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review 2017-03-17 19:25
Book 9/100: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Carry On - Rainbow Rowell

This book took a little while to get going for me -- at first it felt as if Rowell was clearly out of her element writing fantasy -- and as someone who reads a lot of fantasy, I couldn't help but notice the shortcomings in worldbuilding, and just how LONG it seemed to take to set everything up; the story was about 1/3 of the way in before the plot really got going. Everything else was just showing us what it was like to be a student at Rowell's version of a magical school.

However, this book can really be read on two different levels: as a fantasy story in its own right, or as commentary on the world of Harry Potter.

It's passable as a story in its own right, but as commentary on the Harry Potter franchise, it is brilliant.

The parallels and nods to J.K. Rowling's worlds are obvious -- after all, the book started as an obvious stand-in for Harry Potter and Potter fan culture in its original incarnation in [book:Fangirl|16068905]. It's in the departures from Rowling's world that Rowell really drives her points home. Her version of a magical wizarding school is far more culturally and ethnically diverse than Rowling's, and it includes gay characters who don't have to wait for the whole series to be completed before being "outed" (::coughcough:: Dumbledore being gay after the fact was a copout ::cough cough::). It is, of course, much edgier than Rowling's world, with plenty of swearing and some making out, although certain aspects of it were strangely chaste. (Like, why did we never know the extent of Simon's and Agnes's sexual relationship even though they had been together for three years? Am I the only one who wondered about this?) It also examines the whole idea of the "chosen one" mythos and especially takes a jab at the somewhat creepy/inappropriate/irresponsible relationship between Dumbledore and Harry that is glossed over as perfectly healthy, warm, and admirable in Rowling's book. By contrast, the Mage (Dumbledore's stand-in), is an ethically ambiguous character, ultimately more dark than light, but for a long time Simon sees him through an adoring child's eyes much the way Harry sees Dumbledore. The difference is that Simon's perception of the Mage matures; Harry's never does.

It's somewhat strange to come in reading the "last book" in a series when the earlier books in the series do not actually exist. I couldn't help but notice how much more of an impact this story probably would have had on me if I had been following these characters' lives for years rather than being dropped into their world in the final act. I'm not sure I would have wanted to commit to seven books of this, anyway, but it's definitely a worthwhile read. It's got that Rowell "relationship magic" if that's what you go in for, but it's also a smart, incisive critique of what is arguably the most influential children's series of our lifetimes.

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review 2017-02-24 15:46
Years in the making
The Burning World: A Warm Bodies Novel (The Warm Bodies Series) - Isaac Marion

Isaac Marion's anticipated (at least by me) sequel to Warm Bodies is out now. Finally. The Burning World chronicles the continuing adventures of our favorite zombie-turned-real boy R and the love of his new life, Julie. The characters introduced in Marion's last novel make a comeback and we watch them as they travel away from all that they know and into a world of terror, Nearly Living, and gun toting baddies in beige jackets. (I think Nearly Living would make a great band name by the way.) Marion continues to build his world and his zombie mythology. We learn that as the Dead turn into the Living (and through the phase of Nearly Living) they go through a process of remembering their prior lives. For most, this is such an overwhelming and upsetting process that they take drastic measures to make the memories stop. (You don't want to know...but you will.) R has decided that he can ignore the memories trying to resurface and focus on building his new life...but of course that's not a real possibility. Their adventure/escape across the landscape of America is fraught with peril, new traveling companions, and R's increasing sense of unease as he remembers his "first life". If you're looking for a closing chapter to this series then you're going to end up disappointed. If anything, The Burning World raises more questions than it ultimately answers. It's very much a 'setup' kind of novel wherein it seems like a lot happens but actually nothing in point of fact does happen. Marion is clearly using this as a bridge to set up his conclusion (titled Living if you're curious). For someone who has been waiting for this novel for years this book was a bit of a letdown. I wanted the questions raised from the first novel (and the prequel) answered in this book. Also, there's a weird second "voice" in this book that appears to be the earth (?) and I'm not really a big fan of the way that took away from the flow of the book. It was more of a distraction than an addition to the storyline in my opinion and I have a sinking feeling it's going to play a role in Living as well. However, if you want to continue following R and his comrades you need to read The Burning World because without it you're liable to wind up very confused. Skipping to the last book which will probably be out in the next decade (I hope I'm being facetious here) would not be advisable. This is a 7/10 for me which is the lowest score I've given Marion thus far. I had much higher hopes for this book especially after the long wait. :-/


You can read my review of Warm Bodies which was originally posted back in April 2013. There's also my review of The New Hunger which was the prequel novella...and which I reviewed 4 days after I read Warm Bodies. Guess you could say I was a fan of the series. lol What's especially funny is that in the review of The New Hunger I mentioned how excited I was for the sequel and that it was due out in in 2014...and it's just come out this month. Go figure, eh?

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2016-10-21 21:56
Never Google chicken hatcheries if you can help it
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari Dr

For the last couple of years, I haven't eaten beef or pork. Part of this was dietary but the larger portion was due to my distaste with the way these animals are dealt with in the food industry. After reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind I have decided to stop eating all meats for good. I'd be quite surprised if others reading this book didn't feel the same way. (This will make sense later.) This book covers exactly what the title says. Yuval Noah Harari touches on almost every aspect of what it means to be human. I can see why this book could be contentious in some circles as he is of the belief that consumerism, imperialism, and communism are religions instead of merely ideologies. He has a no holds barred attitude about the way in which humans have ravaged the planet and taken advantage of others of our species as well as flora and fauna. (Remember the no eating chicken thing?) What was most intriguing about Sapiens were the questions that he raised about the nature of happiness. There have been many books about how to be happy but no research into how happiness is measured and its trends throughout the years. (Maybe he has an upcoming novel in the works.) If you're interested in culture, human evolution, and a unique perspective of the world then you're likely to enjoy this book. I will say that a lot of this was common knowledge and/or already known to me as an Anthropology major. The second half of the book is where it got really interesting. I love a good thought experiment and trying to figure out answers to seemingly unsolvable problems is my idea of a good time. :-) I'd give this book a solid 8/10.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2016-09-27 20:29
Feeling empowered!
Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History - Sam Maggs

Back in August, Quirk Books reached out to ask if I'd be interested in reviewing a nonfiction book about extraordinary women from history. Of course I said yes. (Who wouldn't have their interest piqued by that pitch?) So they sent over an advanced reader's copy (ARC) for me to check out. XD


Wonder Women by Sam Maggs includes stories about 25 women who looked convention in the face and laughed at it. When one looks at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers, it is easy to believe that women have had little to no impact. (The historical record has a few flaws.) Maggs completely turns this notion onto its head by showcasing women who not only braved these disciplines but completely rocked them (many times before men even had a clue). She doesn't just discuss women scientists and inventors but also women adventurers. Those that dared to dream big and push themselves forward to attain those dreams despite all the odds being stacked against them. It's the same struggle that women the world over are still fighting against except for these women lived in times that were even more daunting (I'm talking B.C.E. through the 1940s, ya'll.). These women were not given equal opportunities for education much less employment. Their families, spouses, and society were dead set that they would stay exactly as they always had...in the shadow of men. The biographies are broken up into subsections and at the end of each section are bite size bios and a Q&A with a woman who is currently working in that discipline. Oh and did I mention the art at the start of each biography? An artist's rendering of each of the ladies in the ARC are depicted in black and white but I believe in the on-sale version color has been added. They make a great addition to the book as well as the informal jargon (if you've been on Tumblr and enjoyed it then you'll feel right at home). It was a fun, quick read that showcased some truly kick butt ladies doing some really kick butt things. 9/10


You can pre-order Wonder Women today (it comes out on October 4, 2016!) and as an added bonus receive downloadable wallpapers by Jen Bartel and Paulina Ganucheau. O_O

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2016-08-23 00:33
Book Review: The Shaihen Heritage Trilogy (Cloak of Magic/Staff of Power/Spirit of Shehaios) by S.A Rule

I'm reviewing the whole trilogy rather than each book separately because I think I'd end up repeating myself otherwise. I don't usually take the time to write reviews (far too busy reading, although I've joined this site to change that) but I think this series of books, perhaps because the author self published, has slipped under the radar and people need to know how good it is! I'll stay clear of spoilers though.



The first of this trilogy; Cloak of Magic, was published way back in 2006 and the last, Spirit of Shehaios, in 2011 but I think these books are well placed to come into their own in 2016: The storyline captures some of the innocence and magic of Harry Potter, the power plays and licentiousness of Game of Thrones, and the subtle critique of contemporary society found in The Hunger Games, all packaged up in an alternative pre-history with a similar feel to The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings – what's not to like!


Throwing such successful titles around may seem like hyperbole, but I challenge you to read The Shaihen Heritage Trilogy and not agree.


In Cloak of Magic we're introduced to a Shire-like world of good natured people who live in harmony with the land. It's a balanced society where male and female are equal, inhabiting roles from Chief to Minstrel alike, where both sexes display depths of emotion and strength of will – and where everyone likes a good party. In this world there are dragons and unicorns, there are spirits and magicians, and the people see themselves as expressions of the spirit of the land.


Through the course of the Shaihen Heritage trilogy this world is increasingly threatened by an encroaching empire within which, things are done very differently. A patriarchal power structure, where women are adornments or deceivers, men are stubborn and ambitious, cities are decadent places of plenty – surrounded by slums and fuelled by servitude – and everyone knows their place. In this world there is war and slavery, there are prostitutes and priests, and the people see the land as something to own and fight over (sound familiar anyone?).


The tension created by this clash of cultures invites a delightfully subtle criticism of our own modern world in much the same way that the exaggerated spectacle of The Capitol does in The Hunger Games. Unlike The Hunger Games though, this trilogy doesn't follow just one main protagonist. The first two books are led largely by the mercurial character of Kierce, the Shaihen magician, but he is by no means the only lead. There are Chiefs and Healers, Warriors and Scholars, parents, children, Kings and Emperors as well as gamblers and tavern owners. What impresses me most about this series, in fact, is the sheer depth and richness of all the characters we encounter. With the possible exception of the priest, Aruath, in the third book, none of the players we meet can be accused of being shallow or two-dimensional; they all possess a subtle, textured personality and a rich, individually nuanced inner world, which makes them feel so much more real than mere words on a page.


This realness is what draws you in and what makes the books so easy to read: where Lord Of The Rings can get bogged down in lengthy descriptions of the landscape, in Shehaios you find yourself identifying with characters on all sides of the dice, be they noblemen, slaves, farmers or soldiers; none are defined simply by their role – even Kierce is far more human than Tolkien's Gandalf or Rowling's Dumbledore.



The three books span a large time frame, with the third story, Spirit of Shehaios, occurring at a further remove from the first two, and this makes the final instalment a little harder to get into. The reader is caught on the back foot, so to speak, and feeling like there's a lot to catch up on and a lot of new characters in whom we're not particularly invested. In fact, you could stop reading at the end of the second book, Staff Of Power, and still be blown away. But with a little patience, the realness of the characters – some of whom are familiar – and their capacity to surprise us, once again pulls you back in.


I read most of this trilogy while travelling on trains and there were times when I could not help but laugh out loud as well as times where I found my self welling up in tears or struggling to contain the tension – all rather embarrassing, for a grown man in a public place, and not usually something I have to contend with. In almost all cases, it's the interplay between the characters (all of whom you really come to care for), which leads to this powerful emotional journey. There is, however, plenty of action and a fair share of plot twists to contend with. In particular, I was impressed by the candid descriptions of sex acts. The books are not saturated with them but, when they happen, the author manages to find the right balance between descriptive and erotic, never straying into graphic gratuitousness nor sentimentality.



Coming from an unknown, unsung author, this power house of creative imagination, action, adventure and subtle social critique is simply astounding. And knowing that I'm one of the first to discover this series made the whole experience feel a little more special. So my advice to you would be, 'don't delay!' read this trilogy now so you can say you loved Rule when she was still underground (and not in the way that Tolkien is under ground – by then you'll be late too the show!).

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