The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi
So, like all second books in a series, I’m not sure why you’re reading this. If you haven’t read the first one, what’s this going to do. If you have read the first one, you already know if you want to read the second. Nonetheless, here are my thoughts.
There is plenty here to sing praises about. The new world-building is fun and classic at the same time. It evokes the more sophisticated “low concept” stories of Heinlein and Asimov, using thick allegory and hard science to tell a story. One that’s not necessarily a happily ever after. It’s hard to tell he wrote this in two weeks.
Some criticize the book for a lack of depth, but I don’t see that. I see more depth than other Scalzi novels. The characters are as interesting as before… but not more interesting. The revelations are as gasp-creating as before… but not more gasp-creating. Nothing like as big as a Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker thing.
Which brings me to my biggest gripe–I never get the sense that anyone’s in real danger. Pages and pages of bad guy schemes, plans, and set-ups, enough to put Game of Thrones to shame. But then, right before they execute, someone calls them out, revealing they were one step ahead the whole time. And while it’s satisfying to see the bullies get their ass handed to them, it doesn’t give a sense of risk. All the good guys have more power than the bad. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
I’m still looking forward to the next. I don’t feel the second book made the storyline better, but it certainly didn’t make it worse.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
I just didn’t buy it. I mean, not like “physically” buy. I mean in the sense of not believing the plotline. YA romance is a hard enough sell as it is. How much romance can there be in ninth grade? Holding hands? Only 2% of marriages are between high school sweethearts. I just didn’t buy her falling in love with him or him with her.
She’s supposed to be this New Girl Weirdo like in Bridge to Terabithia. What does she do to earn this reputation? She wears bright clothes. That’s it.
I can’t tell if she wants to conform or not. She makes actions that for both. She becomes a cheerleader, but then cheers for both sides. If it’s a student’s birthday, she plays the ukelele and sings to them.
I get a feeling the principal would have cracked down on this behavior–it’s disrupting, not everyone likes a song, and it could be an invasion of privacy. You may not want everyone knowing it’s your birthday. But no, in this place, adults are useless.
I thought she was going to be revealed as an alien instead of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The title threw me off. The first half is all her shenanigans. It seems she’s getting used to humanity more than trying to fit in. And it looks like she’s trying to fit in, but with malicious compliance. Like when someone pre-emptively tells her not to sing on her birthday. She sings to the person next to her.
The style sucks too. There is a lot of telling. There’s never a story, just kind of a narrative summary. No scenes. That means everything is “told” through that summary narrative. And if nothing’s in the present moment, then how am I supposed to get invested? Bridge to Terabithia was better.
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Schmaltzy. Everyone gets a happy ending. Even in Nazi Germany.
The book is split into three narratives, like three short stories. But they’re all connected to each other. The only other media I can remember doing this is “The Red Violin”, but I’m sure there are others. Maybe “Hyperion”.
Anyway, I got fooled because I based my decision to read on the prologue alone. The prologue makes it look cool, like a fairy-tale meets modern day kinda thing, like “Far Far Away“. It’s not. Immediately after that cool prologue, which you don’t see again, is the first story. And it’s like every middle grade historical fiction story you’ve read: The Book Thief, Number the Stars, or anything with pseudo-Nazi (Maus, Harry Potter, 1984, various Marvel comics, Star Trek, etc.)
And the next two follow the same vein of prejudice and racism and “down on your luck” situations that have no lasting consequences. Like a Disney Channel Original movie. And at the end, everyone learns a lesson.
This is an “issue” book. One they teach in school to teach multiple things at once (History, English, etc.). Thusly, it contains nothing offensive, edgy, or substantial (i.e. no character flaws — everyone’s good or evil) to sink your teeth into. It’s a family book. And I’ve grown beyond that in my literature.
This is the Year I Put My Financial Life In Order by John Schwartz
Well, it can’t be all dragons and lasers now, can it? Sometimes, you need a vegetable to after all the desserts.
There were a few times I almost stopped reading. As much as one needs good money sense (a skill they do not teach in public school), the subject matter is nowhere near my wheelhouse. But then there’d be a funny anecdote that’d be enough to keep it going. Schwartz comes from a journalistic background, not a financial one. So he’s good at keeping you entertained first and informed second.
Now this book may not work for everyone. It vastly depends on what your financial savvy is. For example, I wished for some kind of glossary or hint sidebar (like in For Dummies books, because I’m still not sure what the definition of “mutual fund” is. But it’s not a clickbait list of one hundred tips to make money. And thank god for that. It’s more “this is what I experienced and this is what I did”.
And it’s good. Schwartz does the hard work so I don’t have to. It has some good websites, some breakdowns of what questions to ask, and how to gauge if you’re doing it right or not. It’s a primer, and it has easy-to-understand steps on what to do with that glass jar of pennies under your bed.
One of Us by Craig DiLouie
Is it a horror novel? Is it a thriller? Chiller? YA? Science fantasy? I’m not sure. But I know it’s -handed allegory.
A sexually-transmitted disease (called “the plague”) has caused severe abnormalities, defects, and aberrations in 10% of children (during 1960? 1990? I can’t tell). Government has stepped in to prevent carriers from creating more, but this book is not about that. This book is about a small set of them at an orphan home that would make Miss Hannigan cringe.
The book never uses the term “mutation”, but let’s call them what they really are: X-Men. The book goes out of its way to make sure everyone knows the plague children are persona non grata. They’re forced into unpaid labor at local farms. They have “school” but no one teaches them. The security abuses them regularly. And even though they’re treated like lepers, they have special skills that should make them exploited, not shunned.
For example, one kid can finish anyone’s sentence, so he’s pulled out to a government facility to figure out muffled radio communications. But leaves behind the one who has pyrokinesis (pyro), the human gorilla (Beast), and the one who remembers everything that has ever happened to him with perfect recall, even as far as being born (he’s the “brain”). The main character looks like a dog and has similar attributes (like Wolverine). I can’t believe that the American government would leave these kids in their crappy “Home for the Deranged” instead of military testing facilities.
And so they’re treated like stand-ins for blacks during the peak of Southern segregation. Thus the story is a full-length “don’t bully the dragon” tale. I know X-men’s an allegory too, but not as transparent as this. It even takes place in Georgia. And that fact doesn’t do the book favors.
Everyone is a redneck or murderous or lecherous or otherwise a Stephen King third-stringer. The stereotypes are predictable “man is the real monster” stuff and it uses rape as a plot-driving device. The author is Canadian and he writes like he’s only heard of the South but never been there.
It doesn’t break any barriers or do any fresh takes. And despite the message, it doesn’t practice what it preaches (i.e. for an allegory about black people, where are the black people?).
The Shamer’s War (The Shamer Chronicles #4) by Lene Kaaberbøl
This is the fourth (and final?) book in the Shamer Chronicles, so why wouldn’t you read it if you already read the first three?
The grand war isn’t so much grand. More like one battle… that gets condensed into a sword duel… a short sword duel. So don’t come in expecting Helm’s Deep to make up for the thumb-twiddling of previous books.
The plot is a little simpler, but I get frustrated because no one asks the questions they should. It’s one of those stories where a character gets dragged along by people who know what’s happening and what everything is. But that character never asks any questions. “What’s happening?” or “What is your plan?” or “What did she mean back there by blah-blah-blah?” This creates intrigue in a plot, but it’s artificial. It means someone’s carrying the idiot ball. And that means the plot is proceeding on rails. Not because of a character’s actions or desires.
So now that the series is done, do I recommend it? Well, if the coolness of shamers and shaming magic is what pulls you in, books 2, 3, and 4 will disappoint you. I’d say read the first definitely. And if you’re fine with not knowing what happens afterwards (spoiler: it’s an HEA), then stick with that.
This Book Is Full of Spiders (Seriously, Don’t Touch It) by David Wong
I was really impressed with the quality of “Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits“. I was underwhelmed by the quality of “John Dies at the End“. This book is closer to the former. It’s a solid story all the way through. In fact, take the content of “John Dies at the End” and put it in the tempered style of “Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits” and this is the result. Of course, this doesn’t help if you haven’t read either.
I’d categorize this as a horror-comedy. If you like movies like The Evil Dead and Killer Klowns from Outer Space, this is for you. Better even, because it touches into the philosophy behind movies like that… as one would drunk with your friends at two in the morning by the fridge… but still fun. David Wong is to horror as Douglas Adams is to space opera.
In summary, it’s a zombie apocalypse novel, but that doesn’t do it justice. Nothing about it is run-of-the-mill. It’s fresh takes on everything. There’s a lot of tension, never knowing what’s going to happen next. It’s almost bizarro, except somehow the characterization keeps it grounded (i.e. everyone acts like you’d expect them to act). It even goes into the POVs of the titular John (and some others). It feels like an epic tome, like Swan Song but with more butt humor.
Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons by Mike Reiss
You like The Simpsons. Everyone likes The Simpsons. Nobody doesn’t like The Simpsons. If you say you don’t like The Simpsons, you’re wrong.
It’s a fast read. It’s got the Simpsons-style humor (some of it’s more Dad jokes than I expected). It tells stories of behind the scenes stuff, how writing the TV show works (spoiler: it’s as unexciting as you think it is). Mike Reiss isn’t a terribly interesting individual by himself, but the things he’s seen make him interesting.
You won’t find any secret to The Simpsons success here (spoiler: there is none, except maybe the lack of studio interference) but there is an amusing recounting of his years. There’s even talk about The Critic, but it doesn’t feel like there’s enough detail, which would be my biggest gripe.
It’s a trip down memory lane for us old folks who were there when it premiered. Good for trivia night. I can’t say anything bad about this book, but I can’t say much exceptional about it. It’s a memoir, and in the top three of memoirs I’ve read.