Hello my lovely readers!
So, I knew I hadn’t written a Friday Fun post in a while, but was floored to see it hadn’t happened since November 16, 2012.
I know we all hate it when bloggers talk about their crazy busy lives, even though it’s true, because, hello, we all have busy lives! Suffice to say, what I thought was a busy phase is actually the new stasis of my life. I’m proud of the fact that I’m still managing to find time to blog, because I do love book blogging. But I want to continue to touch base with you all periodically. Weekly is just too overwhelming though. So I’ve decided to move Friday Fun to just occurring on the last Friday (or Saturday) of every month. Treating it more like a special event instead of a weekly meme will help me keep up and enjoy it. I hope you all enjoy the new change!
On a similar note, I am still closed to review requests, and I don’t expect that to be changing anytime soon. I still periodically request ARCs, if I’m highly interested, but that is a rare occurrence. I also, you may have noticed, switched my reading from about 50% things I felt I “should” be reading (for ARCs, to better myself, etc….) down to about 10%. This means 90% of my reading is for funsies, because frankly I need that stress relief in my life. Reading “should’s” worked great when I was in a life limbo and needing to fill the time with actual things to do that made me feel like I was accomplishing something. But now when I read, I want it to be for fun. I need it to be a stress reliever. Something that helps give me a few moments of internally-focused peace in my day. So any changes you’ve noticed in the books being reviewed here reflect that choice I made at the beginning of 2013.
As for my non-blog life! The holidays happened. I taught my first library orientation by myself for the incoming class of one of the schools affiliated with my library. I created my first library tutorials. I finished my first archival finding aid. Those have been the big-hitters in work life. In regular, non-librarian Amanda life I went on vacation with my boyfriend to an off-the-grid cabin! We snowshoed and built fires in wood stoves and generally thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I went home to visit my dad in Vermont and learned how to make the perfect grilled cheese. I got an iPhone. I became addicted to Instagram and taking photos in general. I survived Blizzard Nemo and got my first real snowday in *years*. I learned how to play the Call of Cthulhu tabletop game. Finally, I just last week joined my gym’s 60 day fitness competition, and I am loving how much it has reinvigorated my passion for fitness. And I’m still trying to figure out how to be a part-time indie author in amongst all of this.
How was everyone’s March? Ours came in like a lion and out like a lamb, just like the old saying goes. 🙂
Amy is 5 year old robot. An exact replica–iteration–of her mother, who is in a relationship with a human male. Her parents are restricting her food to raise her slowly at a human child’s pace instead of at a robot’s. But when her grandmother shows up to her kindergarten graduation and threatens her mother, things go haywire. It quickly becomes apparent that the failsafe that makes robots love humans innately and makes them incapable of withstanding seeing violence against humans has failed to activate in Amy. She finds herself full-grown and on the run from humans and her robot aunts alike as she struggles to figure out who she is and what her existence means to humanity.
Artificial Intelligence/Robot books tend to take a bit more to draw me in than say a zombie book. It’s really hard to do AI in a way that is simultaneously scientifically/culturally believable and unique. Frankly, I need a bit more believability in an AI book than in a zombie one, since AI is real science. Plus, the book should examine their cultural place in the world, and that needs to be believable. I am pleased to say that this book gets it mostly right. It’s enjoyable, scientifically minded, culturally thought-provoking, and examines a real life issue in the context of genre, which long-time readers of this blog know is something I highly enjoy.
The first thing that made me know this is a smart book is the source of the robots (called Von Neumanns after their creator). A fundamentalist group in the American South decided that the humans left behind after Jesus’ Second Coming should have someone to help them through the Tribulation, so they invented humanoid robots to be ready to help. Clearly, the Second Coming didn’t happen, and the fundamentalists ended up selling Von Neumanns, and the Von Neumanns wind up a part of the cultural backdrop, not to mention the porn industry. As a character says to Amy:
There are only two industries in this world that ever make any kind of progress: porn, and the military. And when they hop in bed together with crazy fundamentalists, we get things like you. (location 1944)
This is the most unique and engaging origin story for robots that I’ve seen, plus it makes sense and provides cultural commentary. The Von Neumanns originated as a religious experiment, were swiped by the military and the porn industry, and became a part of everyday life. It’s just an awesome origin story for the world that Amy is in.
The characters, including the robots, are three-dimensional. Everyone has complex motivations and the main characters definitely grow and progress with time. No one is presented as pure evil or good.
The plot is similarly complex. There’s a lot going on in Amy’s world, and none of it is predictable. What is the failsafe precisely and is it a good or a bad thing? Is it a natural progression that it doesn’t work in Amy? What about how Amy’s mother and grandmother reacted to the human world around them? Did they see accurate shortcomings or were they just malfunctioning? And what about how the various humans use the Von Neumann’s? For instance, pedophiles acquire Von Neumanns and keep them young by starving them. Is this a good, harmless thing since it protects human children or have robots evolved to be far more than just a machine? The world is complex and full of tough questions, and thus is challenging and unpredictable, making for an engaging read.
What I most enjoyed though was how the whole book presents the question of nature versus nurture in a genre setting. Are we our parents with no hope of improvement or escape? Or do we have more say in the matter than just our genetics or “programming”? Amy has a psychopathic grandmother and a mother who has made questionable choices. Does this mean that Amy is evil or malfunctioning or even capable of being something different from the rest of her family? All of these questions lead to some interesting stand-offs, one of which includes my favorite quote of the book:
An iteration isn’t a copy, Mother. It’s just the latest version. I’m your upgrade. That’s why I did what I did. Because I’m just better than you. (location 2581)
All that said, there were two things that kept this back from five stars for me. First, some of the writing style choices Ashby uses drew me out of the story a bit. They are periodically highly artistic in a way that didn’t jibe with the story for me. I get why she made those choices, but as a reader they aren’t ones that generally work for me. Second, one thing that really drew me out of the story is the fact that the robot’s boobs don’t move. This is mentioned at one point as being a way to tell if a woman is robot or not. This drew me out of the world very hard while I laughed uproariously. I’m sorry, but machines designed by men would simply not have hard plastic boobs. Their boobs would bounce, dammit. This would at least be in the top 10 list of robot requirements. It simply wasn’t a realistic design choice, and it pulled me out of the story to such an extent that it lost the believability for a bit for me.
Overall, this is a creatively written and complex scifi artificial intelligence story that examines not just what makes us human but also individuality and uniqueness separate from parents and family. Some of the more artistic writing choices and high levels of violence might not appeal to all audiences, but if you’re an AI or scifi lover with an interest in nature versus nurture and stories featuring strong female leads, you should definitely give this a go.
4 out of 5 stars
Em Johnson, manager of the Tiki Goddess Bar on Kauai, never intended to get involved in one murder investigation, let alone two. But when the hunky fire dancing detective Roland Sharpe asks for her help looking into some suspicious deaths in a high-profile, competitive halau (hula group), she just can’t say no. Before she knows it, she’s entering the geriatric Hula Maidens halau into the biggest hula competition on the island to help her get in where she can snoop.
I’ve dipped my toe in a few cozy series, but this is the first one that’s managed to call me back for a second helping. They’re all entertaining in their own way, but this series is also unique and engaging enough to keep me coming back for more, and thankfully those unique elements stayed strong in the second entry.
Em is a good cozy mystery heroine. She’s smart and willing to help but isn’t running amok destroying the police department’s days. She only helps when asked and even then, she’s a bit reluctant to disrupt her life. On the other hand, when she does help, she’s good at it. She lends insight that it makes sense only she would have, such as being able to infiltrate the halau competition. This lets both her and the inevitably hunky police detective she’s helping seem smart and efficient. She also has that every woman quality that lets the reader insert herself into the story.
The setting is perfect escapism. A Hawaiian seaside tiki bar that feels like Hawaii’s answer to Cheers. If Cheers had a set of geriatric hula dancers who started “rehearsing” aka drinking before noon. Not to mention an aging hippie who thinks he’s engaged to a dolphin. The setting represents both the beauty of Hawaii and the diversity of Hawaiians and Hawaiian culture. I certainly learned a few words of Hawaiian along the way in addition to thinking fondly of how nice it would be to live in a place with such tropical beauty.
The plot was multifaceted and engaging. Every character really has their own life and they manage to intertwine just the right amount. The murders (and attempted murders) happened at the right frequency and managed to be a surprise at least part of the time. The murder weapons are creative and well-thought-out. The plot is not predictable but it’s also not entirely off the wall. I felt surprised but also to a certain level knew that I could have figured it out if I’d thought a bit more. That’s the perfect amount of mystery in my book.
This would have been five stars, but there is one part of the book that I thought was in very poor taste at best. This is not a plot spoiler, as it is not necessary to the mystery at all. At one point, Little Estelle (the eldest of the Hula Maidens), climbs into a man’s car and basically throws herself at him. If the genders were reversed, this would definitely be read as a creepy old man assaulting a pleasant young woman. But since it’s an old woman it’s written for laughs. I get it that Little Estelle is presented as a horny, senile old woman, but there’s a way to write that that doesn’t verge into sexual assault territory. I just don’t find that sort of thing funny, and even though I get it that the intention was oh that silly old woman, it didn’t sit well to me. If this was my first Landis book, I probably would have stopped reading. I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t, because the rest of the book is 1,000 times more humorous and creative than those few pages. But I am disappointed that Landis chose to write Little Estelle that way. Others might find it more humorous than I did. I just don’t see such things as a laughing matter.
Most cozy books come with an arts and crafts do at home type project. This series includes drink recipes. I’m pleased to say that this book has even more drink recipes at the end than the first one, although I have yet to try mixing any myself. They are creative and fun-looking, though, and let the reader feel a bit like the Tiki Goddess could really exist.
Overall, this is an engaging, humorous cozy mystery. Readers of the first book will enjoy their return to the world of the Tiki Goddess. I am anticipating the next entry in the series, although I do hope that Landis will improve the characterization of Little Estelle.
4 out of 5 stars
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