Saturday, August 12, 2017

108. The Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins if Golan by John Flanagan



Flanagan, John. The Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan. New York: Puffin Books, 2005.

SYNOPSIS: Orphans in this fantasy universe are made into apprentices when they reach a certain age. Will, the protagonist, is selected to be a Ranger's apprentice. Ranger's are, essentially, the CIA of the kingdom--specialty fighters trained in espionage. This book is part of a series and mostly focuses on setting up the characters and plot for the books to come.

WHAT I LIKED: This is a great adventure fantasy and is probably written for middle school aged readers. In middle school, I would have loved this book. The writing creates excellent tension and I wasn't ever pulled out of the story but was instead fully absorbed in the story. I liked the concept of the ranger and a ranger's role in a kingdom.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: I didn't like that there were almost no female characters. It grew tiresome reading about male characters through about 90% of the book. A female ranger would be AMAZING. Instead, all the women and girls in the book had soft roles--diplomat, and cook. YUCK.

I also didn't like that the solution to bullying was to beat the bullies senseless rather than reporting bullying to the proper authorities. Also, yuck.

RECOMMEND FOR: This could appeal to a wide audience of you're ok with minimal female roles.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Readers who want to see women and girls taking part in the action.

2.5 darts out of 5

Saturday, August 5, 2017

107. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood



Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1985.

311 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

SYNOPSIS: This first person narrative tells the story of Offred after the U.S. government has been overthrown by a group of religious zealots called the Sons of Jacob. In this dystopia, humans are struggling to reproduce so women who have successfully had children prior to the overthrow are forced to become "handmaids" used for breeding purposes. Each handmaid us assigned to a commander and is expected to birth his child. The story follows Offred and her experience with her commander and life in the new world order.

WHAT I LIKED: This is an important book to read. Atwood paints a harrowing picture of where we may end up if women become complacent and if Marshall law is enacted. The story is terrifying and I didn't enjoy it, but I don't think it is a book that is mean to be enjoyed. The book is warning much in the same way that Animal Farm is a warning. The writing is good--skilled, artful, absorbing.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: When I read a piece like this that goes beyond being a novel for entertainment's sake and becomes a piece of art, I want that art to provide me hope and some kind of solution to the problem it's attempting to tackle. That is why I love art--it helps me conceptualize new ways of approaching old problems. The Handmaid's Tale falls flat for me in this regard. There is no solution. There is no hope. There is no clear step that can be taken to get end the dystopia that Offred lives in. We don't even get the closure in the end when historians analyze how she escaped. They're answer was "we don't know. haha." We also don't know how the historians gained freedom to study this period in American history from the place of intellectual freedom in which they currently reside. They just do. They're just there. In this way, The Handmaid's Tale is the same as the hanging wall depicted in the story. It's warning, nothing more.

RECOMMEND FOR: Anyone who plans on watching the Hulu adaptation needs to read this. I don't plan to watch the series, but from what I've heard the Hulu series has some major differences from the original novel.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone who may be triggered by sexual violence or hopeless dystopian themes.

4 darts out of 5

Sunday, July 30, 2017

106. "'B' is for Burglar" by Sue Grafton


SYNOPSIS: Kinsey is on the case of Elaine Boldt, a wealthy widow who has recently gone missing. The more she learns about Elaine's case, the more questions she has. Her hunt leads her to investigating several neighborhoods across a handful of U.S. states. To say Elaine had problematic neighbors would be an understatement, but which of these neighbor's was involved in her disappearance, and where is she?

WHAT I LOVED: When I picked up Sue Grafton's work, I expected to read "popcorn lit" or books with little substance and made up mostly of entertaining fluff. Grafton has surprised me with her wit and skill. It is full of witty and stimulating prose. I found myself laughing out loud several times at her witticisms. Characters in B is for Burglar had depth and history, even those in the supporting character roles. I adored Julia Ochsner and hope to someday meet someone like her. May we all strive for Mrs. Oschsner's longevity!

WHAT I LIKED: I liked that I didn't solve the mystery. I can usually solve the mystery in most mystery and thriller novels by about halfway through. With this book, the person that I thought was the murderer was actually innocent and I was nowhere close to being correct in figuring out who the real killer was. I liked being surprised in the end!

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Kinsey Milhone has a moment of fat-phobia about 3/4 of the way through the novel that bothered me. Control disguised as care when thinking to herself "he really needed to lose weight." Yuck.

RECOMMEND FOR: Experienced mystery readers who need a hard-to-solve case.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: People who don't like mysteries? I'm not sure--I think this book could appeal to a wide range of audiences.

3 darts out of 5.

Reviews of earlier books in the series
1. A is for Alibi

Saturday, May 6, 2017

105. Locke and Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft" by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez




SYNOPSIS: A family is struck by tragedy when their father, a school guidance counselor,  is murdered by one of his students. The event takes them out to a family house on the East Coast--Key house. When Bode, the youngest son, finds a key that unlocks a supernatural door in the house, the fun begins.

WHAT I LOVED: The art in this series is incredible. I spent countless time reading and re-reading this just to soak in the art. The drawings are so detailed and bursting with emotion.

WHAT I LIKED: I liked the fierceness of the sister. She copes with the tragedy by getting angry and being active which I think is an empowering illustration of coping rather than painting her as a tragic victim as so many female characters are.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:
I found the level of violence in this hard to deal with. I tend to be sensitive when it comes to gore and wasn't expecting to see so much of it in a story about a mystical old house. I fully get that this is a "me" issue and not an issue with the series,  but that was my only unwelcome experience as I read.

RECOMMEND FOR: Those who enjoy a good horror film.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Readers sensitive to violence and gore.

3.5 darts out of 5

Friday, January 27, 2017

104. "The Selection" by Kiera Cass





Cass, Kiera. The Selection. New York: Harper Teen, 2012.

327 pages. 

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

SYNOPSIS: America Singer lives in a dystopian future where the nation is divided into castes numbered one through eight with ones being at the very royal top and eights being homeless nomads. When the prince of the nation is old enough, there is a "Selection" where names of eligible women and girls are drawn from each district and the "selected" travel to the capital to compete for the prince's hand in marriage.

WHAT I LOVED: The cover art.

WHAT I LIKED: What I liked about this book is that it's sort of like junk food--it did me absolutely no good but was just kind of tasty anyway.

WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT: Hoo boy. I know that there are no truly "original" stories anymore, but this book was so obviously trying to cash in on the popularity of The Hunger Games and The Bachelor, it made me sick. Cass is capitalizing on hybridizing the success of work that isn't really hers and by feeding the lowest common denominator to her readers. I found the book entertaining enough but something just wasn't sitting right with me so I did a bit of research. Cass's agent was actually "rigging" her ratings of the book on Goodreads by going through every 4 and 5 star review and "liking" them to boost the rating. Supposedly Cass and her agent also weren't aware that their posts were public and said some unsavory things about their readers going so far as to call a reader who didn't like the book a "bitch." As a writer myself, I have no respect for that. None, whatsoever. You will never write a book everyone likes. That's how the world of reading and writing works. So...while I may be interested in reading the rest of the stories in the series, the writer and agent's serious lack of respect for readers has me wanting to boycott the rest. There is more I could say about some of the story's plot holes and character inconsistencies, but I'll stop here--heaven forbid I get called a bitch too.

RECOMMEND FOR: Readers who like teen romance and don't care if the author has any respect for her readers.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone who values the sacred relationship between writer and reader.

2 darts out of 3

Saturday, January 21, 2017

103. "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown



Brown, Dan. Angels and Demons. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

569 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

SYNOPSIS: This is the first of the Robert Langdon series. The second of the series is probably Dan Brown's most well-known work, The DaVinci Code. In Angels and Demons, Brown sets up Langdon's character with an adventure at the Vatican. The Illuminati have threatened the Vatican and infiltrated to set a bomb aimed at destroying the Vatican City and the Catholic church as whole. Landgon must work with a brilliant scientist, Vittoria Vetra, in order to follow a trail of symbols and mythology and stop the Illuminati from completing their mission. 

WHAT I LOVED: Dan Brown is a master of pace. His novels always seem to be perfectly paced to keep tension high. Some of the chapters' obvious cliff hangers were a bit cheesy (cue orchestral "dun dun DUN!"). The cheesiness is part of the appeal for me. I don't read Dan Brown to become a better person. I read Dan Brown to be entertained.  

WHAT I LIKED: I liked  the mythology. I am a sucker for fun, mystical, Catholic conspiracy. I'm not an historian and I'm sure historical inaccuracies abound in this book, but if you can suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the ride, the mythology is fun.

WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT: The ending with the helicopter and the jacket. I won't go into detail and spoil it for anyone, but come on.

RECOMMEND FOR: Someone interested in a thrilling, fast paced, mystery that involves conspiracy theories and Catholic urban legends. 

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Any historian or scientist expecting accurate depictions of religious history or physics. 

3 darts out of 5. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

102. "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins



SYNOPSIS: A woman struggling with alcoholism takes a train into town everyday so her roommate thinks she's going to work. She's actually unemployed, depressed, and lonely. She fantasizes about a couple she watches from the train everyday and in a desperate attempt to connect with someone, moves those fantasies into reality by showing up at the couple's house when she learns the woman has gone missing. From there, everything spirals into a murder-mystery, psychological thriller.

WHAT I LOVED: I loved the non linear timelines told from multiple perspectives. It was a unique way to create tension and suspense. I loved that the points of view were all women who had dealt with the same psychopath and how each of those voices was unique and compelling.

WHAT I LIKED: I liked the way Hawkins worked in alcoholism as a devastating disease. The explanation of black outs was scientifically accurate, for the most part.

WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT: Honestly, I knew by the third chapter who dunnit. It wasn't because it was obvious who it was but it was obvious to me who it wasn't.

RECOMMEND FOR: Anyone who likes a fast-paced thriller along the lines of Gone Girl.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Those who struggle with alcohol addiction--I could see this book being a trigger for relapse.

3 darts out of 5.