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The Books I Read: January – February 2024

Golden Son (Red Rising #2) by Pierce Brown

I don’t know what defines military science fiction, but this is it. And I’m sorry I didn’t recognize it in my review of the first book when I compared it to Hunger Games because I’m an idiot. Hunger Games was about survivalism. This is about strategy, tactics, politics, and war. I’m an idiot not to see it for what it is.

But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, it’s a testament to how good the book is that it disguises it so well. In Red Rising, it was basically setting up pieces — the character creation and then “the war games” makes it an easy book to plot. But now it doesn’t have that crutch. Darrow now has to fulfill his mission of sabotaging high society and bringing down the caste system. He does this by inciting a civil war. New characters are introduced and old characters come back to help him in this endeavor. And as expected in a second book, the world expands. We are now in an interstellar war.

But this is the kind of book that readers are going to really connect with or really bounce off from. The main character gets elevated to messiah-like status like Jesus Christ or Paul Atreides. Anything he does, he accomplishes it, though not without good tension. The book itself approaches the glory of war with someone who thought the satire in Helldivers 2 and Starship Troopers was serious. Full of adrenaline and battles, this is not a book for people looking for relationship drama. It appeals to the masculine, almost to the point of being toxic. But the space opera part of it is the best.

Forever… by Judy Blume

Reportedly, Judy Blume wrote this when she was challenged to write about a normal teen relationship where they have sex and nothing tragic happens. The woman isn’t punished because for wanting to have sex. She doesn’t get pregnant or an STD or excommunicated from the church or labeled a slut or forced to have an abortion. It’s a simple story. It’s YA.

But it doesn’t really get into issues of sex and love. Twilight, for all its faults, was better at bringing up questions that teen girls have–“am I in love?” “how do I know if I’m in love”, etc. In this book, it’s just some stuff that happens and sex is part of it, but not a big part. I would say it gets treated realistically but the woman’s sexual issues aren’t really explained. She even has orgasms, which are really really really really hard for teen girls to do. Most girls don’t orgasm from sex until 23 and then they need to be in an intimate relationship.

The boy character acts like an annoying teenager. He backs off when she says back off, but he’s always pawing at the door like a needy puppy. Which the stereotype would have you believe. But I like to think these days that men are more responsible and respectful of women’s boundaries. No one dates anymore, it’s more like you’re friends first, and then you just get closer and do more stuff together as you test the waters with each other.

It’s so bare-bones that it feels more like a template for YA romance than a full-fledged book. It never goes deep into the characters’ feelings. It doesn’t go beyond describing “wetness”. There’s no reaction to anything and no curiosity. The characters aren’t one-dimensional, but they are bland. I think this book was a product of its time and doesn’t need to be read anymore.

How to Write Short Stories And Use Them to Further Your Writing Career by James Scott Bell

I have no idea how to write short stories. I still don’t, and this book didn’t help. It’s a trap. It’s one of those that advertises “the one secret to writing killer short stories is this…” And any writer worth their salt should already know what that is. It even pads the length by adding public domain short stories to the back.

Girl Stolen by April Henry

It’s like “Baby’s First Thriller”. A YA book that involves kidnapping and theft and blood. It has more adult themes than I expected. It mentions rape and has actual death and gunplay. But there also seems to be a lack of stakes or real danger/threat to the protagonist. The book switches POVs back and forth between the child (a teenager) and her kidnapper (who’s not much older than her) so you always have the sense that things are going to turn out all right, like a Disney Channel Original Movie. You expect a dog to bite someone on the butt at anytime.

I wasn’t interested enough to read the sequel. It’s not lacking character development, but it is lacking tension. It feels like an alchemist putting together all the essential ingredients of a human body, but lacking that spark that creates life.

Bookshops & Bonedust (Legends & Lattes #0) by Travis Baldree

I was hoping to see some improvement in Baldree’s writing. I wanted to see what he could do when there were some actual stakes, some plot turns. But it doesn’t look like he’s deviated from his formula very much.

This is a prequel book that has next to no references to the first one, so they can be read independently of each other. In the first one, our orc protagonist built a coffee shop. In this one, she’s recuperating in a little seaside town and comes upon a dilapidated bookstore. She gets to know the town’s residents, cultivates a love of reading and books, and forms friendships.

But like before, the characters aren’t that interesting. They all sound like old ladies, which I do not imagine ratkins and dwarves and magic skeleton people to be. Not in a world where their culture is being mostly at odds with each other. There’s little to no investment in important things, just the little things, like biscuits and comfy chairs. It’s nice to see a fantasy book trying something new, not trying to be a voluminous world-building tetrology like Fourth Wing. But I still need a little something more–more problems, more character dynamics.

Not Taco Bell Material by Adam Carolla

This is the memoir of Adam Carolla up to 2012. Each chapter is framed (see what I did there) around the house he grew up in at the time. And they’re mostly stories from his childhood. A lot of them you’ve heard on Loveline before, but here they are all collected and it gives me nostalgia for those times. I just love anecdotes and this book’s full of them.

It’s the story of a blue collar guy and what it was like to grow up in the eighties in southern California. I always wondered about those people doing construction on my house–where they came from, why did they end up in that job, what they want to do with their lives, what kind of adventures they have when they’re off the clock. You will marvel at the amount of abuse the human body can take, how much physical discomfort it can endure and poison it can ingest and still get up for work on Monday.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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