving on hold to be angstily in love.

 

I still haaaaaaaaate Jace and Clary and want them to go jump in Lake Lyn, and I need to take a break and do some priority-examining before I pick up book four. This one ended in a nice stopping-place. That’s enough fun-to-hate reading for now.

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

Currently reading

The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie