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Book Review: Blonde Bombshell by Tom Holt (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

February 27, 2013 2 comments

Image of white bomb on blue background headed toward Earth.Summary:
A sentient bomb is hurtling through outer space toward Earth, better known to the bomb creators as Dirt.  You see, Dirt’s music is making the inhabitants of Ostar (a canine species) completely loony.  But the bomb stops in its tracks and orbits around Dirt to try to figure out whatever happened to the *first* bomb that the Ostars sent out.  Dirt doesn’t seem to have any sophisticated defense system to speak of, so what gives?  Meanwhile, Lucy Pavlov, the creator of new computer programming protocols that led to a leap in technology, is seeing unicorns in her forest.  Also a bank security executive is trying to figure out just how, exactly, money is teleporting out of banks.  In between getting very drunk and trying to forget about that one time aliens stole his dog.

Review:
This made it onto my TBR pile thanks to multiple comparisons to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, which is one of my favorite series.  I can completely understand why the comparison is made.  The book is witty, zany, and consists of a hilarious imagining of outer space and aliens.

The plot is complex without being confusing.  It revolves around three people (well, one is a bomb) who are connected in mysterious ways they just don’t know yet.  It kept me guessing, managed to surprise me a few times, and had some delightfully creative elements, such as the fact that the bomb can create probes to send down to Earth that appear to humans like organic matter.  Or even the fact that the bomb can sit there and slowly decide whether or not to go off.  Clever.

I also appreciated an imagined future where people have handheld devices that are given a simple name rather than compounding a bunch of words together.  The former makes more sense since in reality that is what companies do.  (For instance, Google Glass or iPad as opposed to handheldpersonaldevice.  Don’t laugh. I’ve seen something very similar to that in scifi).  In this book the iPhone device is the Warthog.  With no further explanation given.  This is scifi done well.  The reader can tell what a Warthog is from how the characters use it.  Holt never over-explains.

The characters were rather two-dimensional, but that works well for the humor, not to mention for the fact that one of them is a bomb.  If a character has a good heart but is a lazy drunk because aliens stole his dog, well that’s enough for the reader to know in a book like this.  Motivation enough is present for the characters to be recognizable as people and to move the plot forward.

As for the humor, I found it quite witty, although not quite as gut-wrenching as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  It plays on slapstick, situational humor, and pop culture references for the most part, with a dash of insight into human nature, romantic relationships, and dogs.  I particularly enjoyed the unicorn probe who takes a nasty turn for the violent and insists that there is data in human records showing unicorns exist.  I also really enjoyed the scenes where a couple first starts to fall in love, hilariously so.  All of which is to say, if you generally enjoy a Douglas Adams style of humor, you won’t be disappointed.

Now, I was a bit let-down by the ending.  I didn’t really like the final plot twist.  It kind of….creeped me out a bit and left me on a bit of a down note instead of the delightful upswing I felt throughout the rest of the book.  I think other people might enjoy it more than me.  It really depends on your feelings about people and pets and having pets.  It’s not enough of a let-down to keep me from recommending or enjoying the book.  It was just enough to keep it from 5 stars.

Overall, this is a delightfully witty piece of scifi with a unique plot.  Recommended to scifi humor fans, particularly those who enjoy Douglas Adams.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Android dreaming of sheep.Summary:
People think Harry Creed is squandering his talents, but he actually quite enjoys his job working for the UNE breaking bad news to various sentient alien races residing on Earth.  Still, he doesn’t mind doing a favor for his old friend, Ben Javna, who calls up saying the lizard race, the Nidu, need a specific breed of sheep for the coronation ceremony, and it’s vital in keeping the peace between the two planets that Earth help provide one.  Creed doesn’t think this will be much of a challenge, but he soon finds up he’s signed up for more than he bargained for, running into everything from The Church of the Evolved Lamb, to a Nagch who digests his victims alive, to other computer geniuses, to scandal within the UNE.

Review:
This is one of those scifi political intrigue books crossed with Douglas Adams style humor.  I don’t usually do political intrigue in scifi, since I avoid politics like the plague in real life, but the Douglas Adam style humor manages to make it all actually interesting and intriguing.

It’s impossible not to enjoy all of the very strongly developed characters, whether they’re a villain or not.  Frankly, that’s a good thing, as it’s rather hard to tell half the time who’s the villain and who isn’t (with the exception of Creek of course).  The alien sentient species imagined are rather traditional in appearance, but not so much in behavior, which keeps them interesting.  For instance, the Nidu are able to communicate through smell in addition to speech, and this tends to lead to problems on Earth.  Even very minor characters who are only in the story for a few pages are so crisply described, that it is impossible not to imagine them as clearly as if it was a film.  In fact, the whole book reads rather like a scifi action film in the style of The Fifth Element.

The action sequences are universally stunning.  There is one shoot-out scene in a mall, in particular, that also incorporates equipment from a futuristic game, reminiscent of Ender’s Game that left me grinning with joy at the sheer awesomeness of it.  The social commentary in the form of The Church of the Evolved Lamb is also fun.  This is a religion that knows that its founder was a fraud, but has decided to attempt to make his prophecies come true anyway.  It makes for some really wild moments.

That said, sometimes the political intrigue itself was a bit hard to follow.  I’m still rather confused as to what exactly was going on, politically, in the middle of the book.  I think I’d have to re-read it to figure that out, exactly.  I think the fact that I didn’t get confused at all in The Dark Tower series, but did here says something.  Still though, the humor and action sequences kept the plot moving enough that the political intrigue didn’t really matter that much anyway.

Overall, if you enjoy humorous scifi in the style of Douglas Adams, you will definitely enjoy this book.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Coop

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Book Review: Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams (Series, #5)

June 10, 2010 3 comments

Woman wearing glasses and a man's face on a green book cover.Summary:
Arthur Dent thought his zany days earth-less days were over.  The whole Earth-being-blown-up was undone, and he found a woman to love.  But when they’re traveling through the universe together, she suddenly disappears and Arthur finds himself in a parallel universe where the exact Earth he once knew doesn’t exist.  Meanwhile, Ford Prefect pays a visit to the Guide offices and finds that something just isn’t quite right.

Review:
Thank goodness I didn’t let the flop of the fourth book So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish deter me from finishing the series.  Adams returns to his strengths in this entry–outerspace adventures of Ford and Arthur, not to mention zany robots and odd cultures on other planets that manage to reflect the oddities of our own.  Plus, the storyline actually moves the original plot of the Earth being destroyed by the Vogons forward.

Some of the jokes rank right up there with The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  One that sticks out in my mind is when Ford messes with a robot’s circuitry making it endlessly joyful.  It was a delightful flipping of the endlessly miserable robot, Marvin, featured earlier in the series.  It was quite enjoyable to see how hilarious both extremes are.  Also of note is the village religious man on a planet Arthur winds up on, who is quite clearly making the village’s religion up as he goes along, and the villagers are semi-aware of this, but shrug and let him.  That said, at least half of the jokes, while they tickled my funny-bone in a pleasant way, didn’t have me actually laughing like the first couple of books did.  It was a pleasant read, but not uproariously funny.

Entire essays and theses could be written (and probably have been) on the themes in the Hitchhiker series.  Excuse me. Trilogy.  From belonging to homelessness to the purpose of life, Adams’ work has it all, which is what makes it good humor, actually.  It’s humor pointing out the most basic questions of life in a setting that removes it from our own experiences enough to make us see it in a different light.

Some readers will probably be unhappy with the ending.  I enjoyed it and saw the humor in it, in spite of it being rather dark.  I know that Adams expressed some discontent with it and was in the middle of writing a sequel, The Salmon of Doubt, when he died, which has now been posthumously published, as well as a sixth entry written by Adams’ widow and Eoin Colfer.  I don’t cotton to posthumously published works assembled by people who are not the author, nor continuations based on what people “think the author would have wanted.”  For all we know, Adams could have changed his mind yet again.  I prefer to view Mostly Harmless as the end of the series, as it was the last book truly finished by Adams.

Mostly Harmless is a wonderful closing chapter to the series that contains delightful meta jokes, as well as new territory, and neatly ties up the experiences of the characters.  Fans of the series won’t be disappointed with this entry, which is a delightful jump up from the fourth book, but they may be left a bit sad to see the end.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Raven Used Books

Previous Books in Series:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe, and Everything
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, review

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Book Review: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams (Series, #4)

March 30, 2010 6 comments

Dolphins in the sky along with a green glob holding a towel and giving a thumbs up.Summary:
Although the planet Earth definitely blew up, Arthur Dent has found himself back on it again, and not in the prehistoric past like before.  Everything seems about the same, except that the dolphins all have disappeared and apparently there was a mass hallucination of the planet blowing up caused by a CIA experiment.  You’d think this would require all of Arthur’s attention, but instead he’s rather highly focused on a woman named Fenchurch who claims the Earth really did blow up and insists something has felt off ever since.

Review:
It’s no secret that one of my favorite comedic books is The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the second book in this series.  While I felt that the third book suffered a bit, it was still pretty damn funny in my opinion.  I really wish I could say the same about this.

I still enjoy Adams’ writing style.  It’s tongue in cheek, snarky, and self-referencing.  It is a pure pleasure to read.  This still holds true here, but the problem is that it’s just not laugh out loud funny.  Oh, there are bemusing moments, but mostly it’s a case of jokes falling flat.  I think the reason for this is that what makes the books funny is Arthur Dent–average British dude–stuck into the bizarre situations that are the rest of the universe with only the equally bizarre Ford Prefect as a true companion.  Indeed, my favorite bit of this book is when Arthur and Ford are reunited.  Without that Arthur stuck in outerspace element, you wind up with a rather run-of-the-mill, “huh, something odd is going on on planet Earth” book.  It’s cute, but it’s not surprising, and the element of surprise is what makes the rest of the series so funny.

I also wasn’t fond of Adams’ obvious response to the fan question, “Does Arthur ever have sex?!” with the addition of the love interest, Fenchurch.  He may think it is witty to reference this and answer it, but I was disappointed.  I enjoyed wondering if poor Arthur spent 8 years devoid of sex.  It added a certain element of mystery to him.  This whole part felt kind of like a cop-out.

I don’t want to sound like I hated the book, because I didn’t.  When compared to books not written by Adams, it actually holds up quite well.  It’s enjoyable and has some unique scenes.  It’s just, in comparison to the rest of the series, I was left a bit disappointed.  I still plan on finishing reading the series, though.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

Previous Books in Series:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe, and Everything

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5 Questions About Books

January 21, 2010 15 comments

I stumbled on this fun meme over at Readers and Reference, and I really liked the questions it asks, so I bookmarked it for future use.  I tweaked it a little bit to be in question format and to be a bit clearer.  If you decide to do the meme yourself, please post a link in the comments here so we can all check it out and get to know you better too!

What’s a book you most want to read again for the first time?:
Hmmm, there’s a lot of books that have meant so much to me in my life, but I think I’d have to say The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  I had seen the movie and absolutely hated it.  My nerdier friends at university told me over and over again to read the “trilogy,” and I would love it.  I refused to for years, but then one day I decided to take a whack at it.  I can’t remember why.  Anyway, I was cracking up reading it, which hadn’t happened to me in years at the time.  It really reminded me why I love to read.

What was one of your favorite childhood books?:
Absolutely no doubt On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I loved the whole series growing up, but this was my favorite entry.  In it Laura lives next to a creek, and I lived next to three beaver ponds, so I felt a bit of camaraderie.  I also was completely obsessed with the sod house for some reason.  I wanted to live underground just like Laura in a house that plants grew out of and, best of all, that I could walk on.  I also enjoyed their problems with cows, since I was frequently sent out to chase cows back into their pastures.  Plus, Laura’s relationship with her father, Pa, I identified with as it reminded me of mine with my father.  Also, not gonna lie, I wished repeatedly that I had a mother like Ma.

What’s a book that you were assigned in school that you were expecting to be bad, but that turned out to be really good?:
I was a US History major in undergrad (my other major was English and American Literature).  We were required to take two courses that gave you an overview of all of US history.  I was dreading the Civil War portion, because I just don’t like that war.  Every historian has a time period within their specialty they don’t like.  Anywho, so this professor assigned us Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe to read, as it was one of the big stimuli for the Civil War.  She wanted us to see beyond the modern controversy and read it with historian’s eyes to see why it had such a big impact on the abolition movement.  I was expecting it to be fingernails-on-chalkboard bad, but, you guys, it is so good.  It really demonstrates how abolitionists saw African-Americans as equally human, just downtrodden as the victims of slavery.  It also shows the high expectations placed on Christian women at the time.  It’s a heart-wrenching book, and I encourage you to read it and judge it for what it is and not for the racist movies and plays that followed it.

What’s your “guilty pleasure” read?:
This is a tough question for me, because I don’t tend to feel guilty about anything that I read.  I’d have to say though that British chicklit books like Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella probably count.  The cheesey, romcom storylines annoy the heck out of me, but for some reason, I still read them periodically.  I guess it’s kind of like watching Teen Mom on MTV.  I can’t look away from the train wreck.

What’s a book you feel you should read, but haven’t yet?:
I’m not sure it quite counts as a book, but Beowulf.  I took this AMAZING class in undergrad on ancient mythology, and we mentioned it umpteen times, but didn’t have time to read it.  I absolutely love ancient myths, like The Odyssey is one of my favorite books of all time, so really there’s not much of an excuse for the fact that I have yet to read Beowulf.  Hm, except maybe that I’m not sure which translation is the best, and we all know how much translation matters in the ancient myths.

*waves* Hope you enjoyed the meme!

2009 Reading Summary

December 29, 2009 15 comments

At some point (oh, about two or three weeks in), this blog that started out as a purely opinions blog (with a focus on libraries) turned into an about 50% book blog.  This really shouldn’t have surprised me.  I mean a librarian with a blog about opinions is going to *gasp* review books?  Say it ain’t so.

Being the reading freak that I am, I keep track of the books that I read over on LibraryThing.  I just finished a book, and I doubt I’ll finish another one in 2009, so without further ado, here are my reading stats for 2009.

Total Books Read: 52
Average Books Per Month: 4.33
Month Most Read: August with 10 (The only month I didn’t have school? Surprise, surprise).
Month Least Read: January with 1 (I was really sick).
Fiction: 47
Nonfiction: 5
Genres (some books counted as multiple genres):
–Scifi: 12
–Romance: 12 (This really surprised me!)
–Dystopian: 10
–Horror: 8
–YA: 8
–Classics: 5 (Pleasantly surprised by this).
–Historical: 4
–Memoir: 3
–Contemporary: 3
5 Star Reads:
–The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, review
–Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
–The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
Honorable Mention with 4.5 Stars:
–Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Read and Reviewed on This Blog: 27

I’m not the type to set goals for myself with reading, since I do it for fun.  However, I will try to work in a few more nonfiction books as I’m a big believer in life-long learning.  I do think this is a bit skewed since a lot of my nonfiction reading is in the form of current scholarly journals as opposed to books.  I also think a book a week is a good pace for reading to still be enjoyable, but also not a neglected hobby.  We’ll see if I naturally speed up or slow down next year.  If you guys have any suggestions as far as specific books or genres for me to try in 2010, I welcome them!