Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Martian

The Martian The Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fascinating survival story with a smart, witty main character who doesn't do everything perfectly, but still manages to macguyver his way to surviving and participating in his own rescue. The science is complex but understandable, and more than anything, you can't help but root for Mark.

I love the style the book is written in, with Mark's portion of the story being presented as a diary, and the rest traditionally. It felt like we as readers were really in Mark's head, seeing what he saw and thinking what he thought. It was fun seeing the earth perspective as well, especially when they watched him remotely without communication, trying to interpret his actions. I can only imagine the heartbreak the rest of the Ares 3 crew went through after they first thought they lost Mark, and then knew they had abandoned him to die, even if it was necessary to save everyone else. There's no way all 6 of them would have survived on Mars that long, so it was a small blessing that only one of them was left behind, and that of the 6 of them, it was the botanist, who could figure out how to grow more food, and engineer, who could take things apart and put them back together.

If you've seen and enjoyed the movie, you'll enjoy the book as well. The two felt remarkably similar in tone and pacing, which can be quite rare in book to film adaptations.

I loved this quote at the end, and I'm choosing to believe it, too, just like Mark:

But really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. I might not seem that way sometimes, but it's true. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it's found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don't care, but they're massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side. Pretty cool, eh?

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one was a little strange and kind of hard to follow. I heard the audio book was really good so I requested that version from the library, and while it was nice to have lots of entertaining voices and a great cast, I was very confused at first and it took at least an hour before I could figure out what was actually going on.

The juxtaposition of history versus this supernatural world was really interesting. The set up of the book alternates story narration from the point of view of various ghosts with actual historical quotes from real life sources, talking about Lincoln and the circumstances of Willie's death. It's quite a sad story, and we hear a wide variety of opinion on it, from those sympathetic for the Lincolns in their loss, to those who condemned and blamed Lincoln and his wife, both for allowing Willie to "run wild" in the cold and for having a party when Willie was so sick. Some of the eyewitness reports also refer to Lincoln's grief-fueled visits to the graveyard, so that also appears to be based on historic fact..

The ghost world is fascinating, but still holds a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty. I don't know that I realized that they were ghosts at first, which is part of the confusion. Once I figured that out and could follow what was going on, the world was really interesting: the ghosts didn't always appear the same way, they only had vague memories of their former lives, they even denied that they were dead, calling themselves "sick" instead. I'm not sure how much they really know about the dead versus not-dead situation - I think it might have actually been a very strong case of denial

The Reverend's story of going to sit before some sort of God-figure and have his actions weighed was an interesting scenario. In many was, this whole book is about what happens after you die and one of the traditional ideas is this weighing of scales and judgment to see if you were a good enough person to go to a glorious heaven, or if you didn't and you have to go to hell. We hear later on that some of people that went to hell are those ones you see mummifying the children in the ghost world. My guess is that when you decide to move on from the ghost world and are zapped out of the graveyard (and out of your clothes), you go to the judgement place, and then either to heaven or hell from there.

The big rescue sequence was really exciting and I was happy for the Reverend that he had that moment - maybe that tipped the scales in his favor this time.

I don't know what it is about children not being able to stay in the ghost world. I never really figured that out, and I don't know that they did either. They tell the demons that it doesn't seem fair, and the demons basically reply that nothing is fair. But I agree, it doesn't seem fair that if a child doesn't move on right away, they are somehow trapped in a cocoon-like shell for all eternity. There was something else that happened to them eventually, too - whatever was going on with that girl where she was continuously changing forms. I'm still not sure what that was all about, as it didn't make sense to me at all. It seemed like the adults had abandoned her to that state our of fear and hopelessness, but I feel like at the end they sort of rescued her from that, maybe. Maybe not. It's one of those things that maybe reading the book instead of listening to it would make more clear.

When Mr. Bevins and Mr. Vollman shared space with Lincoln and thus with one another, I loved that they could *feel* each other after that, and could really see each other's true selves. I loved the whole concept of sitting inside a person and knowing what they were thinking and feeling. Also, I really enjoyed whatever was happening when they finally all saw one another how they truly had been, not as they had existed as ghosts for the many years in the ghost realm. Mr. Vollman had his clothes back (no more bouncing member, thankfully), Mr Bevins had the proper number of eyes/mouths/ears, the Reverend's face had resumed a more natural expression, etc.

The most touching moments involved not only Lincoln's grief over the loss of his son, but alsoWillie's grief for losing his father and family. Willie suddeningly realizes he's by himself, and he can't go back - there's no way to. But Willie also finds some the joy in the end, when he tells everyone, "We're dead! My dad says we're dead and he doesn't lie to me, and that means I can go somewhere better, and you all should come with me!"

This is definitely one I think I'm going to need to re-read, physically next time, because there was just a lot that I was confused on and it was hard to keep track of who was talking. For a long time, the character that's voiced by David Sedaris, Mr. Bevins, I thought was a woman, and so I  was confused as to why his lover said they can't be together because he needs to do the right thing. It wasn't until later that I was like, "oh, he's a man! Got it!" I enjoyed the story, and I enjoyed the premise and the world that was built, and I appreciate all the different voices, but I think it would be better to read it first. Maybe it would be less confusing then, and then if you enjoy the book itself, listen to the audio book.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fun Science: A Guide to Life, the Universe and Why Science Is So Awesome

Fun Science: A Guide to Life, the Universe and Why Science Is So Awesome Fun Science: A Guide to Life, the Universe and Why Science Is So Awesome by Charlie McDonnell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic overview of science that explains some difficult concepts while still remaining accessible and entertaining. For someone like me, who hasn't particularly studied anything science-related since high school (don't ask how long ago that was), this book was both a great refresher on things I once learned and a fountain of new, fun facts, many of which I plan to commit to memory so I can spout them at parties like small talk. That's how small talk works, right?

All joking aside, scientific topics can feel hugely daunting to those like me who might have a hard time wrapping my brain around string theory and partial physicals. This book distills down those topics and more, and Charlie does a great job both delivering the facts and also sandwiching those facts in wonderful puns and interesting stories.

I've always loved space, and I particularly enjoyed the sections on the stars and planets. I feel like the solar system and everything contained in it is a topic I've previously learned very little about, other than the obligatory memorize-the-planet-names task and the oops-just-kidding-Pluto fiasco. There is so much more to learn, and now I'm thinking I need to find a good book just on Astronomy, though maybe Charlie should just write one and save me the trouble of looking.

I would be remiss if I didn't express my love for both the design and illustrations of this book, which make up a huge part of why it's so entertaining and engaging to read. The changes in font size, type, and color help definite each topic and idea and help to smooth the reading and information-absorption process. With such great design, it would be easy to pass over Charlie's clever writing as "just another science book." The illustrations are so wonderfully whimsical and lighthearted, I couldn't wait to turn each page and see what popped up next. This is the kind of art I want to blow up and put on my wall - not only is it informative, but it just makes me very happy. So congrats and thank you to Dave Brown for his wonderful design work, and to Fran Meneses for her fantastic illustrations.

And thank you to Charlie for writing such a well-informed and accessible book about science, and one I would be happy to pass on to everyone know, adult and child alike. (Those jokes go straight over kids' heads anyways, right?)

PS. My new favorite fact: WE ARE ALL MADE OF STAR STUFF.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

A Court of Wings and Ruin

A Court of Wings and Ruin A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Such a fun story! I think I like the second book better (because I loved that one so much), but this one was wildly entertaining. My favorite part is learning more about each character and seeing how they develop.

The first quarter/third of this book can be difficult to read - Feyre is in essence undercover in the Spring Court, trying to undermine Tamlin's influence with his people and find out as much as he can about Hybern's plans. It was satisfying to see her wield her power, especially against the Hybern generals and Ianthe. Feyre changing Ianthe's summer ritual for her own purposes was masterful, and SO delightful to read! And her final fight again the Hybern generals was so amazing, I wanted to cheer out loud! From the perspective of reading the whole book, though, I can see how things she did undermined how Spring was able to operate in the future. Even though I can't necessarily forgive Tamlin for the way he treated Feyre, I was relieved to see he still had her back when it mattered, no matter how much it pained him to see her with Rhys.

I was shocked to find out that Jurian was playing spy! I'll admit that his motives for joining Hybern always seemed suspect - would "going crazy" being trapped in a ring truly turn him completely from his previous motives? Yes, he was going crazy obsessive at the end of his life, but would it totally change his personality? I get why he is a little hurt that Mor and the others didnt question his allegiance after all they'd been through. Hopefully he will be able to do good with Vaasa in the future.

I am SO glad Ianthe is dead and gone. What a reprehensible person, with no redeeming qualities as far as I can tell. Her ending was as perfect as if Feyre had planned it. Good riddance.

I loved getting to know so many of the other High Lords. I already liked Tarquin, so it was great to see him reconcile with Feyre and Rhys. (Also Amren + Varian = RAWR.) It was awesome to see the rest of the Lords in more detail as well -- Helion (omg that info about Lucien!!!!), Kallias and his wife Viviana, Thesan of the Dawn Court and the Peregryn soldiers, even Beron and Eris of the Autumn Court. Autumn court makes a little more sense now that Lucien's parentage is in question - his father hates his because he's not his real father, his oldest brother never tried to kill him because he knows he's not a risk.

As for the changes and develops we see in Feyre's night court family, there are a few striking developments. For one, Amren came back from her assault on Hybern and the cauldron as fully Hugh Fae, not whatever she used to be. First of all, I'm so relieved she's back, as I love her. Even when she was confusing Feyre at the cauldron, I KNEW she couldn't be betraying them. I'm super interested in seeing how Amren adjusts to life with so much less (or maybe just different) power. Second, we finally learn why Mor had kept Azriel at arm's length all these years. I totally support her right to keep her own secrets, and understand the fear she has to tell even her closest friends about her true nature. Interestingly enough, though, as much as Azriel has loved Mor for centuries, I feel like maybe he's starting to feel something for Elain as well. That in itself might lead to an interesting love triangle, and an in-depth discussion of love vs the mating bond. At the end of the book, we can see Elain extending a hand to Lucien, and perhaps start opening herself up to a relationship with him, her mate. But she and Azriel seem to have also some sort of mutual connection, and they've made a big deal about the fact that a mating bond does not give a male exclusive rights to a female. Elain still has the right to choose whom she loves and wants to be with. Obviously the discussion of the nature of mating relationships is relevant to the beginning of Feyre and Rhys' relationship, but I can't believe they talked about it so much if the issue wasn't going to come up again.

Moving onto the Feyre's sisters, even though they started off on a rough footing after they were made into Fae, I love how much their relationships with each other grew and developed over the course of the book. Nesta and Feyre especially had a lot of past history to overcome, and seeing them communicate and move past that issues was so heartwarming. Their turning point seemed to come after Feyre returned from saving Elain, and Nesta rushed to hug Feyre first and thank her. And then, when they were sleeping in the tent together, as they did as children, I was really touched, and wanted to just hug them all.

That final battle was EPIC. You have all the ancient gods that Feyre and Rhys brought out, The Bone Carver and Bryaxis and Stryga, who were just a huge surprise to everyone else and battled so amazingly. I was surprised to be quite sad when the cauldron took out the Bone Carver, even if it's what he actually wanted in the end, and when the King of Hybern took out Stryga, all I could feel was appreciation for all she had done for them.

How amazing was it when Drakon's legion and Vassa's fleet arrived? And then when it turned out that Feyre's father had been rallying troops with Vassa this whole time, I couldn't stop the shivers that went down my spine! I knew he had to have been doing SOMETHING on the continent this whole time, but to be honest, I was afraid he was going to show up on Hybern's side. I love that he named his ships after his daughters, and also that they were able to see each other, even if for a moment, before he was killed. The funeral they gave him was especially touching.

I love that it was Elain and Nesta who ended up taking out the King of Hybern. Nesta finally made good on her promise to kill the king after he changed them into Fae, and it was as majestic as it was gory. It was perfect, though, that it was unsuspected Elain who surprised him and delivered the blow that lead to his death. Dealing with the Cauldron felt almost more difficult than killing the king when you factor in the destruction and rebuilding power that was necessary. I was going to be so mad if Rhys ended up truly dead after all they had been through, so it was a relief that the Lords were willing to give parts of themselves again to help save him, especially Tamlin.

When I first started reading this series, it was partially because I thought it was a trilogy and I would be able to read all the books right away. Now that I've finished the third, I realize that there are more Court of Thorns and Roses books coming, but I'm hoping that they are more along the lines of being within the world of the books rather than an exact continuation of the story. I'm hoping that's Feyre and Rhysand's story is pretty much told, for the most part, and that future books have a different narrator and different focus. There is still a lot to learn about Nesta and Cassian's story, which I realize I hadn't mentioned until now and WHICH I LOVE, FULL CAPS, THEY ARE THE BEST AND I LOVE THEM AND WANT TO SEE MORE OF THEIR STORY. Also of interest is the love story of Lucien and Elain and maybe also Azriel, depending on where the author wants to take that. I feel like we could also follow the story of Vessa and her battle to free herself of her firebird existence, and that might also include Jurian. So there are lots of places to go with this story that wouldn't feel like you are dragging Feyre and Rhys through more pain.

I'm reminded of McCaffrey's Dragon books, where the whole world was interconnected, and you'd see characters pop up in each other's stories as the main character changed from trilogy to trilogy and story to story. I hope this ends up being something like that. But I'll have to wait and see! And wait I will. Until then!

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Friday, August 4, 2017

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 5: Imperial Phase I

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 5: Imperial Phase I The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 5: Imperial Phase I by Kieron Gillen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


There's so much going on in this one, I actually had to read it twice. Some of my questions have been answered, but none of them in full.

First of all, the Great Darkness is apparently real, and is these large shadowy beast things that can manifest and steal people. Also, Baal and Ameratsu have know about them for ages, and they are what killed Baal's father. I still don't know why Ananke needed to sacrifice the goods, especially Minerva, to keep the darkness at bay. We get a bit of a flashback to the night everything went down, but still, nothing makes much sense. Ananke seems regretful, but who was she writing that letter to? Baal? And did she know she would die?

Let's talk about Persephone the Destroyer. Ananke seemed to think she needed to die. Her powers don't hurt the darkness creatures, but help it grow. And then you have her systematically destroying her relationships, because she thinks she is bad for them. I liked her with Baal, and I y agree that Minerva was being a little too judgey with her.  It's not fair to expect Persephone to fill Innanna's shoes for anyone, even Baal. And if Baal was with Persephone because she reminded him of Inanna, that's not exactly fair either. I'm sad to see her distance herself from him, as I think he was a good influence on her.  Hooking up with Sakhmet on the regular, whatever was going on with Ameratsu, and then dragging Baphomet into a situation that puts him at odds with the Morrigan, who basically treats Baph like her slave - none of those are particularly sound decisions. I just hope she can figure things out in time to help in the final battle.

Dionysus: Something is majorly up with this guy's energy levels. He never sleeps and it is definitely starting to effect him. Not good!

Wooden: woah, we learn some very interesting family history here. Does knowing Wooden grew up knowing all about the gods because of his dad change anything? Maybe. You could infer that he knows more about the darkness than the others, and about the various history of different reincarnations.

Ameratsu: girl is legit starting an actual cult. Where is she going with this? Definitely seems a little crazy.

Sakhmet: A LOT crazy here. Obviously she's pro-anarchy, but she has an irrational murder streak that we're only seeing the start of. She's paranoid and irrational, and managed to turn an orgy into a bloodbath. Are they going to be able to cover this one up? Or will Baal step up and take out the one who is out of control, like he promised?

The Norn: she is trying to make sense of everything so hard, and it's just not working. Sigh. If she could figure out that machine, it would surely hold some answers, but no luck so far, and it doesn't seem promising.

Once again, I can't wait for the next volume, and am sorely tempted to pick up reading in single issues, even though I know I enjoy that less. I don't know. We shall see.

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