That Inevitable Victorian Thing

by E. K. Johnston
First sentence: “Helena Marcus had not given much though to her marriage.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing, including a couple of f-bombs. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+ section of the bookstore).

In the world of this book, the British Empire has taken over the world (mostly, except for the States, which has basically dissolved into ruin), and the way marriages are made are done by entering genetic codes into the computer. (At least, that’s the way I understood it.) There’s room for love matches, but mostly the society wants the best genetic diversity, so most people match through the genetic system. I was never really able to pinpoint time — the girls were still “debuting” into society, there were corsets and balls, but there was also an internet-like thing, airplanes, trains and cars. It was a weird mashup of historical and futuristic.

There are three characters — Helena, who’s basically promised to August, the son of some sort of shipping mangnate, and Margaret, who’s the crown princess, but she’s in disguise. It’s set in Canada, whichi is nice… but nothing really happens. I read about 2/3 of this, and got frustrated with the lack of things happening — I think she was going for an Austen-like feel, but it just wasn’t doing it for me — and then skipped to the end. I’m not sure I missed much.

I liked the idea of this, but the execution just fell short.

Audiobook: The Best of Adam Sharp

by Graeme Simsion
Read by David Barker
Content: There’s a couple of f-bombs, some other general swearing, and lots of sex, most of which is not tasteless.

I picked this one up because I liked The Rosie Project well enough, and I thought the premise of this one — a man who met the love of his life when he was in his 20s, though it didn’t work out, and 20 years later reconnects with her — sounded like something I’d like. And, for a good long while, it was. Adam, the main character, is a pianist by hobby (and a good one, though with a tortured relationship with his musician father) and there was a lot of music and musical references running through the book. I liked the falling in love, the wistfulness when remembering how it didn’t work out.

But, then, once he reconnects with his ex-lover, it just does sideways, and turns into a middle age wet dream. Or something that felt a lot like that. And when he ends up in a ménage à trois with his ex-lover and her current husband (about 2/3 of the way through), I bailed. Yep, I do have limits and there they are. I have to admit there’s a part of me that’s curious to know where the book went from there, but it’s not strong enough to pick it back up.

As for the narration, it was good, though I really couldn’t tell much of a difference between the Australian and English accents (is there much of a difference?) and his women’s voices were abysmal.

So, really: not worth the time at all.

Meg

megby  Steve Alten
First sentence: “From the moment the early morning fog had begun to lift, the sensed they were being watched.”
Content: There’s a handful (a dozen or so) s-words, and damns, and some inferences to sex. It would be in the science fiction/fantasy section if we had it in the bookstore.

Jonas Taylor was a hot shot navy submarine pilot, until, down in the depths of the ocean, he encountered something rare and horrifying. It cost the lives of two men, and a dishonorable discharge for Jonas. But he was certain: he saw a Crcharodon megalodon, a prehistoric shark. He dedicated his life to researching the meg, as he calls it, to the exclusion of everything else. It cost him his marriage, it made him a joke, but he became the expert. And now, there’s another expedition into the depths, and he’s been called on board: there’s something odd down there and Jonas is called back into service. No, he wasn’t crazy: there was a megalodon down there, and it’s awake and terrorizing the waters.

This is definitely not my usual reading; I picked it up because I was asked to be on a review board for a challenge on this book. (It’s being challenged for the swearing and the inferences to sex.) I accepted before I knew what this book was, and I have to say, content-wise, it’s not that bad. (I suppose, if it was being read to 6th graders, I suppose I’d balk.) But, it’s not a great book. Sure it’s got action (the body count is way high), but it’s pulpy, and the writing pedantic. And maybe just prehistoric sharks aren’t my thing, but I never really liked it. I have issues with the way he treated women — there were two; one was a “bitch” and “deserved” to die, the other the love interest who was never given much of anything to do. And Jonas, I think was supposed to be “troubled” and edgy, but mostly came off as insecure and whiny. You know when you’re rooting for the shark that things are bad.

So, no, I don’t think it should have been challenged for content. But, there are definitely better books out there.

Spontaneous

9780525429746by Aaron Starmer
First sentence: “When Katelyn Ogden blew up in third period pre-calc, the janitor probably figured he’d only have to scrub guts off one whiteboard this year.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Um, well. You name it, it’s got it: sex, drugs, drinking, many many f-bombs. It’s all out there. And it’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but it’s not for sensitive souls.

The senior class of  Covington High starts out thinking that this year will be like any other: go to school, apply for college, take the tests, graduate. But then, people start blowing up. Seriously: spontaneously combusting for no reason. They just… explode. First one, then four, and soon it’s an epidemic. It only affects the senior class, and soon they become pariahs in their town. Is it catching? What’s the reason? Who is going to live and who’s going to be the next one to blow up.

And Mara Carlyle is in the middle of it. She witnesses the first few deaths, and suddenly is swept away in the macabre fascination of it all. The FBI get involved and Mara’s there. Scientists come to try and figure out why, and Mara’s there.  She gets a boyfriend, trying to find love in all this (spoiler: he explodes). She tries to keep the school together. She and her best friend try to keep their friendship together. It’s all falling apart around her.

This is the WEIRDEST book I’ve ever read. And I read Grasshopper Jungle. In fact, that’s an apt comparison: it’s a lot like Smith’s book with its sex and drugs and just out-there plot. I think this book was trying to explore what happens to a group when everything (literally) blows up around them. Most authors go for dystopian (or giant, man-eating grasshoppers), but Starmer picked the weirdness of people blowing up. And, for a long time, it worked. As it was going along, people were trying to figure out they why behind it, so there was a bit of a mystery. Is it DNA? Is it government conspiracy? Is it bad drugs? It was foul and it was weird, but it wasn’t really bad. Until it made a sharp left (after the boyfriend exploded) and became bitter and hopeless. The last quarter of the book just wasn’t, well, good. (At least for me.) I wanted some sort of answer, some sort of reason, some sort of solution, but it all fell apart in hopeless bitterness. At least with Grasshopper Jungle, there was a hope that things would work out in the future. But, with this, it was just passive acceptance, a knowledge that every. single. person. in the senior class was doomed to die. And it was depressing, frankly.

And weird. Definitely very, very weird.

The Magicians

magiciansby Lev Grossman
First sentence: “Quentin did a magic trick.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a bunch of f-bombs, some references to drugs and sex (off screen). It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

I’ve been told for years that I would like The Magicians. It’s been billed as Harry Potter for adults, and I’ve been curious about it. So, I finally got the time/nerve/inclination to pick it up, just to see what all the fuss is about.

And it’s everything I hate about adult fiction: pretentious kids, a complete lack of plot, inadequate world building, covered in “good” writing.

Ugh.

I admit: I bailed less than halfway through. I just didn’t care enough to  keep going. It was, quite frankly, Boring.

I’ll stick to Harry Potter, thanks.

A Hundred Thousand Worlds

hundredthousandby Bob Proehl
First sentence: “Alex Torrey, nine but small for his age, writes the names of the places on the exit signs in his notebook.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: June 28, 2016
Review copy put in my box at work by the purchasing manager.
Content:  There’s a bunch — a couple dozen — of f-bombs, plus other swearing, and some sexytimes, though nothing graphic. It’ll be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

By all accounts, I should love this book. A single mother, the former star of a beloved canceled sci-fi show, travels across the country attending ComicCons (some big, some small), meeting all sorts of cosplayers and comic writers and artists as she comes to terms with letting her nine-year-old son live permanently (at least temporarily) with her ex-husband, his father.

Except, I didn’t like it. At all. (In fact, I thought upon finishing it: “This is why I don’t read that many adult books anymore!”) It wasn’t bad enough to bail on; in fact, I kept hoping that it’d get better.  But I just didn’t like it. I wanted to like the inside peek behind the scenes of a con, of the ups and downs of being a cosplayer, or even one of the main talent. I’m not too terribly interested in the politics of comics (that’s more Hubby’s ballgame), and there was a lot of  time devoted to the politics of characters, the dynamics between artists and writers, and the politics of creating a storyline, none of which I was interested in.  (And that’s not even mentioning the precocious nine-year-old who was simultaneously too young and too old to be real.)

I wanted to like it. I hoped to like it. But, in the end, it just fell flat.

Audio book: The Last Original Wife

lastoriginalwifeby Dorothea Benton Frank
Read by: Robin Miles
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a lot of mild swearing and a couple of f-bombs. And some off-screen sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Leslie Carter is the last original wife among her husband Wesley’s super successful Atlanta set. One was gone to divorce, another to death. And their husbands — Wesley’s friends — are marrying girls half their age. And Lesley has had enough. Actually, the “Barbies” are just a catalyst for what Leslie has been suspecting for a while: Wesley doesn’t really love her, he’s just still married to her because it’s easy and convenient. So, after a brawl in the club dining room between two of the new wives, Leslie up and leaves Wesley. She heads back to her hometown of Charleston, South Carolina and her brother — who, because Wesley’s a homophobe, she hasn’t seen in years — and takes up with an old high school flame, and learns that by discovering her roots, she finds herself again.

So. I wanted to like this one. And I did at first. Wesley was such a hideous character, so sexist and clueless, right from the start that it was easy to hate him and root for Leslie to leave him. But, that said, I got really tired really fast of all the descriptions of what they ate and drank (I really don’t care which wine is good with which meal) and what they wore (so she chose a red dress for the wedding of her best friend’s daughter, so what?). I got really tired of the ending — after Leslie decided to leave Wesley and they went through therapy, the book went on for another few hours. What was the point? (She needed a Happily Ever After with a Good Man). And it was so slut-shaming. I want to read the book from Cornelia’s– she’s the second wife of one of Wesley’s friends — point of view; she was so much a caricature that I couldn’t take her seriously. (And I got so very tired of Leslie’s judgement. She wasn’t perfect either.) I won’t even start on the whole Canadian-izing of the Southern accent. No Southerner says hoose for house (it’s hOWse). (The Canadian/Upper Midwest came out with out and about too…) Drove me nuts. Oh, and then there’s the math: Leslie was turning 60 and she’d been married for 30 years (it was a shotgun wedding, and her oldest was almost 30). HOWEVER, she got pregnant in college and had to drop out before she graduated. WTH? The math doesn’t add up.

The thing it did have going for it? A great sense of place. Frank knows Charleston and knows how to write about the town in a way that made me want to go. I could picture the warm, lazy summer, and the walks down the roads. I almost wanted to see it for myself. And I’ll admit that I didn’t bail on this one; I did want to see Leslie’s story all the way through, even if I did get impatient with it.

So, while it was annoying, it wasn’t awful.