“The Martian” by Andy Weir

Martian

asteriaiconI had first heard about this book on my weekly podcast I listen to about books, and they seemed to really enjoy it. There are 3 regular hosts to the podcast, and each has different reading styles that they prefer, and this seemed to appeal to all of them. It was routinely recommended to read, and then it was mentioned it was going to be made into a movie, so I decided to give it a try. I, myself, as a child, thought about becoming an astronaut, and thought about it again pre-university, so I knew this would ring my space bell nicely.

Mark Watney is one of the first astronauts to walk on Mars. He is one of a crew of six that travel to Mars, gathering samples and test materials to see if it can be inhabited. When a sudden, violent, dust storm kicks up, Mark is separated from the rest of the crew as they race to their ship for safety. They believe he was killed during the storm by flying debris, and have no choice but to leave the planet before they are killed by the storm as well. What they didn’t know was that Mark was hurt during the storm for sure, but he was not killed, and they have now marooned him on this planet. Mark knows that he does not have enough supplies to survive until someone can come for help, that is if he can even reach NASA and let them know he is alive in the first place. It is a harrowing tale of survival, and never giving up hope.

Mark happens to be an incredibly smart guy. He isn’t just your run of the mill astronaut, he also happens to be a botanist and an engineer. He uses what little he is left with to try to prolong his life. He finds a way to let NASA know he is there, he finds a way to maintain shelter, he finds a way to ration out his food supply, and he finds a way to utilize his own feces as fertilizer to grow potatoes, furthering his food situation. Throughout the book, Mark is met with one dilemma after another, knowing if he fails he dies. You just can’t help but root for a guy who just does not quit (even though you know he has to keep finding a way to survive, otherwise the book would be much shorter).

The author has done a tremendous amount of research for the novel. It can be very scientific at times, and for those that may not be versed in science, it might be a little too much. I found it to be just enough to keep it interesting. The writing was very witty, and the most enjoyable part of the book was the daring rescue mission at the end. Due to the author’s research, the book was believable, and raised the questions I am sure NASA scientists are looking at regarding what would happen if we as a society tried to travel to Mars. If you dig science, if you dig space, if you dig a character that just refuses to give up hope, this is a great read for you!

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“The Aeronaut’s Windlass” by Jim Butcher

Aeronaut

artemisiconI am sorry for the non-staged photo. My house is a little hectic with company this past month and next, so once I can move around freely I will retake the photo’s I’ve missed!

I will scream from the hills about how much of a Jim Butcher fan I am. I have read all the published Harry Dresden files and am slowly collecting the graphic novels. I have not read his Codex Alera series, but my boyfriend has and I hear it’s amazing (I do plan on reading it eventually). Now, the reason why I bring up those books is to make a comparison. Harry Dresden takes place in our time and our world, so his imagination and story telling goes completely into the world of magic. Codex Alera is a post apocalyptic type, so there is world building on top of story telling, as well as magic. The Cinder Spires series (of which only the first one is out) is almost a post-apocalyptic steam punk. So even though there is less to do with magic, there is still massive world building. The biggest difference is this is written in third person point of view to follow the paths of up to 7 characters.

I will admit, although it pains me, the first good bit of the book was boring as all hell. But Butcher had the incredibly difficult job of introducing a large cast of characters, an entire world built in “spires”, a government, a society, and a problem. In the beginning this led to a lot of jumping and confusion. He’s trying to bring you into his brand new world without having to lead you by the hand. After the rocky start and he is able to build a larger picture of his world, it does get interesting!

It follows the lives of Gwendolyn who, against her mothers best wishes, joins the Spirearch Guard; Benedict, Gwen’s cousin, who is also training to be a Guard; Bridget and her cat Rowl, who are trainees at the Guard; Captain Grimm, dishonoured and discharged, but still running his small aeronautical ship Predator; Ferus and Folly, the two oddist characters because of their relation to the Crystals that power just about everything in the spire.

The first bit of the book was introducing each of these groups of people, showing their part of the world, and making it believable. The families present are all higher nobilty, as this society (like most) is split into rich and poor. Gwen and Benedict come from a family that makes Crystals, so their family is the most influential in the spire. Benedict, being a cousin, is a Lancaster-Sorrelin, (Gwen is a Lancaster) so he does not hold as much power as Gwen, but he is also what is known as “warriorborn”. He is stronger, faster, and by far more powerful than a meager human, but that also means he is not allowed to hold status or power. He is essentially the eternal guard. These two have a relationship right off the bat, so we don’t have to see how it grew throughout their lives, you’re just introduced right off the bat to their family banter, love, and utter trust. Bridget comes from a smaller noble family (her and her father are the only surviving members) who runs a meat vat. There hasn’t been mention of too many animals, so I would assume high-quality processed meats are important. Bridget’s family has a small secret, something only whispered in rumors. They communicate with cats. Cats have a shaky treaty with humans, they hunt rats and vermin, and humans don’t hunt them. But most families don’t realize that the cats are highly intelligent and civilized. Bridget’s cat Rowl joins her at the Spirearch Guard, and when people hear her speaking in the language of the cats, they realize it’s true that some humans can communicate with them. I love that cats are a large part of the story without being anthropomorphized or furried. They behave like cats, they sound like cats (they do not speak english), and the society they have built sounds like something cats would do. The main part of the story revolves around these four (Rowl gets his own chapters!), and Grimm, Folly, and Ferus are introduced as secondary characters (who rise in status later on throughout the story) to further the mission of our main four.

The spire they all live in is known as Spire Albion, a better working of all the nearby spires. This creates a hatred with Spire Aurora, who regularly attacks. To get from one to another, everyone needs to fly. Which brings in the most common mode of transport: flying ships. There are different classifications, as there are with regular ships, like merchant and battle class, and as with regular ships, there are things in the clouds that terrify even a great captain like Grimm. The science behind how the ship works, and what it does to protect itself from other ships is incredibly thought out and inventive and half the time I think if I look up I’ll see one sailing by.

Exposition aside, once characters and personal conflicts are introduced, Butcher does what he does best, and gets the story rolling with a huge bang.

Although this doesn’t have the face pace and witty banter of Harry Dresden, this book has it’s own charm. Characters are endearing, the world he built is beautiful and rich, and the plot keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Oh yeah, and giant monsters.

I may be waiting on baited breath for the new Harry Dresden, but the Cinder spires will be in my clutches the moment it’s published, you can guarantee that! It is a fantasy/Sci-Fi based story, so people who don’t enjoy that genre will probably not enjoy this. But for everyone else, I recommend this book!

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“Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard

Redqueen

asteriaiconWhen I saw this book at Walmart, I am not going to lie, the cover intrigued me. It was just a simple light blue cover, with a silver crown dripping red blood. It was very simple, very elegant looking, very sharp, and eye catching. So I had to read the synopsis to see what this was.

The teen novel takes place in a dystopian-esque world, along the same vein as Hunger Games. The world is divided by blood; silver or red. Silver bloods are the elite, the high society, each with god like super powers. The red bloods are the poverty stricken commoners, devoid of any super power. Mare Barrow, a strong female character, hates the silvers, and steals to help her and her family survive. She has watched her older brothers be drafted into a war they have no business being in, and soon her best friend will join them.

Mare find herself one day being offered a job to work in the Silver Palace, working as a servant for the king and queen, and their two princes Cal and Maven. Cal is the heir to the throne, and he understands his place in society. He has to be military smart, and learn how to lead his people through a war that is fought on the red’s backs. He is not without kindness to the reds, he understands life is hard for them, but he will not change the course of history to help them. Maven, on the other hand, couldn’t be more opposite. He knows he will never lead, that role falls to his brother. He is softer and kinder, and hard not to love. When Mare accidentally falls, and reveals a power she did not know she possessed, a power by all rights she should not have, all bets are off. The family has to find a way to explain her powers away, and decide to tell the silver community that she is the daughter of a long lost silver, and will be set to marry their son Maven.

Mare has a lot to learn. She has to learn to control her powers, but also has to learn how to be a silver, how to be an elite, when she grew up poor. She decides to make the best of her situation and tries to make the world a better place for the reds. She secretly starts to work for the Red Guard, a resistance group trying to overthrow the silver regime. Maven, knowing he has nothing to lose, decides to help her and the cause.

As I stated above, this is like a cross between dystopian and fantasy writing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though I tend to not like fantasy novels much. Many have tried to be the next Hunger Games, and most have fallen hard. This though, this has a good fast paced story. I loved that Mare is a smart, strong, female lead, and she leads with her brain, not her heart. There is a bit of a love triangle between her and the princes, but she never lets it rule her decisions completely.  I have heard rumblings that this may be turned into a movie as well, which would be a good one to watch, I think some of the super power theatrics would translate to the big screen beautifully. This is the first book in a series, and I found it well worth the read so far. But just remember dear readers… “anyone can betray anyone”.

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“Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak

asteriaiconWhen I worked at the book store, there were a number of titles we just couldn’t keep on the shelves. As soon as a copy would come in, it would be out the door. This was one of those titles. The cover seemed rather simplistic, nothing that screamed “Read Me”, yet it was immensely popular, mostly among teens. When I saw it at my favorite used book store, I thought I would give it a try. It had a little seal embossed in it saying it was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist, which intrigued me more.

Melinda is a young woman starting her grade 9 year of high school, yet she is a pariah. No one will talk to her, and the only interaction she really gets is dirty looks in the halls. No one will sit with her. She is just generally avoided, unless to be made fun of. Even her best friend hates her. She begins to withdraw from her family and her teachers, going so far as to stop speaking altogether. It takes a while for the story within the story to come out. Melinda attended an end of summer party, one that was broken up when the police showed up. Everyone knows that Melinda called the police, but no one knows why. They think it was just because they were all having fun, so they all hate her for it. But no one knows the truth; Melinda didn’t tell anyone. Melinda was raped, and not just by any guy, but by her best friends boyfriend.

The book is dark and sad. But depression is dark and sad. It is isolating. Melinda starts to hate going to school, her cynicism is palpable. It is painful to see her struggle so hard, and to disappear into herself so much. She just loses all sense of caring about anything.

I don’t remember Melinda’s appearance to ever really be discussed. No description of her hair and her pretty face, her cute jeans or sweet shoes. To me that sent a powerful message regarding rape culture, and one of the reasons why I think this book is so important for women, teens perhaps especially. It doesn’t matter what someone looks like, what they wear, how they act, anyone can be raped, and it is not okay. Too often we blame the victim in these scenarios, that they asked for it, that they are just feeling sorry for themselves, and we tend to dismiss them, that what they say can’t possibly be true. And too often the victims sink into themselves rather than seek help; after all we don’t believe them anyway. The book demonstrated just how important it is to come forward, to speak, to stand up for yourself and say this is not okay.

The book is pretty thin, but powerful. I loved Melinda. I loved the smart writing, how raw and real Melinda was. The depression was almost its own character, and I think it is important for people to see. I was surprised that the book was written in 1999, yet is still so incredibly relevant. Not a lot of books can really say that. I now can see why this was one of most popular teen books. It is an important read, not just for teens, but for every woman.

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Schedule Flip

artemisiconI will be going out of town Thursday, and will be without internet access, so the blogs that I usually post on Thursday will be posted Wednesday. Everything will be back to normal next week, don’t worry!

Thanks for your understanding everyone!

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“The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Nest

asteriaiconI had seen reviews for this book everywhere! This was supposed to be the IT book of 2016, and was plugged by some major celebrity, so it must be good, right?

The novel is about 4 adult siblings, who have squandered away their money, making poor financial decisions, knowing that “the nest” will bail them out. Their father had put away a very modest sum of money, meant to give them each a small cushion when they reached midlife, which the siblings have watched grow to a very sizable amount of money, thanks to the stock market. Now, one of the siblings has gotten into a bind, and it will take much of the nest to bail him out, leaving each in a financial pickle.

The Plumb family is a very dysfunctional family, each sibling coming across as very shallow, whiney, entitled, spoiled little brats. Three of the siblings, Jack, Melody, and Beatrice, all confront their brother Leo, who has put their money in jeopardy. Really? We don’t care that he was in a terrible car accident, we don’t care he got a young waitress hurt and altered her life forever, and we don’t care that Leo clearly has a problem? Nope, we care about money. After all, Jack has put his antique business in serious debt. Beatrice had a very successful novel and has an advance for a second, but hasn’t written anything. And Melody, perhaps the most common sense of them all, has twin girls to take care of and needs to pay for school (at least her reasoning was rather sound).  Leo’s accident has cost them a fortune, literally, and they try to reason with him, and take care of him and his problems, not because they give a rat’s ass about him, but because they want as little money spent on him as possible. They even go so far as to try to get the money released to them now, all claiming need, rather than greed. They all are too keen to have daddy’s money bail them out of the financial situations they had put themselves in with no care or concern to get out of them because to them that is what daddy’s money was for.

I kept reading hoping this book was going to get better. After all, this is the IT book, it has to be great! Everyone is talking about it! It just didn’t get better. I hated the characters, I couldn’t relate to them, couldn’t give a damn what happened to them, they all seemed so trivial and entitled. Hey, I love a flawed character as much as the next person, I am okay with flaws, but this was passed flaws. These were dickwad characters, none of them fully understood they were dickwads, none of them cared they were dickwads, and there was no character growth so they stopped being dickwads. They had no interest in their own lives, much less each other’s.  They just cared about money, money they really didn’t deserve. Boring!

Another aspect which really irked me was she had an openly gay character and a not so openly gay-curious character. The fact that they were gay does not bother me in the least; in fact I want to see more diversity in books. No, this seemed to be more done simply because it is more ‘modern’. And it was not the first part of the book that seemed that way, just the one that bothered me more. It just seemed like a bunch of modern topics smushed together into a book. And I found that the one’s character admiring the fact that he had been able to escape AIDS so far to be repulsive.

The story is told in the characters different viewpoints, which is usually my jam. This, however, felt overdone. I think it would have been better told through one, maybe two, rather than each individual sibling, each twin daughter, the spouses, the mother, the waitress, etc. It was just too much.

I guess to conclude this review, I have no idea why this was so popular, why this was the big book of 2016. Maybe because of a celebrity plug? I knew the inheritance part would irk me a bit, mainly because I don’t believe you should make life decisions based on money you may or may not receive. As the book shows, money can disappear in a blink of an eye. But I think I just hated this book more because I hated the characters. I couldn’t find one good one to grasp on to, one that I could even remotely relate to, or even like a smidge. There was just nothing there for me to even find entertaining, enjoyable, or engaging.  Biggest book let down of the year for me.

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Twitter

artemisiconThe issue has been resolved and our twitter is back up and running!

I forgot to post that last time, I’m sorry. But it is fully working, so expect updates and maybe some cool retweets from our feed!

Thanks for your patience!

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