Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #7 for 2017
Personal Challenge: An award-winning book
GenreLand Game: Romance
Better World Books Challenge Prompts:
– A young adult novel
– A book by a female writer
Book Riot’s Read Harder Prompts:
– A debut novel
– An LGBTQ+ romance novel
Possible Book Bingo Squares:
– A Book with an Award
– A Book with an LGBTQA Character
– An Author’s Debut
Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge: A book that you can finish in a day
PopSugar Challenge Prompts:
– A book with a red spine
– A book about a difficult topic

This is a sweet and wittily told romance story about a closeted gay teen who is being blackmailed about his secret budding email romance with another boy at the same school. What makes it even more interesting is that the sweethearts use code names and don’t even know who the other is. Albertalli makes effective use of red herrings to keep everybody guessing, though I did figure it out quite a bit before Simon did.

After the on-the-nose blandness of my previous read, Albertalli’s narrative voice was a refreshing change of pace. She used teen-boy-speak in clever ways to get her point across and was still able to make each character’s voice distinct. I did get a bit muddled about some of the side romances among Simon’s friends, but that may be in part due to my advanced age. Or perhaps I was always like that, even in high school.

This story made me think a lot about how different high school social life is now from when I was a kid. As much as I use social media now for planning my life, and despite being somewhat early (compared to my peers) to the online world in the ’80s, the idea of social media apps being such a ubiquitous teen communications hub is completely foreign to me. In retrospect, I had an insane level of personal privacy, and it’s kind of sad that today’s kids don’t even really know what it is to have a private life. As an introvert, I find the idea of having to be “on” like that at all times downright disturbing.

Albertalli also handles lots of side issues really well here. Like how various families set boundaries and consequences for pushing at or violating them. And how important it can be not only to communicate, but to be open to communication that might not be comfortable. And how people will surprise you by being complex.

This story ranged from silly to sobering, but it was a fun, quick read. The only reason I’m giving it only 4 stars is that I’m just too old to appreciate a lot of the teen angst. But I’d totally recommend this to any teenager.

View all my reviews

Review: File M for Murder

File M for Murder
File M for Murder by Miranda James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book #6 for 2017; #4 for the Mt TBR Challenge
Follow the Clues Challenge: Chain 1, Clue 3
Personal Challenge Task: A book with a cat on the cover
Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Task: A book with a cat on the cover
PopSugar Challenge Prompts:
– A book with a cat on the cover (Do I sense a theme here?)
– A book by an author who uses a pseudonym
– A book with an eccentric character

This is a book about a really cool Maine Coon cat named Diesel. And there’s a murder mystery, too. But it’s mainly about what an awesome cat Diesel is. Diesel isn’t a Koko-style crime-solving cat. He’s just a really great cat.

Oh, there are some people, too. And one of them is murdered. He was not a really cool cat. So I was not terribly put out that he was murdered. I don’t think many people in the book were, either. But they solved the mystery anyway. I don’t really remember much about that part of the book. Did I mention Diesel, this really cool cat? Him I remember. The people, not so much. Maybe if I’d already read earlier books in the series, they’d seem more important to me.

If you’re looking for a cozy mystery and you really, really like cats, you might enjoy this. It’s nice and light and has some funny moments. The dialogue is a little on-the-nose, and the action gets a bit melodramatic at times, but there’s this neat cat, see? So this book isn’t for everyone, but if I come across any earlier books in the series, I will probably read them.

View all my reviews

Review: Untitled

Untitled
Untitled by Julie Kaewert
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book #5 for 2017; Book #4 for the Mt TBR Challenge
Personal Challenge: A book with a key on the cover
Better World Books Prompts:
– A book set in a place you want to visit
– A book by a female writer
– A book about a historical event
GenreLand Game: Fiction
Read Harder Challenge: A book about books
Book Bingo Square: Free Space
Habitica Ultimate Reading Challenge: A book with a single-word title
PopSugar Challenge Prompts:
– A book that’s been on your TBR list for way too long
– An espionage thriller
– A book with an eccentric character
Follow the Clues Challenge: Chain 1, Clue 2

I’m giving the book two stars because I learned some interesting trivia about the book world. And, um, yeah, that’s about it. The first-person narrative voice was pretentious and grated on my nerves from the get-go, and while the premise seemed intriguing, the plot did not deliver. Which is not to say it didn’t try. Boy howdy, did it try! I rather wished it hadn’t. The result was just absurd, like Kaewert read everything by Dan Brown in one sitting while high on edibles and then decided to write a book. While still high on edibles.

Where the plot was ridiculous, the characters were dull-witted and, well, okay, they were ridiculous, too. And they couldn’t seem to decide if they were English or American. Some of this blame can be laid at the feet of the editor, if there was one. I have my doubts about that, as there was a badly mangled bit where Kaewert clearly moved some dialogue to a different scene but forgot to remove it from the original scene. The publisher also markets this as the third book in the series, insisting that their reprint of an earlier book in the series is actually a new fourth book. Whaaa?

I can’t in good conscience recommend this book to anybody. I was thinking, maybe to somebody nuts about Boccaccio, Giovanni. But no, anybody that fond of Boccaccio would find nothing new here. And if you are familiar with London’s Bryanston Square, it might interest you to know that Thomas Frognall Dibdin was appointed to the rectory at St Mary’s in Bryanston Square. But I just told you that, so you don’t need to read the book to find that out.

View all my reviews

Review: Unlovable

Unlovable
Unlovable by Dan Yaccarino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #4 for 2017
Personal Challenge Task: An illustrated children’s book
Better World Books Task: A book under 200 pages
GenreLand Challenge: Fiction
Possible Book Bingo Squares:
– A book under 100 pages
– A book with pictures
Habitica Ultimate Reading Challenge: A book featuring something that doesn’t normally talk doing so
PopSugar Challenge Prompt: A book with pictures

This was Thoth the Pug’s book for January’s GenreLand challenge, and it was a very appropriate selection. Kyle and I read through it at the party, and Kyle did a great job on the voices!

This was a short book about an absolutely adorable Pug who feels unlovable because the other animals in the household and the neighborhood bully him. Then he has to worry about what to do when a new dog moves in next door.

It’s a sweet little story, and the illustrations are really cute. I’d recommend it even if you aren’t a dog person.

View all my reviews

Review: Uprooted

Uprooted
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #3 for 2017; Book #2 for the 2017 Mt TBR Challenge
PopSugar Challenge Prompts:
– A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
– A book with an eccentric character
Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge Task: A fantasy novel
GenreLand: Fiction
Habitica Ultimate Reading Challenge: A book with a chase scene
Possible Book Bingo Squares:
– A book with an award
– A book based on a fairy tale
– A book with a female heroine
Possible AWSFF Bingo Squares:
– G2: Any Nebula Awarded Novel
– I1: Any Hugo Nominated Novel
– O4: Any World Fantasy Nominated Novel
Personal Challenge Task: An award-winning book
Better World Books Prompts:
– A book based on a fairytale
– A book over 400 pages
– A fantasy novel
– A book by a female writer

Just so y’all know, I have never read La Belle et la Bête and I have never seen any of the film adaptations of it. But I hear tell that if you love that story, you will love this book. I feel like I should read the old story for myself, just for the sake of cultural literacy, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I will have the same problem with it that I had with this book: the romantic subplot.

This may be a minor spoiler, but I’m not hiding it because I think it’s important to know about this going in. Agnieszka falls for an arrogant, verbally abusive dickhead of a wizard, and this is presented as a fun and sexy thing. I’ve been through this kind of crap myself, and I see my friends deal (or fail to deal) with this shit on a regular basis, and it pisses me off to see this kind of irresponsible normalizing of dysfunctional relationship dynamics. Why is it that that “romance” tales always seem so creepy when viewed from a modern, feminist perspective? (Do NOT get me started on Turandot, or we’ll be here all night.)

The thing is, the tale in this book doesn’t even need a romantic subplot. It does just fine without any romance at all! And if you really have your heart set on one, why not Kasia? Agnieszka and Kasia had a far stronger and healthier relationship. I would totally dig that storyline.

Okay, so now I’m done with my rant explaining the missing 5th star, and I can start gushing about what an awesome book this is. The prose is beautifully done, and I feel like Novik has succeeded here where Stephenson (Snow Crash) and Wilson (Alif the Unseen) both failed in their attempts to mystically connect language and divine power. In a manner that reminded me of The City & the City, Novik effortlessly yet purposefully includes sections of linguistic uncertainty and confusion that somehow make actual sense in my gut. I really liked Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon, but the writing here is far superior.

Novik also does a great job with the characters, even the minor ones. In just a few lines, she can make you care about a character who exists for mere paragraphs, to the point that you grieve their loss. And believe me, there is a lot of loss in this book. Really gory, creepy loss. Do giant mantises require a trigger warning? Well, just in case, there ya go.

Despite my misgivings, I highly recommend this book. I enjoyed reading fantasy that is both familiar and completely foreign, and I loved watching Agnieszka come into her own. Even her dickhead love interest seemed to grow as a character. Some.

View all my reviews

Review: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog: The Book

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog: The Book
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog: The Book by Joss Whedon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #2 of 2017
Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Task: A book about a topic you already love
Personal Reading Challenge Prompt: A book with a woman on the cover
Book Rescue Challenge: Abandoned in 2016
Better World Books Challenge: A book under 200 pages
Book Bingo Square Possibilities:
– A Book with an Award
– A Book with Multiple Perspectives
– A Book with Multiple Authors
– A Book with Pictures
PopSugar Challenge Prompts:
– A book with a subtitle
– A book with pictures
– A book written by someone you admire
– A book with an eccentric character

I originally bought this for the sheet music in the back, and I had fun with that immediately. Then I set it aside for a while, but I was happy to get back to it and read the additional material — background on the show, script and song development, reminiscences from those involved, etc. Some of it I already knew, but it was still fascinating. The show was such a total labor of love for Joss, and it’s amazing how everybody involved shared in that love for creating something so completely new and different.

I would recommend this to anybody interested in the show’s origins or who just loved it and its music. I will warn musicians, though, that the binding does not lend itself well to staying open on a music stand. Be prepared to make copies for actual use. I would not recommend this to anybody who has not seen the show. But what is wrong with you??? Go watch it!

View all my reviews