The Bucket List by Emily Ruben

The Bucket ListThe Bucket List

by Emily Ruben

eARC, 383 pg.
Inkitt, 2017

Read: June 14 – 19, 2017


I am absolutely not amongst the audience for this book. I knew that from the title alone, much less the description. Still, I’d read Ruben’s first book and enjoyed it and was curious about her take on this idea.

This is basically a take on the dying teen romance, with a splash of the Rob Reiner movie. I’m tempted to go on a rant about the whole dying teen romance idea — The Space Between Us, The Fault in our Stars, and the like — but I just don’t have the energy. I don’t get it, it seems like a highly artificial way to inflate drama. But whatever — just because it’s an overplayed idea, that doesn’t mean the book can’t be good.

Besides, the central characters in this book are 20 and 21, so by definition this is different.

Leah is surprised one day to find the new guy moving in next door is her old best friend that she hasn’t seen for 5 years. Damon (think Ian Somerhalder) is glad to see her, but before they renew their friendship, has to warn her that he’ll be dead within a year and a half. He has some sort of brain tumor (Ruben intentionally gives few details about this) that cannot be treated. Leah decides that she’ll do what she can to renew their friendship in the time remaining.

Soon after this, the two decide that he’ll write up a Bucket List and that each day, they’ll cross an item off of it until it’s too late. This will lead to all sorts of travel, adventure, changing of existing and/or new romantic relationships and (this isn’t much of a spoiler, you can tell it’ll happen from the get-go) their eventually falling in love.

The worst part about this book is how everything that happens to them is the best, the greatest, the ____est (or the worst). Leah and Damon live in the extremes — they never have a normal day, a blah experience. It’s just too much to handle — a few things that are okay, a few things that aren’t bad mixed in with all this would make this easier to read. Yes, you could say that given the heightened situation, everything they do is given a hint of the extreme, but still . . .

The tricky thing with Damon having an unnamed disease — it’s hard to have any idea how realistic this is. But a brain tumor that causes organs to decay before death, necessitating an ethically/legally-questionable euthanasia method is stretching things beyond the breaking point. Beyond that, the amount of money that these people spend is utterly unbelievable — talk all you want about plundering no-longer-necessary college savings, it’s just not something I could buy.

There’s an element of charm to the writing — but I don’t think that this is as charming as Ruben’s first book — there’s something appealing about the earnestness of her writing. But this just wasn’t for me. Although he probably didn’t say it, Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as reviewing a lecture by saying something like, ” People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” I feel like that about this book — if you can find a grain of salt big enough to help you swallow the unbelievable, if you can tolerate the excess of superlatives, and like a love story in the face of certain doom, this is probably a pretty entertaining book. Was it for me? Nope. But I didn’t hate it and can understand why many would.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the publisher in exchange for this post — I do appreciate the opportunity, even if it doesn’t come across that way.

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3 Stars

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis, Jared Goldsmith

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were MadeTimmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

by Stephan Pastis, Jared Goldsmith
Series: Timmy Failure, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs. and 44 min.
Recorded Books, 2013
Read: June 14, 2017


A couple of my kids have been reading this series since #1, and since one of my favorite comic strip writers wrote it, I always intended to read it. Then I stumbled upon Steve Usery’s podcast interview with him, and I really wanted to. But haven’t gotten around to it yet. I stumbled on to the audiobook last week and figured it’d be worth a shot — especially with his appearance in town this last weekend. If I can make it amusing enough to bother reading, I’ll tell you the story tonight of how my son and I didn’t make it. But on to the book.

Timmy fancies himself a fantastic detective with a polar bear sidekick (named Total), he believes he’s on the verge of becoming a multimillionaire with offices throughout the world. In reality, he’s a lousy detective who can’t solve even the easiest of cases, like “Who stole my Halloween candy?” when the victim’s brother is literally surrounded by the evidence. You almost get the feeling you’re headed for an Inspector Gadget-style conclusion to the mysteries, where things are solved accidentally, in spite of the detective. Nope — Timmy cannot solve anything. He considers cases closed, but he’s so far from the truth (and so near personal vendettas) that it’s laughable. Which is the point, thankfully.

There’s a level to all of this that’s really sad — Timmy’s the child of a single mom (we don’t know why, at least in this book), struggling to make ends meet, and Timmy’s created this world in which he’s thiiiiiis close to providing financial security for her. She’s at the end of her rope with him, but finds ways to indulge and support his delusions and dreams (and get some actual completed homework from him). She dates a creep for a while, but thankfully, the fact that he and Timmy don’t mesh too well dooms that.

Obviously, the big drawback to the audiobook format is that I don’t get to see the drawings that accompany the text — and that probably detracted a lot. Thankfully, Goldsmith did a great job — the voice was a little annoying, but I’m sure that was intentional. I don’t think I could listen to more than one of these at a time, but that’s probably just me.

A cute story, best suited for younger readers, with enough grin-inducing lines to keep adults reading (and/or listening). I’ll be back for more.

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3 Stars

Project Mothership by Ash Gray

Project MothershipProject Mothership

by Ash Gray
Series: The Prince of Qorlec, #1

Kindle Edition, 137 pg.
2017

Read: June 6, 2017


Rose is on her honeymoon when she’s abducted by aliens — who have abducted her for the express purpose of having her carry one of the many eggs of a Queen struggling to keep her subjects safe and fighting to prevent an invasion force from completely conquering her planet. And, yeah, if everything goes bad, it’ll be good to have some descendants of the Queen running around.

A few years later, a woman comes knocking on the door of Rose and her daughter, Quinn, with the news that the enemy is close — and has been working with the FBI — to take her daughter from her — Rose and Zita fight for their escape through human robotic and alien forces, just trying to get off the planet so that Quinn can claim her rightful place helping her people.

There’s a sense of fun, despite the dangers, and a great pace with plenty of tense moments throughout this. It was an enjoyable read with some good writing, and I’m pretty curious where it goes from here. It’s not perfect, I have a couple of complaints that I’m afraid will overshadow things — I want to stress: I liked this book, I want to read more — don’t think this post is anything but a recommendation.

But to start with, other than the weaponry, I’m not so sure I see the difference between Gray’s 2160 and 2016 — it’s a shame that Gray didn’t work harder on that part of the world he built. I’m not saying it needs to be an unrecognizable reality (although it’d be nice), but we should have moved further than just better guns.

One of my biggest beefs in fiction — TV or books — are central characters telling their closest family and friends lies to protect them. Yes, I’m looking at you particularly CW DC shows. That’s Rose’s impulse move, which is understandable, but why not trust those closest to her with the truth? Particularly her husband, clearly head over heels with her. Why make up a ludicrous story to explain what happened to her rather than risk the truth?

My last beef was the sex scene — there’s some romantic tension early on that I’m fine with, I thought it worked in the moment. But running for your life, with various enemies on your heels is not the time to take a quick break for a little whoopie. It didn’t need to be as graphic as it was (thankfully brief), but really ill-timed.

Setting that aside, this was a fun, quick read (I couldn’t believe I was done when I got to the end) that really made me want to go grab the sequel. Ash didn’t create a masterpiece here, but he told an engaging, entertaining story. Which is good enough for me.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post, I appreciate it.

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3 Stars

The Hammer of Thor (Audiobook) by Rick Riordan, Kieran Culkin

The Hammer of ThorThe Hammer of Thor

by Rick Riordan, Kieran Culkin (Narrator)
Series: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs., 34 mins..
Listening Library, 2016
Read: May 10 – 12, 2016


Thor’s hammer is missing, so not only can he not stream Netflix (I’d forgotten that was a thing in this series) on it, he can’t intimidate the giants into not invading. You can guess which bothers him more. The Valkrie Samira and her pal Magnus have to go find it before things get out of hand.

I didn’t like this one as much as the first book in this series — but I didn’t dislike it. It’s still the same outline that Riordan is following with these books — there’s a quest; the hero and his friends have to go find the whatever to stall doomsday a little longer; to get the X the group has to beat a series of mini-challenges and then they’ll have a shot at the X. Since this is a book 2, they’ll get X, but many other things will go wrong, forcing the series into another book. For the most part, the minor challenges worked better for me than I expected.

I enjoyed Magnus’ friends — Samira in particular; although I’m pretty torn about the new character added to Magnus’ group: Alex Fierro — a child of Loki. I understand what Riordan was trying to do with this character, but I’m not sure he succeeded. I’m not convinced that Alex was a person, and not just a conglomeration of traits. But I have hope. Alex’s presence, I thought, ended up short-changing some of the other characters when it came to action and involvement in the plot, which I wasn’t crazy about.

I really enjoy seeing different authors’ take on the same mythological characters. Comparing/contrasting Kevin Hearne’s and Riordan’s Thors and Lokis would make for a very entertaining piece (I think Riordan’s Thor is more comical, but his Loki just might be more sadistic), and I will admit I got distracted a couple of times listening to this by thinking about the differences.

The best part of this was seeing how the problems Magnus, etc. are dealing with intersect some of what Percy, Annabeth and Apollo are going through in Riordan’s other series, and the strong hint that we’ll see some sort of cross-over soon. We’d understood that the Egyptian gods were threatening the earth about the same time that the Problems with Camps Jupiter and Half-Blood start up, but this was a much more explicit description. I like thinking that the various pantheons are having troubles at the same time, and that Earth could be doom in any number of ways simultaneously.

I bought this in hardcover the week it came out (last October, I think), but haven’t been able to find/make the time to read it. When I saw it as available on my library’s audiobook site, I figured I’d jump — just to get that TBR pile a little smaller. I hadn’t listened to Riordan on audio before, and was curious ow it translated. I was surprised to hear Kieran Culkin’s name (and voice) at the beginning of this — he didn’t strike me as the kind of actor who’d do audiobooks. I’m glad that he did, though. I really enjoyed his work throughout the novel — the narration, the characters — he just nailed it. That’s how Magnus Chase should sound.

It was entertaining enough to keep going, and I trust that Riordan knows what he’s doing, I’m just not convinced that he did all he could to make this book as good as it could be.

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3 Stars

Hour Game (Audiobook) by David Baldacci, Scott Brick

Hour GameHour Game

by David Baldacci, Scott Brick (Narrator)
Series: King & Maxwell, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 14 hrs., 25 mins.
Hachette Audio, 2004
Read: May 1 – 5, 2017


Whoops — it’s been two and a half years since I read the first volume in the series — I really meant to get back to it sooner. Oh well, better late than etc., etc. I don’t have much to say about this, but I have a few thoughts.

This picks up a few months after Split Second, the partnership between King and Maxwell has solidified, they’ve had some success and have settled into their lives. They’re doing some work for a local attorney assisting him defend an accused burglar, when they’re asked to help the local police investigate a murder that resembles a famous serial killer. Soon afterwards, other bodies show up — each following a different serial killer’s M. O. to keep the authorities guessing.

Soon, King and Maxwell are officially involved — as are the national media and the FBI. Naturally, the two cases intertwine — as does another mystery.

The mysteries were pretty easy to guess, but how Baldacci resolved them wasn’t — which was nice. The character moments were okay, actually — the characters were the best part of this book, not just our leads, but pretty much everyone who wasn’t killed within a page or two of being introduced.

Will you hold it against me if I admit it wasn’t until as I was writing this that I figured out what the title referred to? I really hadn’t thought about it, but I really shouldn’t have had to.

I liked this more than the last Scott Brick audiobook I listened to — which wasn’t bad. His accent work was good (have heard him do better), and he made the characters come to life — even giving a couple of characters I could live without enough of a hook that I probably liked them more in audio than I would’ve if I read it.

Hour Game was well constructed, well paced, and kept me engaged and entertained — an improvement over the first one, too. Can’t ask for much more than that.

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3 Stars

The Glamshack by Paul W. Cohen (updated)

I pulled this one from publication this morning to work on it a bit more. I’m not sure I actually made it better, but I’m pretty sure it’s not worse.

…and then tweaked again 12 hours later . . .

The GlamshackThe Glamshack

by Paul W. Cohen

eARC, 222 pg.
PUB, 2017

Read: May 8 – 9, 2017


Do not read this book for the plot — you will likely be disappointed, and possibly frustrated. There’s just not much of it, and what little there is isn’t that creative — there are good plot-moments, yes. But really, there’s nothing here that you likely haven’t read. But the strength of this book is in how Cohen delivers the plot, not the what that he delivers.

Essentially, the novel is a story of Henry Folsom — a lifestyle reporter in 1999. I think lifestyle reporter is close — he writes for a fashion magazine, doing puff-piece profiles and interviews. He’s just not that good at his job, and is close to being fired after some disastrous encounters with the kind of people that you cannot have disastrous encounters with. During one such encounter, he meets a woman that he finds much more interesting than his interview subject. They flirt, they date, they have a months-long relationship, full of ups and downs. She leaves him for a few days (at least) when the book opens, and as he waits to see if she’ll return as promised, he spends this time in a drunken stupor reliving, rehearsing, and analyzing (not too deeply) the relationship while reading a history of the Plains Indians Wars of the 1800s.

Henry never gives us the name of his love, his obsession. It’s always “She” or “Her.” Always capitalized. Within the last few months, I read something describing a man in love’s speech by saying something like “you could hear the capital She in his voice.” That’s surely how Henry talked — it’s how he writes, how he thinks. She is completely and totally unworthy of the devotion he shows. Sure, you could (rightly) argue that none of us are — but She is really just the worst — manipulative, selfish. untrustworthy . . . But there’s no two ways about it, Henry’s devoted to her (and he’s not alone). She has a tragic backstory, which, if true, probably accounts for some of her personality flaws. But I’m not convinced that she didn’t invent part of it to serve her own ends. All this is to say that she’s not a good person, but a great character.

Henry is sort of a Humbert Humbert character. No, he’s not a murderer or a pedophile — or any other kind of criminal that I’m aware of. He is someone with a fancy prose style and has overly-idealized the object of his affections. The way Henry thinks about, describes, and acts toward Her really reminded me of Humbert — particularly (and this is what made me start down this trails of thought) in the way that Henry reveals Her character, her shortcomings, and virtues while defending or denying the problematic aspects of Her character and well as his. Henry’s use of language — and Cohen’s, too — is just wonderful. Most of the quotations I’d pull wouldn’t work without a lot of context, but there’s some great use of language throughout this book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that I mastered the novel — there’s a lot of Cohen’s figurative language that I can’t wrap my brain around. The repeated phrase, “fighting breasts,” is a good example — I have no idea what those are. Didn’t are while I was reading, don’t care now — segments of this might as well have been poetry for the care shown to word choice and placement.

Elmore Leonard’s famous 10 Rules for Writing contains warning against “hooptedoodle” — the parts of books that sound like writing. His goal was to remain invisible (he failed, by the way, I think he knew that). I don’t regularly use these rules to evaluate books — but sometimes, I can’t help it (they stick with you more than some other writer’s do). Glamshack wouldn’t last 5 paragraphs against Leonard’s standards. But that’s okay, as Leonard himself says, “If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules.” Cohen’s one of those who can skip the rules without a lot of complaint from anyone.

I wasn’t wowed by The Glamshack story or characters, but I enjoyed reading it and loved Cohen’s writing. I recommend it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author in exchange for this post — thanks, Mr. Cohen, I enjoyed this.

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3 Stars

People of the Sun by Jason Parent

People of the SunPeople of the Sun

by Jason Parent

Kindle Edition, 327 pg.
Sinister Grin Press, 2017

Read: March 13 – 15, 2017


This was a refreshing SF adventure with plenty of heart and imagination.

A handful of brave astronauts take off from the dying planet Symoria with a mission to find something to save their planet– but something goes wrong during the launch, damaging the ship and severely injuring some of the crew. The ship crashes on a nearby planet — Earth, naturally — and things go downhill from there.

Yeah, a disastrous (and possibly fatal) launch is the best thing that happens to the Symorians. Doesn’t really say a whole lot about this planet, or at least its inhabitants, does it?

Anyway, they land in New Hampshire to be found by a State Trooper and his friend, a geology professor. Factors in the environment shock the Symorians by helping them to adapt to Earth and human culture in surprising ways. The professor, Connor Gaudreau (the professor) becomes an ambassador of sorts for them.

To say that their first meeting with the U. S. Military goes poorly is an understatement — the soldiers believe that the Symorians are nerds in cosplay uniforms and makeup. When they won’t take off “the Spock ears,” one solider in particular gets aggressive — striking the non aggressive Symorian commander, Lenyx, repeatedly. While trying to defend himself, Lenyx accidentally kills this soldier, making things worse.

Thankfully, there’s a sitting President who’s looking to establish her legacy by making a treaty with a new race. What follows is full of betrayal hope, loyalty and avarice. Plus a healthy dose of hope.

The imagination behind this novel is impressive. Parent shows a lot of creativity in establishing why the aliens might use English expressions and human attitudes. The writing is solid — nothing dazzling, but solid. The characters are well-written, and the plot works well. Yeah, at a certain point, the ending is inevitable and few readers will be surprised at the last 1/3 (or so). But that doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means that Parent follows his story through to its logical conclusion — he doesn’t go for some shock twist that has no foundation. He starts at A, then goes to B, C and D on his way to E — without succumbing to the temptation to go for a detour through Q and R.

An entertaining, quick read with plenty of characters that make you want to read on. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for this post — thanks!

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3 Stars