Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Beggar King (Hangman's Daughter #3)

There's this face that I make when I'm frustrated that makes me (alas!) resemble my aunt. If you knew my aunt, you'd understand why I hate catching myself making this face. I believe in literature an author might describe it as a "thin-lipped grimace." Basically, I suck my lips in, flatten them out, and look a bit like a frog.

I'll be very surprised if my face isn't frozen that way (or if I don't get any new wrinkles) from a near-constant presence of the expression on my face as I read the third book in the Hangman's Daughter series, The Beggar King. While I quite enjoyed the first entry in the series, I was disappointed by the second, The Dark Monk. Goodreads almost unanimously (it's a miracle!) agrees that this third book is the weakest of the series, and it gets better from here. Hmm. It's a good thing I can get them on Kindle Unlimited and not clog up my library card with checkouts of books that make me cranky.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Another Pandemic book

About a week ago, there was a meme on social media that your DJ name would be DJ + the way you would least like to die. At the time, I put down DJ 3rd Degree Burns Over 90% of My Body, but I belatedly realized that a close contender would be DJ Hemorrhagic Fever. Being turned inside out and bleeding from various orifices is a horrific way to die. So, in case I get burned, please accidentally unplug me, and if I get Ebola or Marburg, same. Or just ... do something quickly.

I read two of A.G. Riddle's prior books (the third in the Atlantis trilogy was a bit too woo woo even for me, and I have a high woo tolerance) and was reasonably entertained by them. Since his latest book, Pandemic, was free on Kindle Unlimited, I snagged it. I'm a bit shocked that this is the first in a new series called The Extinction Files, because this book could easily have been three separate ones itself. It's quite long and tells (at least!) three disparate stories. At the end, I was so frustrated with the book, because it felt like the author got caught on tangents and there was no editor to guide them back on track. While I started out being entertained, I finished out of sheer stubbornness.

The first third of the novel is the best section: it's pretty tightly written and has a compelling threat. The character interactions are a bit hackneyed, but I'm not exactly looking for a Jane Austen social commentary in a book about THE POSSIBLE END OF THE WORLD BY A VIRUS AHHHHH! You know, a popcorn book. However, it's evident that the author had tons of ideas, which is pretty amazing, since I would love to write a book and have negative ideas. Alas, nothing got edited out; therefore, we end up with several different books in one:

  • a medical thriller
  • a Jason Bourne-style espionage novel featuring a man of many talents
  • a conspiracy thriller about shell corporations with a dash of startup culture
  • a Deep Impact-style catastrophe survival story
  • a love story
  • the story of an MI-5 operative infiltrating an organization that wants to control the world in order to save it
As if this weren't complicated enough, toss in some flashbacks and you've got one hairy narrative to try and track. Let me show you what I mean (show! Don't tell!).

A man wakes up in a hotel room. His body is thoroughly bruised, he has no memory of who he is or what he's doing, and, most worryingly, there is a dead man in the room with him. In his pocket he finds a phone number and a laundry ticket with a name printed across the top: Desmond Hughes.  and when you have no memory you just follow the clues that are left. The phone number is a landline (bundling is cheaper!) belonging to a CDC scientist named Peyton Shaw. He calls her and warns her about ... well, he has no idea what he's warning her about, but he's compelled to do it, and then takes off on an epic shake-your-tail chase in Berlin, only to get captured again. Sigh.

Meanwhile, in Mandera, Kenya...

Dr. Elim Kazbet tries to keep his small regional hospital running, but it feels like a losing battle. With the attacks from an ISIS splinter group to the north, no one supports the hospital. When two Americans and a British man come in, two with signs of viral hemorrhagic fever, Dr. Kazbet does his best ... but what if that's not good enough to contain the spread? The men who are ill show symptoms of both Marburg and Ebola--it's an entirely new disease.

When the CDC finds out about the outbreak, they enlist super scientist Dr. Peyton Shaw to assemble a strike team to land on the moon and deactivate the field generator.

Wait, no, that's Return of the Jedi. Shaw actually has to put together a team of scientists who are in the civil service to try and isolate patient zero of the outbreak, as well as stop it from spreading. We, the readers, know this is Doomed to Failure because, well, there wouldn't be a book if they failed. Peyton wonders about the strange phone call she got from Desmond, but has to focus on the work at hand.

Back in Atlanta, Peyton's boss Elliott realizes that things are going to get really, really bad if the government enacts a certain protocol, so he gathers his neighbors and Hatches A Plan to survive. The plan is: liquidate all their assets and buy RVs.

Don't look at me. I still don't understand why they bought all the transportation if a) the virus is highly contagious and therefore inescapable and b) they only end up using one near the end of the book. What was his glorious plan to save them all? Just ... drive off in an RV? Start living that retiree life early?

This is all like 20% of the way into the book. It KEEPS GOING. People get shot, infected, kidnapped, rescued, re-kidnapped, and held captive in the Georgia Dome. Our heroes are Desmond and Peyton, together at last after an excruciatingly long set of flashbacks where we find out that:

  • Desmond is emotionally damaged by almost dying in the fire that killed his family 
  • Then being raised by a cold and crusty oil rig worker of an uncle isn't much help either
  • But he's also a computer genius
  • He falls in love with Peyton in college but can't commit because he's too afraid to love again
  • He's a total turd and dumps her "for her own good"
Oh yeah, and then there's the bit with Peyton's dead brother and her missing father and her emotionally distant mother. 

I am woefully ill-equipped to describe to you the frantic jumps in the story, so please, just take my word for it. And in this world, people in Africa speak "African-accented English."

However, I will give the book credit for being immensely entertaining in its first third (or so). I get a bit of a schadenfreude thrill when reading about epidemics--I find myself immensely relieved that I do not have that disease, and I find the various ways that viruses and bacteria can destroy a living organism both fascinating and terrifying.

This would have been immensely better had the author picked one or two storylines to focus on, and decided whether or not this was going to be a hard-science medical thriller or a specfic book. The way the two are juxtaposed in the text is jarring and doesn't flow well.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

DNF: Stillhouse Lake

Everyone (not everyone in the world, but for the sake of this review, I'll use the all-inclusive term) seems to be loving on this book. "So suspenseful!" they cry.

You know that awkward feeling when people are all talking about A Thing and you know nothing about The Thing, so you sit there and silently scream for help using your eyes?

That was me, attempting to read Stillhouse Lake. I don't get it.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

I would like this review to consist of me shaking you, frantically, by the shoulders and yelling "READ THIS BOOOOOOOOK!!!"

 However, that is a rather violent way to recommend a book, and I don't really like touching people I don't know, and perhaps you'd respond better to a reasoned and measured review.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Jane, Unlimited

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that Jane, Unlimted is one of the most unique books of the year. It's also one of my favorites.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Backlist reread: Subterranean

In the end notes of The 6th Extinction, James Rollins wrote that he would be bringing back more characters from his standalone early novels, and that one of them was actually a pretty big character in that book. The name "Jason" didn't ring a bell, but the repeated references to his parents living in Antarctica should have tipped me off to the fact that he was a character (albeit much younger) in Rollins' first book, Subterranean. I started reading these in college. After stumbling across Amazonia (lost monsters in lost area of the Amazon will terrorize the world if intrepid humans don't stop them) and loving it, I bought paperbacks of everything else Rollins wrote. Subterranean, Excavation, and Amazonia were subject to repeated rereads.

I figured I should reacquaint myself with Jason and his family before proceeding any further in the Sigma Force series, so I grabbed my copy of Subterranean and dove back in. It's very clear that Rollins' writing has improved immensely since that time, which only makes sense, but I also think that he's tried to move away from writing so very many stereotypes. He hasn't totally succeeded, but the Sigma Force books are quite well-written.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Life, Librarianship, and The Pursuit of Happiness

I got home from an afternoon and evening spent at the beach with friends and felt a pang of guilt that I hadn't written any reviews over the weekend. Yesterday, I worked. Today, I played. It feels strange to play, to actually enjoy life. It shouldn't, but it does.

For a relatively long time, I worked in a toxic job. Looking back, I'm not afraid to call it that. I was conditioned to believe that I was always wrong, always irritating, never Good Enough. I wasn't one of the rockstar librarians (I only meet one of the two requirements: although I am white, I am not male) that could be held up as an example to other staff. I had opinions (how dare I?). I had depression (again, how dare I?). I had anxiety and an eating disorder that I now realize isn't as in remission as I thought it was and I was completely miserable. In fact, "completely miserable" doesn't begin to touch how I really felt.

I'm going to turn thirty in one day. I don't celebrate birthdays (or any holidays), so it's usually not a big deal. Society has made Turning Thirty into somewhat of a Big Deal, though. It's one of those life markers that people use to gauge if you're a success or not. Oddly, I've gotten over most of the angst and the weird mental block that comes with turning thirty as a single lady, and I've reflected on how amazingly terrible my twenties were. You'll see a lot of books about depression, anxiety, and eating disorders reviewed here. I read them because I don't want to feel alone. When I first read It's Kind of A Funny Story, I cried because here was someone who was exactly describing what my brain did. My perseverations and catastrophizing. It was both strange and liberating to see myself reflected in that way. And that was basically the theme of my twenties. I never made a plan, but there were so many times that I just wished I were dead. I thought it would be easier on everyone. My soul hurt too much. And a lot of that pain came from fear generated by work.

Professionally, I love what I do. I love helping people. I love showing them entirely new worlds that they can travel to for free via the printed page or a tablet screen. I love creating safe spaces for teens, because heaven knows they have enough to deal with on a daily basis. But if the place where you do these things is toxic, it doesn't matter how much you love them. You're going to start hating your job. That's what happened to me. And because I hated my job, I started to hate myself, and to believe that I didn't deserve to be happy. The only people I saw experiencing happiness or good fortune were my male coworkers, who were routinely promoted over more qualified women, solely because of their gender. And I know that they also have problems; they probably aren't truly happy. Few people are. But when you're in the constricting, smothering grip of depression, that rational brain has zero effect on how you feel. And I felt hopeless.

But earlier this year, I had a chance to move away for a new job. It wouldn't be working with teens, which is what I was doing, and it would be far away from my family. But I could start over. I sat myself down and told myself that it was entirely possible that New Job would be weird and stressful in many different ways--there is no perfect job. But it would allow me to continue my profession while, hopefully, being able to get out of bed in the morning and not hoping that I would get in a car accident before I got to work, because months in traction sounded infinitely preferable to going to work.

I can't say I got lucky. I don't believe in luck. I believe that God answered the prayers I made with an anguished heart. I don't usually talk about religion here, because this is a book blog, but this is my personal experience. That's all I'll say about it, so if you are not religious, don't worry. I don't Blog for Jesus or anything like that.

And now I am in my New Job, in a new city, in a new state. I have a wide circle of new friends and I often stop during the day to marvel that this is my life. It's not glamorous--I'm poor. It's not what most people dream of--I am an unmarried librarian and therefore both a sort of romantic leper and a punch line. But I'm learning to just not care about it anymore. I deserve this happiness. I didn't have it for so long. The deprivation of happiness is so difficult to bear, and I wanted to write this mostly for myself, to prove to myself that I am growing. But I also hope that if anyone is out there feeling hopeless or beaten down because of the stresses of their job or their profession, that you know you deserve to be happy. Even though the Old White Dudes who founded this country only intended the Declaration of Independence to apply to people just like them (i.e. white and male), Thomas Jefferson got it right when he stated that we all have a universal right to pursue happiness.

Here's the thing: it's a pursuit. That means it's not a one-and-done deal. You have to keep moving and fighting for it. It's not handed to you on a silver salver. For me, I had to start believing that I deserved to be happy. I had to try and believe that people didn't all hate me. I had to have faith that there was a place where I didn't feel afraid being myself. And after a long time, I think I found it. It won't stay that way forever, of course. We change and organizations change and our jobs change. But in this moment, I am happy. This quiet wonder in my heart is strange but utterly welcome. I want to embrace that and leave the other pressures that I placed on myself behind.

So although I like you, readers that I've probably never met, I don't owe you my happiness in exchange for a book review. I should not feel guilty for sitting on the beach as the sun sets and feeling at peace for the first time in so, so long because I could have been using that time to write about books on my laptop. My profession as a librarian does not own my happiness. I'll fight for it, but I refuse to die for it. That's what I was doing--slowly killing myself in a place that made me feel bad about myself. I'll fight for books, but I won't die for books. I've got much bigger plans.