jessicasteiner: (Fangirl Moment)
I downloaded John Scalzi's Redshirts from Audible.com. The audiobook is narrated by Wil Wheaton, which is a treat to listen to for a lifelong trekker like myself.

Redshirts is basically the story of a bunch of ensigns on a starship, rather like the Enterprise only, yanno, not. On this ship, away teams are pretty hazardous for people like this. There's a lot more to it than that, but I don't think I can say anything further without spoiling some of the best bits. You'll just have to read it for yourself.

This is the first of Scalzi's books that I've read. I get the impression from reading his blog that he writes a variety of things, but if any of his other books are like this, I may have to read more of his work. Redshirts is a great story, nerdy and clever, and has interesting characters.

I enjoyed most of Wil Wheaton's narration, though there were a few rough bits where it knocked me out of the story. With such a large cast, a narrator who was able to better differentiate between the different characters' voices would have probably helped a lot to keep things straight. But I love Wheaton so much I don't actually mind the few hiccups.

I believe quite a few people didn't like the ending. Specifically, Scalzi didn't just end the book, but tacked on three codas, from the perspective of other characters, tying up plot threads. Personally, I loved them. It allowed Scalzi to wrap up a few important threads, and I found the overall experience of the book more satisfying with that resolution. I'm sure there are other ways he could have accomplished the same thing, but this was neat.

Overall, if you like popcorn science fiction/space opera, and especially if you geek out over Star Trek, this is highly recommended
jessicasteiner: (Blank Paper)
It's been a while since I did a review! I actually read this book quite a while ago and I've been meaning to do a review but the moment just didn't come until now. Anyway, off we go.

I learned about this book on the Daily Show, when the author, Brené Brown was interviewed about it. I downloaded I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power from Audible, and it can be found: here.

It's a non-fiction book about the impact of shame on people, and how to overcome feelings of shame in yourself. Brown explores what shame is, how it impacts people in a negative manner and whether there's any redeeming quality to shame, and various methods with which to deal with shame and prevent it from having a negative impact on your life.

I don't know if listening to the book improved it over reading it. Sometimes the experience of listening to the words being read to me made it more powerful, but there were aspects of it - statistics, lists and the like - that occasionally made the spoken word more difficult to follow. I think this is pretty much inevitable with non-fiction work of this type. I did find the reader to be very good, though I think it would have been a nice touch if it had been Brown herself, especially since the book is written largely from her perspective.

I found it a difficult book to listen to, but also extremely rewarding. Through the stories shared by Brown, of hundreds of people she's interviewed, I could recognize things in my own life which make me feel shame, and explore that feeling in a constructive way. It's incredible how insidious shame can be, and from reading the book, I see that while guilt and regret can be constructive, there's no positive aspect to feeling shame. Shame demoralizes and holds people back.

There were times when I cried listening to it, but overall I'm glad that I got myself through it. I do feel as though my life has been improved from the read.

This book comes highly recommended.
jessicasteiner: (Constructive Criticism)
I'm back! The last couple of months have been crazy, between moving and trying to do NaNoWriMo (final wordcount: around 26,000, and I'm happy with that all things considered), but life is finally starting to settle down and I'm looking forward to a few days off work and a mental recharge.

While I was away from regular blog updates, I read Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story, by Adam Rex.

Fat Vampire is a book designed to appeal to my nerdy little soul. It's about a teenage boy named Doug who becomes a vampire, and has to cope with all the things that becoming a vampire involves - figuring out his powers, figuring out how to go to school and have friends and chase a girlfriend, while adjusting to his new life. The thing is, Doug is no Edward Cullen - he is a huge comic book nerd, with all the ostracism and awkwardness that means.

The first section of the book involves Doug and his best friend Jay attending - and trying to feed Doug - at San Diego Comic Con. It's pretty obvious from the book that Adam Rex has gone and knows exactly what it's like to be part of that world. It made me glee.

I listened to the audible version of Fat Vampire, available here.

The reader for the book was excellent. Kirby Heyborne had all different voices, even accents, and it was easy to distinguish between the characters.

One of the things that worried me for a long while was whether the comedy in the book would devolve into hurtful stereotypes and derision of the sub-cultures that I hold dear. However, the author remains both realistic and respectful, while staying true to the comedic tone of the book.

Overall, it was a funny, tragic, and interesting book. I loved the characters and the story, and would heartily recommend it to anyone, particularly someone who's ever opened a comic book or been to a fandom convention.
jessicasteiner: (Fangirl Moment)
Before I begin, I just want to warn that this will NOT be a spoiler-free review! I'm afraid I won't be able to review the book properly without giving away the ending. The spoilers will be under a cut, so if you want to avoid spoilers, be cautious while clicking and scrolling. ;)

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal is a fantasy regency romance set in a world where it's possible to use magic to form illusions called glamour. The main character, Jane, is a skilled glamourist, but on the verge of becoming a spinster.

I haven't listened to as many audiobooks lately, but this one I did download from Audible.com (it's available for purchase here). It's read by the author, who does a great job. Mary Robinette Kowal is a puppeteer as well as an author, and so she's definitely got the skills and experience to voice her own book.

Romance is not a genre I generally read, but I gave it a chance because I wanted to support the author after listening to her on Writing Excuses for quite a while. But I really enjoyed it! The characters were engaging and I particularly liked Jane.

The thing that I most enjoyed was how realistically the author incorporated the use of glamour into the world. She really thought it through, and I loved all the tiny ways glamour affected how the characters lived.

I really just had one issue with the book, and that's under the cut )

It really didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book, and considering that I'm generally not a romance reader, I hope that this argues for it being quite a good example of the genre, especially as a debut novel.

I'm very much looking forward to reading the next book of the series, Glamour in Glass and in reading any of the author's future works!
jessicasteiner: (Fangirl Moment)
Alloy of Law is the newest instalment of the Mistborn series, a novella that forms a sequel to the original trilogy.

I listened to the Audiobook of this novel, which I got from Audible. It's read by Michael Kramer, who also narrated the other Mistborn novels, and whose performance I really enjoy. I'm especially glad that it's the same person, since there are some characters that reoccur, and that just wouldn't have been the same with a different voice.

The original Mistborn trilogy is set in a fairly standard medieval-level fantasy world, though when I say 'standard', don't think that it's anything but very creative. The worldbuilding is up to Sanderson's high standards, and the magic system is amongst the most interesting I've ever seen. The first book of Mistborn is a heist story, and I won't talk too much more about it to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that it's very worth reading.

Alloy of Law is set several hundred years in the future, in the same world, but a version of the world that has progressed greatly in technology. It's now in a sort of 'Old West' level of technology, with a steampunk flavour, but maintaining the thread of the story and the feel of what made the first Mistborn novels great.

I love the characters in Alloy of Law. Though it took me a bit of time to warm up to Marasi, I think that was probably by design. She starts off seeming like a non-entity, a stereotypical shy and retiring girl with nothing much to her, especially in comparison to the vibrant personalities of the other characters, but she eventually comes into her own. By contrast, the two main male characters, Wax and Wayne, are extremely charming right from the get go, and I could have gone on reading them forever.

The thing I loved most about the book was how Sanderson expanded on the magic system, and showed how the world and technology would be different with the presence of people who can burn metals and use ferrochemy. It was truly fascinating to see the progression.

Honestly, the only thing I'm unhappy with with this book is how short it was. I've heard rumours that there will be more books set in this time period, though I don't know how true those rumours are. If so, I'm really excited! I am certain there will be more books set further in the future, and I'm very much looking forward to those as well.

Overall, the book definitely lives up to the high standards set by the first three novels, and really doesn't lose the feel of the series, which was a risk with a whole new set of characters in a different time period.
jessicasteiner: (Default)
World War Z by Max Brooks (On Good Reads here) is a military science fiction book, set shortly after the end of a zombie apocalypse. Humanity has survived, and they are picking up the pieces.

The main character has interviewed a cross-section of people who survived the apocalypse about their experiences, and the book is presented as a series of interviews, with minimal narration from the writer.

I listened to the audiobook, which I would say is the absolute best way to read this book. It's fully-voiced, which made it a powerful experience to listen to it, to the point where I really think it wouldn't have the same impact if you were reading it in text.

I thought the portrayal of how the zombie apocalypse went, from beginning to end, was very realistic, and powerfully portrayed. By using the medium of interviewing multiple people, Max Brooks was able to present a wide variety of different stories, each one exciting and engaging, and set in wildly different times and geographic locations. This gave him amazing flexibility to encompass the scope of the zombie war tragedy.

There was a good mix of different cultures and locations represented. My one issue is the fact that out of all the people "interviewed", only two were women. After the first ten or so, with not a single woman appearing yet, I was really starting to get irritated by that. The two women who did show up were great characters, and I especially liked the fighter pilot. But it did irk me that there wasn't more of a mix.

That being said, overall, I highly recommend this book. I'm very curious how the movie is going to work, also, and I definitely intend to go see it.
jessicasteiner: (Default)
I'm finished the bar exam! And so now you may have a review. I'm hoping to post a little more regularly from now on, since I've been released from the chains of pre-lawyer servitude, as a friend of mine put it.

As I was studying, I was listening to a podiobook by Travis Heermann named Heart of the Ronin. I found the podcast on iTunes, but you can also find it here on his website, and I just finished it yesterday. The book is currently out in hardcover as well.

Heart of the Ronin is a historical fantasy novel set in 13th century Japan. It follows the story of a young ronin - a masterless samurai - named Kenishi as he seeks his fortune, battles an oni, and falls in love with a beautiful princess. There is political intrigue, starcrossed love, and a myriad of the amazing and unusual creatures that populate Japanese lore. It is the first of a series, and the second book, Sword of the Ronin, is yet to be released.

Considering this is a podcast done privately by the author and not by an audiobook publishing house or something of that nature, it's quite professionally done. The audio is clear, the music is appropriate, and the book is divided into good bite-sized chunks that are easy to manage and generally end on a cliffhanger that leave you wanting more. Danielle Steen does an excellent job of the voice acting - better than some professionally-done books, actually. Far better than some.

The book itself is a very good first novel. I've always been fascinated by Japanese culture, and I can tell that Travis did a lot of research into the culture and life in Japan at that time, as well as the mythical creatures that populate his world. It's interesting to read a book by an American set in Japan, particularly one that pays homage to their beautiful and exotic culture, without screwing it up.

The book grabbed me quickly and I found it an easy read, with exciting battle scenes, a compelling and tragic love story, and interesting characters and plot. The action slowed a few times, and as someone familiar with Japanese folklore, I could occasionally predict what was going to happen with reasonable accuracy. I found the ending a bit unsatisfying, since it didn't tie up all of the loose ends. It didn't just leave things open for a sequel, but made that sequel mandatory - on the other hand, that guarantees that I'll be reading Sword when it comes out.

Kenishi is an engaging main character with a lot of sympathetic, good qualities, without being devoid of flaws. The book is enjoyable without being fluffy - there are definitely some harsh themes and gruesome deaths. I also liked that the female characters were given good treatment. The princess in particular is strong both physically and mentally, yet doesn't cross the line into becoming unbelievable for her time period and culture. I think Travis walks the line carefully between turning her into a Mary Sue and making her a strong female, and does so with reasonable success.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I would definitely recommend Heart of the Ronin to anyone who enjoys samurai, fantasy, or historical au fiction, or who is curious or fascinated by Japanese culture.


If you have any podcasts or audiobooks that you think I would enjoy and which you would like me to review for my blog, please send me an email with a link to jessicabronstein@gmail.com
jessicasteiner: (Save the World)
I devoured these two books one right after the other, so I'm going to review them together. As with the previous books I've reviewed, I downloaded them both from Audible, and they can be found here:

I Am Not a Serial Killer
Mr. Monster


These are the first two books in Dan Wells' debut series, and the third book, I Don't Want to Kill You is now out (and I'll be getting it very soon).

The series follows the life of John Wayne Cleaver, a young teenager with an obsession with serial killers and a diagnosis of severe Antisocial Personality Disorder. Living in a small midwestern town and struggling to handle normal teenage boy issues like girls, friends, school, and family problems, John also has to cope with the fact that he lives above a mortuary, and that a demon has started killing people all over town.

Did I say demon? Yes I did. It's an urban fantasy/horror series, though you wouldn't know it for the first several chapters of I Am Not a Serial Killer. It's got a very low-key supernatural element, which ramps up slowly before you - and John - become convinced that there really is a demon in town, not just a run-of-the-mill serial killer.

As you might have been able to tell from the first line of this review, I really loved these books. John is a sociopath, and an extremely well-researched one (I've researched the disorder extensively and I still learned a lot from this book about the symptoms and what it's like to be a serial killer). But somehow John is still a completely sympathetic character. There were times in Mr. Monster when I was truly afraid he was going to go over the edge and do something I couldn't forgive him for, but Dan Wells manages to walk the line perfectly, pushing that edge without letting John fall straight over it and stop being relateable to the reader.

John Allen Nelson narrated I Am Not a Serial Killer, and I found him a bit over-dramatic at times, but the book was so engaging and exciting that it really wouldn't have mattered if it had been read by a half-literate monkey. The switch to a different reader in Mr. Monster (Kirby Heyborne) was an adjustment. I had gotten used to John Allen Nelson, but by the end of Mr. Monster I was used to the new voice, and he continues for the third book, which is good.

Though John has a hard time understanding the people around him, making it more difficult to plumb the depths of the supporting characters, that only suits the style of the novel and what Dan has done by making this book from the first-person POV of a sociopath. I found it fascinating, and at times extremely disturbing, to be inside John's head. Yet I fell in love with him as a character.

I really have nothing bad to say about the books. If you like urban fantasy, and/or are at all interested in serial killers, I highly recommend these books. They are shortish, not heavy reads, with the kind of pacing that makes them nearly impossible to put down. I've been recommending them to nearly everyone I know since about three chapters into the first book.

Off to buy the third one!
jessicasteiner: (Save the World)
The Way of Kings, the latest novel by Brandon Sanderson, is the first book in a series called the Stormlight Archive. The audio version is read by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer.

I downloaded The Way of Kings from Audible.com. The first thing that should hit pretty much anyone who picks it up is that this is a big sucker - a solid 45 hours in length. Those who have Audible memberships know that each month of a regular membership gives you one credit you can spend on a free book (as a student I've taken advantage of this a lot!) and The Way of Kings takes two credits. If you don't have that many credits, it's retailing for about $45, which is a sale price.

That might sound like a lot, and frankly it is. But on the flip side, for the price of dinner and a movie for two, I was listening to this book back and forth to school for a good month.

The Way of Kings is definitely an epic story with several intertwined storylines. Here's the publisher's copy:

Widely acclaimed for his work completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga, Brandon Sanderson now begins a grand cycle of his own, one every bit as ambitious and immersive.

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the 10 consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Wars were fought for them, and won by them. One such war rages on the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where 10 armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.


Having finished the book, I'd say that's a pretty good summary. I'd also add that there are tantalizing hints of other storylines, told in Interludes between the main parts of the book. One of these storylines promises to be very important in the next book, which is the story of the Assassin in White, Szeth. He is probably my favourite character in the book, though Kaladin and Dalinar are tied for second, and I'm really looking forward to seeing more of him.

I understand from listening to Brandon's podcast, Writing Excuses, that there are some pretty extensive maps and illustrations in the book. It's the nature of audiobooks that you don't get the benefit of those pictures. To be honest, I do intend to pick up the hard copy of the book, partly so I can see them. But not having those pictures definitely didn't reduce my enjoyment of the book and I had no trouble understanding anything.

The only real beef I have with the audiobook is the fact that there are two readers. Kate Reading reads the Shallan chapters, and any other scenes that are from the point of view of a woman, which is a nice idea, but it's probably roughly a third of the book or less. Every time it switched from Michael Kramer to Kate Reading, it was a bit jarring to me. And it wasn't like Michael Kramer didn't have to read female voices in his chapters, so I'm not sure why audiobook recorders do this so often.

Even more annoying, there was one scene - just one scene! - where characters that were normally read by Michael Kramer appeared, but it was from the point of view of a woman. Kate Reading did a good job with the reading, but she pronounced some characters' names very differently then Michael Kramer had done. I honestly wish Michael Kramer had read the whole book, because it tossed me out of the story a bit, especially when suddenly SAHDius was being pronounced SedEEus. orz

Despite the two-voice-mispronunciation shenanigans, I thought The Way of Kings was a brilliant, gripping book. It certainly didn't feel like I was listening to it for a solid work week. It just flew by, and while normally I'll give priority to shorter things and mix it up with podcasts as they update before going back to novels, I couldn't wait to pick up The Way of Kings again each day and continue listening.

One of the things I thought was of particular note in this book: Brandon Sanderson handled his worldbuilding like a master. There is a hell of a lot packed into this book, from magical storms, to weird gravity-defying magic systems, to weird spirits called spren that are attracted to pain, rot, intense emotion, and other things. There are thousands of years of history, a dozen different humanoid races, and a host of bizarre plants and animals.

But Brandon doles out the information you need just when you need it, and leaves explanation for later when it's really not necessary. There are many times he mentions something - like shardblades or spren - and doesn't bother to explain what it is right then and there. Over time, the picture is built, and at no time was I confused because he left an explanation of some niggly detail for later.

He builds the world in a really subtle, organic way, until it seems completely real and vibrant, and without a single boring infodump. And in a book this long, with this much packed into it, it's a damn good thing.

I actually got so into it that when it was done, all I wanted to do was just flip right to the beginning and start listening again - which I actually did do for a bit, though I subsequently forced myself to put it down and leave it for later, because I have other things to listen to.

And those other things would actually be Robert Jordan's works. I've never really had interest in them, but now that Brandon Sanderson is writing the books, I'm willing to give them a try. Congratulations, Brandon - you've added a reader to Robert Jordan's epic instead of vice versa. I hope you're proud.

You can get the audiobook version of The Way of Kings by searching for it on audible.com or if that sounds too hard, just click the link here.

If you have a writing-related podcast that you think might interest me and which you'd like me to listen to and review, please drop me a line. You can leave a comment here, or email me at jessicabronstein@gmail.com

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Jessica Steiner

February 2016

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