Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Two stars

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff recently made the rounds as one of the more popular YA novels. I was fortunate to get a copy early. It follows the formula of other successful novelsmultiple characters who takes turns narrating, underdogs, a dystopian future. Unfortunately, I never quite fell in love with it the way other reviewers did. 

The story begins in 2380. The Aurora Academy trains elite cadets and sends them on key missions around the galaxy. Tyler Jones, future squad leader, figures he will get the best team. After all, he is the best. Instead, he misses the draft while out on a rogue mission. He rescues a girl who was comatose for 200 years from an abandoned ship and returns to find his team consists of the “leftovers.” (And his sister. And an ace pilot. But other than them, the leftovers.) 

The plot itself didn’t thrill me but what really bored me the most was the characters. Introducing…

Aurora, AKA Sleeping Beauty. She’s rescued by a handsome prince, possesses epic powers, and spends most of the book freaking out because she’s now over 200 years old. Weak when conscious and strangely powerful when not, her character change occurs abruptly and felt at odds with the story. 

Tyler Jones, AKA Golden Boy. I did not even make that up. His nickname in the book is Golden Boy. He’s a squeaky clean hero with good grades and a good personality and good looks and good friends and good everything. He bored me to tears. He lacked any compelling character traits except, perhaps, possessing an awesome twin sister.

Scarlett Jones, AKA The Flirt. Scarlet is the diplomat of the team and outside of strong loyalty to her brother and flair for fashion, her main character trait is that she has a lot of ex-boyfriends. Oh, and she’s attractive. That’s about it. 

Kal, AKA Drax the Destroyer. Nothing goes over his head! His reflexes are too fast, he would catch it. Also a main love interest which came across really weird. 

Cat, AKA The Friendzone. Her entire personality revolves around the fact that Tyler doesn’t love her. Oh, and she likes flying and tattoos. 

Fin, AKA Never Shuts Up. He’s supposed to be really sarcastic but mostly comes across vulgar. However, to give credit, he probably holds the most depth as far as motivation goes so I get why people like him the most. I personally got annoyed with him.

Zil, AKA ??? She’s a sociopath who I hope plays a bigger role in upcoming books because honestly her character was otherwise useless. 

Besides characters that lack depth, the plot tries too hard to make the reader ship everyone with everyone else (and I do mean everyone with everyone) and it does not work. You need chemistry and some semblance of motivation for your characters. Not general attractiveness. 

Glad I found out what the fuss was about but doubt I’ll read any other books in the series.


All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith

Two stars

Professor Smith started with a question: does Jane Austen’s writing transcend culture and language? To find answers, she traveled in South America for a year and conducted Jane Austen book clubs in Spanish. Her readers ranged from scholarly academics to stay at home moms. 

At least in theory, the idea works well. Better yet, sometimes Professor Smith “lets her hair down” and expresses her frustrations with living abroad. She comes across whiny, cranky, and exhausted. I loved it.

But unfortunately, it does not last. For the most part, All Roads Lead to Austen presents a very careful, very sanitized, and fairly politically correct look at a few reading groups Professor Smith pulled together while traveling around South America. 

The book clubs all sounded the same. It did not matter if they were discussing Pride and PrejudiceSense and Sensibility, or Emma. The same comments about Jane Austen and her applicability to modern audiences get rehashed with the same results and conclusions. While this ought to have been “further proof” of the author’s hypothesis about Austen’s universal applicability, it mostly left me saying, “Yeah, duh.” 

Perhaps because the author is translating conversations that took place in Spanish, or perhaps because her own Spanish was still rather basic, the conversations and commentary all sounded very…juvenile. I think the problem lies with the fact that despite Professor’s Smith optimistic plan to form Austen reading groups across South America, most of her readers are exhausted, regular people who often either didn’t finish the book or just wanted to comment on the movies instead. Does it still make the writing interesting? Sure, but it lacks an academic edge. It turned any “evidence” the book provides about readers and Austen into little more than anecdotes. 

I like what the author tried to do. I just don’t think it worked the way she planned and it falls short of really making much of a difference in the Austen literature. 




Pamela by Samuel Richardson

Two stars (and 592 pages long!)

It took me seven months, but I did it. I survived Pamela. Published in 1735, this book really set the stage for the modern novel. And what a stage it was. 

Allow me to save your precious time:

Pamela, The Short-ish Version: 
Pamela: I am a virtuous maiden!
Pamela’s parents: PAMELA. GUARD YOUR VIRTUE.
Pamela: I must guard my virtue!
Me: Whoah, chillax, dudes. She’s like 15. Stop making a big deal out of her virtue. What’s the worry?
Young Lord: I will take Pamela’s virtue!
Me: Ah, that’s the worry.
Young Lord: * repeatedly makes attempts at Pamela’s virtue * 
Pamela: I must stay strong! 
Young Lord: You’re pretty. You must be a slut.
Young Lord: * dresses like a servant girl and sneaks into Pamela’s bed *
Young Lord: I will have you!
Pamela: * repeatedly barely escapes with her virtue * 
Servants: Oh no! GUARD YOUR VIRTUE.
Pamela: SOME HELP WOULD BE NICE. Woe is me!
Servants: He’s our master. What would you have us do? GUARD YOUR VIRTUE.
Pamela’s parents: If you lose your virtue, we, like, aren’t ever going to talk to you again.
Young Lord: * makes more attempts at Pamela’s virtue *
Young Lord: The servants like you. Somehow you have fooled them all into thinking you are not a slut!
Young Lord: * kidnaps Pamela and locks her away in another house *
Pamela: Alas! Poor me! For I can do nothing! But above all I must preserve my virtue. 
Pamela’s parents: If you lose your virtue, we still won’t ever talk to you again. 
Young Lord: * makes more attempts on Pamela’s virtue *
* this goes on for about 300 pages * 
Young Lord: Well, Pamela! You’ve resisted me. You must be virtuous. I will marry you. 
Young Lord: * under his breath * Haha! Yeah right, slut. I’m going to pretend to marry you but not really.
Pamela: I heard that. Woe is me!
Young Lord: No you didn’t. 
Pamela: Yeah I did. I think maybe I will kill myself instead of giving up my virtue. Woe is me!
Young Lord: Wow, you must really be virtuous. 
Pamela: Ya think? Woe is me!
Young Lord: Okay, you can go home now. 
Young Lord: JK, I want to marry you for real now. I’m sick and can’t leave my bed for love of you.
Pamela: What a coincidence! I love you too! But I am so beneath you!
Me: How is there still 30% of this book to go?????
Young Lord: Beneath me in rank and wealth but not in virtue! 
Me: Duh, you freaking kidnapped her!! Pretty sure you have no virtue. The cow has more virtue than you.
Pamela: If you marry me, I will spend the rest of my life devoted to you for showing such kindness. 
Young Lord: Let’s get married tomorrow.
Pamela: Oh! But as a virtuous maiden, the thought of getting married fills me with shyness! Let’s push it off.
Young Lord: Must we?
Pamela: Just for two weeks.
Young Lord: Two weeks is sooooooooo long.
Pamela: But I’m so shy! 
* This goes on for some time *
Pamela’s Dad: I am here! If Pamela is still virtuous, she can come home with me. If not, I never want to speak to her again. 
Pamela: I’m getting married!
Pamela’s Dad: Cool beans! In that case, have fun, kiddo. Bye. Oh, by the way future son-in-law, thanks for the money!
* Pamela and Young Lord finally freakin’ get married *
Me: Why is there still 20% of this book to go???
Young Lord: Now, Pamela, I shall tell you all the ways you must act and behave to make me a good wife.
Pamela: I love my master so! I will do all you say. 
Young Lord: Always be happy and dress nice and never contradict me or point out my faults or ever talk about my faults to anyone and always tell everyone what a great guy I am. 
Pamela: But these are all exactly what I most wish to do! 
Young Lord: You make a great wife.
Pamela: Oh! I do not deserve your compliments! You are too good! Too kind!
Me: Have we just all agreed to forget about the kidnapping? Attempted rape? etc. etc.?
* insert long and boring plot point about Young Lord’s older sister who hates Pamela but then comes to love her when Pamela takes her side in an argument * 
Young Lord: PAMELA. How DARE you take my sister’s side over mine! You shall leave this house without me.
Pamela: Oh! Don’t make me! I will never not take your side in an argument again.
Young Lord: Oh, okay. You’re forgiven. I guess I can be a bit temperamental. We all have our faults, right? 
Pamela: Oh! But you have none! You are so kind, generous, good, loving, noble! 
Pamela: By the way, you wanted to see all my letters to my parents and friends. Can I mail this one? 
Young Lord: How come you only sign it with your first name? 
Pamela: It seemed too presumptuous to assume you would let me take your last name!
Young Lord: By golly, I like this humility in you. Go ahead and use it. 
Pamela: You are so kind, generous, good, loving, noble!
Young Lord: Oh, btw, remember that one time when I tried to take your virtue? 
Pamela: Oh yeah, why?
Young Lord: Well, once I did the same thing to another girl, but she gave up her virtue and gave me a daughter. And…surprise! Here is the daughter. 
Pamela: Oh! I love her above all things! Let me keep her!
Young Lord: Uh…maybe. Or we could just leave her at the boarding school…
Young Lord: We could have our own kids…
Pamela: Oh! Don’t speak so vulgarly! 
Pamela: Um, dare I ask what happened to your cast off lover? 
Young Lord: Well, I tried to make her my lover again but she fled to Jamaica. Aren’t you thrilled? You don’t need to worry about competition. 
Pamela: I feel kind of bad for her. Had she not succumbed to temptation, she would still have her virtue, like me!
Young Lord: You behave so nobly! How I love you! 
Pamela: And I love you!
Author: I shall now endeavor to tell you what each character means. 
Author: * goes into exhaustive description about what moral lesson each character represents *
Me: * gags repeatedly *

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert

Two stars

Imagine a Hallmark movie sent in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A restaurant owner walks in on her fiance cheating on her. Then a curmudgeonly, British food critic writes a scathing review of her restaurant. She’s newly single and in despair. He’s British and cranky. They meet…she doesn’t know his identity as destroyer of her restaurant…they fall in love over Wisconsin food…

Oh wait, that’s the plot of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert.

Maybe if I did not know Milwaukee I would have taken the book more seriously. As is, I could not keep a straight face, even while hearing about familiar landmarks. Cheese curds are amazing…but not the food of love. Maybe the food of constipation. Brewer games are super fun! But probably not The Best Thing Ever for someone who does not like sports. Etc. Etc. 

The utter drama of the story and the string of lies the hero tells the heroine (combined with the fact that the curmudgeonly food critic who does nothing but sit around his house all day has a six pack…) quickly turned me off. 

The book tries, it really does, but I just could not take it seriously. Still, quite memorable.

Wisconsin Murders by August Derleth

4 stars

Published in 1968, Wisconsin Murders: An Enquiry into Mayhem and Homicide in the Midwest by August Derleth recounts 16 Wisconsin murders, most of which took place in the 1800s. The victims (and murderers) range considerably, from kidnapped children to spurned former lovers to seeming strangers. A surprisingly high number involve poison. The author clearly did his research and frequently quotes from newspapers of the day. Each chapter begins with the murder, names the suspect who eventually went to trial, and concludes with the result of the trial. Sentencing varied considerably, as did claims of guilt, innocence, or insanity. 

I personally found the author the best part of the book. The maxim ‘guilty until proven innocent’ clearly did not appeal much to him. ‘Guilty and anyone who says different doesn’t know what they are talking about including the misguided jury’ might be a better term. He frequently spurns psychologists and the insanity plea, mocks “modern” criminal justice reform, and bewails the lack of a death penalty in Wisconsin. You really have to appreciate his out and out gumption while reading. (That or you won’t make it far.) 

While a strong variety, this is a very random collection of murders and I really wonder what the criteria for inclusion were. 

Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

4 stars

Short version: Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews promises—and delivers—an action packed, paranormal novel with a strong female lead.

Plot: Dina Demille runs an inn. To her neighbors, she presents the picture of respectability. (Well, mostly.) But her guests know otherwise. Dina runs an inn for paranormal creatures: aliens, werewolves, vampires, you name it. As an innkeeper, she possesses incredible powers in order to keep her guests safe and Earthlings from finding out about their extraterrestrial neighbors. Usually, her biggest concern involves getting enough guests to make ends meet. But that all changes when a dangerous predator comes hunting near her inn…

Thoughts: I don’t normally read paranormal novels and Ilona Andrews (actually a husband-wife writing team) can get kind of sketchy. But this one pleasantly surprised me. Dina is a truly fascinating character. Like many modern heroines, she possesses great power. Unlike them, her power comes with a severe limit: she basically has none once she leaves the inn. Her role as innkeeper also places her in a position as a truly neutral character. She must protect both the good and bad guests who check into her inn. 

The neutrality gets played up more as the series continues with some fascinating results. Unfortunately, the next two books throw in a romance that left me underwhelmed and distracted from the cool power plays. It will be interesting to see how Book 4 goes. I think it follows Dina’s sister. (Another kick-butt female heroine.) 

200 Books!

I finished my 200th book for 2019 on Friday! I got a major head start on the number while in Thailand and slowed down over the summer. I expected to hit 200 sooner.

To celebrate, and because I’m gone this coming week and don’t want to worry about blogging every day, I’ll be posting a “2-4 star” book review every day for the next few days. In other words, these are the books that won’t make it on my end-of-the-year 1 and 5 star lists, but I still find notable. 

I’ll even give you an advanced look so you know which ones to come back for:

Monday: Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Tuesday: Wisconsin Murders: An Enquiry into Mayhem and Homicide in the Midwest by August Derleth

Wednesday: The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert

Thursday: Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson

Friday: All Roads Lead to Austen: A Year-long Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith

Saturday: Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff