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.


3 Stars


The Golden Spider by Anne Renwick

The Golden SpiderThe Golden Spider

by Anne Renwick
Series: The Elemental Web Chronicles, Book One

Kindle Edition, 484 pg.
Anne Renwick, 2016

Read: October 26 – 27, 2016

Wow. Next time some author describes their book as a “Romance,” I really need to ask some follow-up questions before I say yes. Technically, Renwick said “Steampunk Romance,” and I figured it’d be something like The Parasol Protectorate or The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. And it was. But with a whole lot more time on the love story — and a whole lot more description of what a couple of consenting adults consented to.

The central technology — the titular Golden Spider, is just great. One of the niftiest pieces of Steampunk tech that I’ve run across. I have no idea where Renwick is going with it, but I’m pretty sure she’s going somewhere based on the title of the series. Other than that — and a couple of other examples of medical technology — the technology and whatnot are pretty standard-issue Steampunk. Oh, and there are krakens everywhere — I liked that.

Medical student and borderline-scandalous daughter of a member of the gentry, Amanda, is being blackmailed by her father into marriage — he’ll let her go to school as long as she gets married. Her prospects aren’t that bright (if you ignore those who wouldn’t let her study/practice medicine). Lord Sebastian is one of her professors, as well as a leading medical researcher — and a secret agent for the queen — he’s a busy guy. They’re both incredibly attracted to each other, but squabble almost instantaneously and continually. Is it a law that every Steampunk romance start with two people being attracted to each other and sniping constantly while denying said attraction?

Anyway, this one plays out just as you’d expect — but maybe a little faster.

The adventure/mystery is pretty fun, but the solution is pretty obvious, and the rest is pretty predictable. But the characters’ interaction makes up for most of the predictability. In addition to Amanda and Sebastian, we have another prospective suitor or three for Amanda, Sebastian’s much more interesting and/or obvious action hero partner, Amanda’s family, and another scientist or two. None of these characters are great, but Renwick uses them well, and the result is fast-paced and entertaining.

Again, this is a romance, so certain things are going to be accentuated. One of those things, it seems, is sex. There was a lot more of it than I was prepared for (but, I want to stress, that’s on me) — and unlike the last few books I’ve complained about with excessive bedroom activities, Renwick’s scenes are worth reading — well, okay, skimming. I’m not sure why she didn’t think her characters deserved a little more privacy, but what’re you going to do?

I had a heckuva good time reading this — and I expect the same would be true of fans of Gail Carriger, Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, Kady Cross, or a handful of other authors I can’t think of at the moment. Renwick drinks from the same wells as the above — but she’s her own author, don’t expect a carbon copy. If you can handle Steamy Steampunk, give this one a shot.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — you have my thanks, Ms. Renwick.


3.5 Stars

I Was a Bitch by Emily Ruben

I Was a BitchI Was a Bitch

by Emily Ruben

Kindle Edition, 401 pg.
Inkitt, 2016

Read: October 3 – 4, 2016

There’s a moment in teen comedies where the ugly duckling (who’s become the beautiful swan, backstabbed/betrayed/turned on/disappointed their life-long friends and become a real jerk) is forced to realize that what they’ve become and what they’ve done — from The DUFF to Can’t Buy Me Love and all points between (and probably points earlier), this is a standard and pivotal plot point. Can this be done in a tired and clichéd way? Yup, and regularly is. Can this be done in a creative and worthwhile way? Yup. But it’s hard to pull off.

And then Emily Ruben comes along and does this in a creative and worthwhile way — and makes it look like a walk in the park. Don’t get me wrong — making something look that easy takes a lot of work, I know this. But Ruben makes it look effortless. And one of the many creative things she does with this is who she has tell her protagonist that she’s become a bitch — herself.

Lacey comes out of a coma that’s lasted months and doesn’t remember the last couple of years. She starts using context clues, Facebook, utter strangers appearing in her hospital room, text messages, etc. to start piecing those two years together. What she learns about herself does not please her. She’s in shape — beyond that, she’s in great shape and dresses to flaunt it. Her “friends” are equally hot, as shallow as you’d expect and just nasty to others. Her boyfriend might as well be wearing a Kobra Kai uniform. She’s hidden some aspects of her personality — her sense of humor, kindness, clumsiness, intelligence, bookishness — and replaced them with, well, not much.

But there’s this Finn guy — who no one seems to know, but he sure seems to know her. Possibly more attractive than her boyfriend, definitely nicer than anyone she’s not related to. Just who is he, and what is he to her?

Lacey continues to investigate these questions (and more) while she recovers, goes through physical therapy, and returns to high school. And once she gets some answers — and some of her memories — about who she had become in the last two years, she has to make some decisions about who she’s going to be from now on.

We don’t get a full explanation of why Lacey took the steps she did to become who she became — but we get enough (and I think Lacey feels the same way). I like the fact that we are left with a few “i” not dotted and a handful of “t”s not crossed. Ruben had to resist a good deal of temptation to keep things vague at points — kudos to her.

I have a growing impatience for books who maintain dramatic tension through characters not having the guts to be honest with each other, to ask a question, to make a confession (not to a crime, but to something that’ll be uncomfortable) — but that’s just me. My notes are full of me complaining about Lacey ducking opportunities to have these conversations. By having her character take this road, Ruben doesn’t do anything that 97%+ of writers in all media wouldn’t do — sure, it’d be nice if she swam against the stream, but I can’t fault her too much for this.

Outside of those books where the parents/a parent/guardian/older family member turn out to be the villain, I can think of few worse parents than Lacey’s. I get that after a few months, they can’t afford to spend all day at the hospital — they have to work to pay the bills. But there are plenty of hours in the day for them to get over there after work — they regularly spend days without visiting her. And big brother comes back from traveling the world to be with her during her recovery — and he’s barely a presence. Sure, this gives time for her to deal the memory thing and the romantic problems, but it’s just done in a way that infuriates parents — there’s no way that any parent worth their salt isn’t around more. (it doesn’t get much better once she gets out of the hospital, either).

I loved Lacey’s voice, her interior monologue — who she really was. Her use of the phrase “Neville Longbottomed” to describe her physical changes is one of the best things I’ve read lately. I had a lot of fun reading this book and expect I won’t be alone.

As a forty-something father of four — I’m so not the target audience for this, possibly the furthest from it. But I gotta say, this was an enjoyable and entertaining read.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by Inkitt in exchange for my honest opinions.


3.5 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection by Michael R. Underwood

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #1-6

Kindle Edition, 544 pg.

Parallel to our world are various worlds populated by fictional characters in a wide variety of genres (Western, SF, Romance, etc), and when things go wrong in the stories, things go wrong in our world. For example, broken Romance world stories = higher divorce rates here. In this world, there are a number of teams of story specialists who shift to the other worlds to fix the stories and set things back on course here. Leah Tang — a struggling stand-up comic by night, struggling receptionist by day — is the newest recruit. Join her as she learns the ropes, rights wrongs, struggles with ethics, and gets shot at while cracking jokes.

Originally printed as 6 episodes in 5 novellas, now collected in one season-long omnibus, Genrenauats as become one of my favorite series this year and I’m glad to get one more chance to talk about it with the release of the collection this week.

There’s a great cast of characters here, all of which deserve the reader’s time and focus. For example, I was tempted to not-really-ignore, but relegate Angstrom King to back burner status in my mind. He’s the leader, he points the team in a direction, but the real excitement’s with the rest. This was a mistake on my part — think of him like Capt. Picard. Sure, for the most part he sits around in his ready room with some Earl Gray (hot) — but really, some of the more interesting things that happen in he series are because of his actions. King’s not Jean-Luc, but there’s a similar quality.

I love a good team — fiction, TV, comics, you name it — the interaction, the teamwork, the dynamics, there’s really nothing like it. There’s a great team in these novellas — some of the intra-team camaraderie got pushed aside for a little romance that doesn’t really work for me (but I get why it would for others and appreciate the way Underwood’s tackling it). Overall, it’s built on solid interactions and relationships that have plenty of room to grow and develop over the many seasons that we hopefully get of this.

Each adventure gives Underwood an opportunity to talk about various genres — to talk about the clichés, tropes, archetypes, pluses, minuses, and so on of each genre. And one visit to each won’t be enough to fully explore these. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking Master’s Theses-esque discussion, he jokes about them, plays with them, sometimes turns them upside down while telling his tale.

The collection includes:
The Shootout Solution — We meet Leah Tang, Angstrom King and the rest of his team. We’re also introduced to the concept of Genrenauts, Story Worlds, the effects that they can have on our world — also, we get a pretty decent story in Western World. Not bad for 148 pages. (For more details, you might want to read my original blog post, my blog post about the audiobook)

The Absconded Ambassador — The team goes to Science Fiction World to help out on a DS9-like Space Station. On the verge of a major treaty being finalized and signed, the Terran ambassador has been kidnapped. It’s up to King and co. to rescue the ambassador and keep the shaky alliance from crumbling in her absence. We learn a little more about everyone, and while having a lot of fun with genre conventions. ( my original blog post, my blog post about the audiobook)

The Cupid Reconciliation — The team gets back up to full strength in time to go rescue a Rom-Com gone awry. Underwood really lets things fly when it comes to observations about the genre and playing with conventions while using them for comedic — and narrative — value. Also — a couple of seeds that were planted in the first two novellas are watered enough that you can see season/season-plus story arcs beginning to grow. The series took a big jump in quality here. ( my original blog post)

The Substitute Sleuth — A Police Procedural needs some help, a no-nonsense cop’s off-the wall/out-of-the-box partner takes a bullet and another pair of mismatched detectives needs to come in and close the case. We get some major backstory stuff here, and the season arc is moved along nicely. The detective story itself isn’t my favorite, but what Underwood does with the tropes, themes, conventions, etc. is really good — it is more of a TV detective story than a novel detective story. Think Castle, not Harry Bosch (whoops, thanks Amazon, you ruined that point…). ( my original blog post)

The Failed Fellowship (Part 1 & 2) — This think kicks off with Leah Tang ranting about fantasy fiction and 5 episodes later, she gets to spend 2 episodes in Fantasy World, where a Chosen One with a Magic Artifact story has fallen to pieces. Leah’s in hog heaven, the rest of the team are at the top of their game and Underwood is, too. Rollicking good adventure. Best of the batch in every way. ( my original blog post)

I dig this series, and having all of the novellas in one handy collection is going to make it easier (I hope) for others to discover it — the collection is also a little cheaper than buying all the individual stories, which will also going to make things easier for people to discover it. If you haven’t dipped your toe in this world/these worlds yet, what are you waiting for?


5 Stars

A Far Out Galaxy by Marjorie Thelen

A Far Out GalaxyA Far Out Galaxy

by Marjorie Thelen
Series: Deovolante Space Opera, #1

PDF, 278 pg.
CreateSpace, 2014

Read: March 26, 2016

If you don’t mind getting Romance into your Science Fiction/Space Opera or SF into your Romance in a literary Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, this might be your cup of tea. This is light-hearted, almost humorous — don’t think Scalzi, Adams, Holt, Cline or Rob Reid. Think Evanovich in Space. It’s an odd mix of Space Opera, Romance and humor — mostly pulled off well. In the end, it wasn’t my thing, but it was fairly well executed.

Will and Vita are planetary royalty, who’ve been ordered to go on a mission together by a higher governing power. Vita’s a queen on a technologically-oriented planet, and like many before her, she’s a clone. It’s about time for her to clone herself to get her successor trained and ready in time. But there’s a problem, the cloning device is on the blink and no one can repair it. So, they’re going to have to take care of the succession the old-fashioned way. Enter Will — a Captain Kirk type. Handsome, charming, a gal in every space port, and a heckuva warrior. If anyone can get the might-as-well-be-asexual Vita pregnant, it’s him. There’s a Dave and Maddy vibe going throughout the early chapters, but you know she’s going to succumb to his charms (if only because she has to — at least at first). This would be the Romance bit.

Meanwhile, they’re being pursued by Will’s half-brother and other assorted nefarious types to interfere with their mission to check in on their colony, Earth, as well as to get up to other mischief. The colony is in pretty rough shape, what with the citizens acting the way we do — but they’ve got trick or two up their sleeve to get us back on track (which may or may not be entirely successful). This would be the Science Fiction/Space Opera bit.

Now, given everything that they’re able to do later in the book I’m not sure that I buy the whole “we can’t repair the cloning device” thing — I bet later on that we find out that The Powers That Be orchestrated the sabotage. But…that’s neither here nor there.

Thelen gets into some pretty impressive world-building (even if the science is . . . not that science-y), complete with multiple governing bodies and hierarchies, etc. Although, while I tracked with all the assorted layers of orders and bloodlines and whatnot that they talked about involving those on the mission (and related to it), I found it hard to understand — much less care — about the problems back home in their home galaxy. Hopefully, in future installments Thelen gets the reader to care — or to not worry about it and focus on the characters we do know.

Some of the characters here are pretty well-developed and engaging — though a few were little more than names and ranks, but that worked out okay given the story. The love story didn’t work for me — at least not in the early stages. I had no problem with it i the last half, though, and that’s when the book started working its charm on me (those two are pretty likely linked). The story was okay — but it felt like a lot of it was just to set up the rest of the series, not to tell a story in this book — but there was enough completed here to feel okay about it.

I think this is the kind of thing a lot of people would enjoy — on the whole, sadly, I’m not really one of them — but it’s fairly well written. I did end up liking it eventually — not a whole lot, but enough that I could see the merits and see why others would probably get into the series. I’m glad I pushed through my early disinterest to get to some pretty good stuff in the latter half. If Evanovich in Space sounds like your cup of tea, give this series a look.

Disclaimer: I was graciously provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for my thoughts, even if it took me 3 months longer than I’d hoped to get to them.


3 Stars

Landline by Rainbow Rowell


by Rainbow Rowell

Hardcover, 310 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2014
Read: August 13, 2014

If the last few years have taught us readers anything, it’s that if you want quirky, honest, heart-felt romance with real (and usually moderately overweight) people and solid laughs, Rainbow Rowell will consistently deliver for you. And if you don’t think you want that, after you read her, you’ll realize that’s just what you wanted after all. She has two YA books and now two Adult books to her credit. Her latest, Landline delivers the typical Rowell magic in her story, but this time she included something else: actual magic. Sort of.

Georgie McCool is half of a pretty successful TV writing team who are thiiiiis close to being much more successful, all they have to do is crank out a handful of scripts in the next couple of weeks and they’re in a great position to sell their first series. The catch is, this involves working over Christmas — despite Georgie’s plans to go to her mother-in-law’s in Omaha with her husband, Neal and their two daughters. Georgie says that she can’t pass up this opportunity, so Neal and the girls go off without her.

Georgie sees this as a regrettable occurrence, but one of the sacrifices she has to make to get her dream show made. Her mother, step-father and sister see it as her husband leaving her, and Georgie ends up staying with them. Which gets Georgie to worrying — especially when she can never seem to reach Neal on the phone during the day. At night, however, when her iPhone battery is dead, she has to resort to the landline in her old room and she ends up talking to Neal back before they got engaged.

Don’t ask. It makes no sense. She never bothers to explain. And it doesn’t matter. Georgie eventually figures out that’s what’s going on and she rolls with it, and the reader does, too.

These conversations, as well as the absence of her family, lead Georgie on a path down memory lane, reflecting on the beginning of their relationship and how it changed as they did. Maybe Neal had made a mistake choosing her. Maybe she’d ruined her life (and his) by choosing him. Would they have both been better off going their separate ways? Or was there something worth fighting for now? Would that matter? The clock is ticking — for Georgie’s marriage (both now and then) and her career. Is she up for it?

The tension is real, the apprehension, fear, and self-doubt (for starters) that Georgie is wrestling with is very obvious and palpable. Yet while focusing on this, Rowell’s able to create a believable world filled with a lot of interesting people. There’s Georgie’s partner/best friend, Seth and another writer on their current (and hopefully future) show — and Georgie failing to hold up her end of things there, as much as she tries.

Then there’s her sister, mother and step-father. They’re much better developed (probably only because we spend more time with them). Her mother’s a pretty implausible character, yet not a cartoon, she’s a pug fanatic, married someone much younger than her, and generally seems really happy. Her sister’s about done with high school and is figuring herself out (and mostly has) — she’s a hoot, and my biggest problem with the book is that we don’t get more of Heather. Not that there wasn’t plenty of her — and it’d require the book to take a far different shape. We get whole storylines about all the non-Neal people in her life, little vignettes showing us their character, giving us smiles in the midst of Georgie’s crisis, like:

“Kids are perceptive, Georgie. They’re like dogs”–she offered a meatball from her own fork to the pug heaped in her lap–“they know when their people are unhappy.”
“I think you may have just reverse-anthropomorphized your own grandchildren.”
Her mom waved her empty fork dismissively. “You know what I mean.”
Heather leaned into Georgie and sighed. “Sometimes I feel like her daughter. And sometimes I feel like the dog with the least ribbons.”

Not only do the supporting stories, or even the little moments like this fill out Georgie’s world and make it more interesting, they provide a breather for the reader from having to deal with the disintegrating marriage.

I know some people think we spend too much time in flashbacks, where Georgie’s remembering how she and Neal met, got to know each other, and started seeing each other, etc. But we need that. If all we get is Neal in the present, or past-Neal on the phone, we’re not going to care enough. Especially in the first couple of scenes we get with Neal, it’d be real easy to see him as unsympathetic — the guy holding Georgie and her career back. We need these flashbacks so the reader can sync their feelings about Neal with Georgie’s, so that when we read something like:

Georgie hadn’t known back then how much she was going to come to need Neal, how he was going to become like air to her.
Was that codependence? Or was it just marriage?”


She needed him.
Neal was home. Neal was base.
Neal was where Georgie plugged in, and synced up, and started fresh every day. He was the only one who knew her exactly as she was.

find ourselves agreeing with her, or at least seeing why she says it.

At the end of the book, there’s a lot of plot lines dangling — some very important ones, actually. Enough so, that normally, I’d devote a paragraph to complaining about it. But I won’t this time — it works for Landline. There’s a lot for Georgie to work out herself, she’s really only settled on the one most important thing, leaving the rest to be resolved another day. And that’s got to be good enough for the reader.

Not her best, but Rowell on an off day is still really, really good.


4 1/2 Stars