The Martian and the 2016 Reading Challenge

I really fell off the 2015 Reading Challenge bandwagon there, but I figure since there’s still a couple weeks left, I could probably get another book or two read before the end of the year. I’m a little bummed that I only got 25 of the 50 books read, but a book a week is pretty ambitious when you have three young kids, are trying to get your writing career off the ground, and get caught up into a writing competition for half the year.


I have to admit, I was tempted to get an early start on the 2016 Reading Challenge, since 2015 is nearly over. However, it feels like cheating to read something off the 2016 list when it fits the 2015 list first.

So I’ve got at least one more review for the 2015 Reading Challenge. The Martian by Andy Weir fits as “A book set in the future.” I picked it up off the “Most Wanted” display at my library, which is a special place where they put up a copy or two of extremely popular books in high demand. You can’t reserve the copies that are “Most Wanted,” so sometimes you can get lucky and get books faster than waiting for them on reserve.


I know a movie came out a couple months ago based on the book and I heard a lot of good things about it, but I’m generally pretty strict when it comes to books being turned into a movie. I like to read the books first before seeing them on screen. Since the movie’s due out on DVD in about a month, it seemed like the perfect time to read the book.

I started reading The Martian the other night before bed and finally just had to force myself to close it so I could sleep. Picked it up during breakfast and found myself unable to put it down until I finished it around noon.

So you could probably tell that I loved The Martian. I’m not the biggest fan of sci-fi books (different story if we’re talking movies), but there are a few that catch my interest now and again. The Martian can easily be summed up as “Robinson Crusoe on Mars.” I loved Robinson Crusoe as a kid, and I generally like survival type stories of that nature.

In The Martian, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead in a freak accident as his crew mates have to abandon their 31 day mission on Mars’ surface. Trapped on the red planet in a temporary base that’s supposed to support six astronauts for only 31 days and with no way to communicate with NASA, Watney has to figure out how to survive until the next Mars mission arrives… about four years later.

Most of the book is narrated by Mark Watney in logs that he’s recording in the Hab. Every so often the POV changes to his departed crew mates or the folks back on Earth, plus a few other fun POV switches that really make you sit up and take notice.

Mark is a funny guy and the jokes he makes throughout his long stay on Mars keep the mood a little light even when it’s gotten serious. Just when you think the guy is catching a break, Mars throws another monkey wrench into things and keeps you turning page after page.

Not sure if I’ll manage another book before the end of the year. Once that calendar turns over to 2016, I’ll jump onto my new challenge.

So here’s my invitation to you. Check out the 2016 Reading Challenge and let me know if you’ll join me in it. With 10 books less than last year, this should be easier to achieve. Also, if you know of any great books that fit in any of the categories, drop me a comment. With 40 book categories to choose from, I’m sure some of you have great ideas on what I should read over the coming year.

 

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Firefight

This has been a frustrating week for me in the writing department. Found myself incredibly challenged by my posts for Mossflower Odyssey III, though I’ve gotten a huge amount of help from one cast member in particular (you know who you are!). I did find myself taking little mental breaks for the sake of my sanity by reading through one of the books I had on hold at the library. I wasn’t sure if Firefight by Brandon Sanderson would check off a category on my 2015 Reading Challenge, but given the number of times it made me giggle, I figured it could qualify as “A funny book.”


Firefight is the sequel to Steelheart, which I read and reviewed earlier this year for the challenge. It’s the continuing story of David and his fight against the Epics. However, due to events that happened in Steelheart, David is now unsure of his original assessment of “All Epics are evil and must die.” He’s sure there’s a way to make Epics goods. He’s just got to figure it out.

David and some of the Reckoners team go to Babilar (formerly New York City) with plans to take out the Epics known as Obliteration and Regalia, and everyone on the team also wants to do away with a former ally, an Epic named Firefight.

While not quite as good as Steelheart, Firefight still was a great story and had it’s usual set of twists by Sanderson that left me squealing. Plus there are David’s terrible analogies (like a catapult that shoots enormous grapes) and a character named Mizzy who’s an absolute hoot (particularly in the scene where she gets ‘scribe duties’).

Overall, a fun book and another great one by Sanderson!

As soon as I have the craziness that is Week 6 of Redwall Survivor behind me, I’ll be tackling “A mystery or thriller.” My little sister recommended House by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker.

Anyone else out there still chugging away at the challenge?

Sand

The 2015 Reading Challenge should have bonus points for random book grabs or something. I went to the library with my kids the other day in order to pay off the *cough* $15 *cough* worth of fines I managed to accrue while reading through The Obsidian Trilogy. I had a couple books in mind to grab, but found none of them on the shelves. In slight desperation, I checked the New Releases section and found Sand by Hugh Howey. I remembered that one category I still had to read was “A book with a one-word title”. So I grabbed it.


Sand has a very post-apocalyptic feel to it. Near as I could tell, it’s set in Colorado, which has been transformed into a vast desert due to whatever calamity happened. The story follows a set of four siblings who, for the most part, are very knowledgeable in using diving gear.

Yes, I know. Desert and diving gear should not be in the same plot line. Bear with me…

The diving gear that Palmer, Vic, Conner, and Rob use is special technology that can manipulate the sand into behaving like water (or make it more solid). Divers will go down in the sand, looking for ruins of the civilization that was before the calamity. Artifacts like bikes, coffee makers, and coins are brought up and repaired and sold in the towns. But, just like in water diving, you have to take tanks of air with you and there are all sorts of difficulties that come from diving too deep.

Piecing together the mystery of the area, what they’re looking for, and the overall story was great. As far as the character’s go, I really enjoyed Palmer, though Vic was definitely a multifaceted character. There’s more crude humor and sexual stuff than I generally like in my books, which was the biggest turn off for me.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the story and I’m adding Hugh Howey to my list of stuff to read more of when this challenge is over.

In the next couple of days, I’ll be reviewing Firefight by Brandon Sanderson as “A funny book”.

The Obsidian Trilogy 

Well, that took a LOT longer than anticipated. When I chose The Obsidian Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, I didn’t expect that it would take me all summer to get through them. Now I’m way overdue to get these back to the library (hello, library fines…), but I finally finished the series last night.

Overall, I wasn’t thrilled with the series. The first book was the most interesting, in my opinion. The second and third books really seemed to drag, with the exception of the last 1/3 of When Darkness Falls.

The series mostly follows a young human named Kellen, who is the son of the Arch-Mage of the great human city of Armethaliah. Kellen has been training for years to become a High Mage like his father, but he’s failed miserably. When he finds three mysterious books in the marketplace that seem to detail something called Wild Magic, his life changes forever. Kellen’s study of Wild Magic results in him being banished from the city. There, he meets a snarky Unicorn named Shalkan who helps him to survive and meet another Wild Mage. During his adventures Kellen learns of the Demons, who are trying to once more conquer the world above, and learns why he never could get the hang of High Magic.

The world created by Lackey and Mallory is a good one. There are three different major magics in the world: High Magic, Wild Magic, and the Dark Arts. Each magic system has a price attached to it for the working of the magic. The history behind the world is fascinating and each race is so incredibly different. I particularly liked the Elves with their love of tea, beauty, and insanely polite manners (where it is considered downright rude to ask a direct question). I would have liked to see more of the Centaurs.

I’m hoping for a trip to the library today, where I will pick up another book for the 2015 Reading Challenge (possibly “A mystery or thriller”). By this point, I’m unfortunately very far behind and I’m not sure I’ll be able to catch up in the midst of all my other projects. I’m still going to try, though. I’ve completed 21 of the 50 books on the list. Can I read 29 books in the next 4 months? Heh, I guess we’ll find out.

Speaking of the challenge, does anyone have a good recommendation for “A book with a number in the title”? I’m having trouble narrowing that category down?

A Hiccup in the Giddy-up

So last week, I finally got around to writing a review for The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa. I had it all ready to go up, hit the Publish button, and found out that my internet was down. Stuff happened, called the internet company, didn’t have net access for a couple hours, then continued on with my day. By the time I had my internet access back, I’d shut the computer down, forgetting that I had a review that hadn’t gone up.

And hadn’t been saved, as I found out later.

Unfortunately, the book has been returned to the library and my brain is so fried right now that I can’t remember much about what I said. So I’m afraid there won’t be much of a review. I found it about as interesting as the first book in that series had been, but honestly, I can’t remember more than that.

In other news, the next category I’m tackling in my 2015 Reading Challenge is “A trilogy”. I’m currently working through The Obsidian Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory. It’s been slow going. I think I’ve been so mentally distracted by Redwall Survivor that I’m not getting along with any of my other projects.

If you haven’t checked out Mossflower Odyssey III: The Lost Treasure of Captain Blade yet, be sure you do. Round 3 has just started (and I’m still in!) and the story has been incredibly fun. I’m having a blast with the cast and the reviews I’ve received for my posts have been incredibly encouraging and beneficial to both my writing for the competition and my writing in general.

Oh, and since one of the cast mentioned it, here’s a little shout out to the cast member who admitted that he found my blog when doing a search for the competition. *waves*

Hit me up in the comments if you’re following along with The Lost Treasure of Captain Blade. Let me know who your favorite character is from this year’s cast.

The Land of the Silver Apples

A while back, I got the rare opportunity to go to the library without my 3 girls. Since I was not preoccupied with keeping an energetic 4-year-old under control and twin infants from fussing, I had the time to meander through the aisles and look for  “A book based entirely on its cover.” Easier said than done, because for a while, nothing really jumped out to me. Then I spotted this one on the end of a shelf in the YA section.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big fan of the color purple, which is probably what caught my eye first. Then it was just the overall prettiness of the background and my curiosity about the symbol just under the author’s name. Of course, since this was the sequel to The Sea of Trolls, I knew I’d have to read that one first.

The Land of the Silver Apples again follows Jack the apprentice bard. Once again, Jack is off to rescue his sister, who this time has been captured by the Lady of the Lake. Jack’s northman friend Thorgil returns to help/bash anything she can, while the new character of Pega adds a certain sweetness to the story that I appreciated. Then there’s the new character of Brutus, who I wanted to beat over the head with his shiny sword…

This time, Nancy Farmer goes into a whole different set of legends, bringing forth hobgoblins, kelpies, yarthkins, and elves. While interesting, The Land of the Silver Apples doesn’t flow as seamlessly as it’s prequel did, but the story is still fun. The direction Nancy Farmer takes with the Pictish symbols (one of which is included on the cover) is interesting and I found her little list of symbols in the back of the book to be quite fascinating.

One thing this series had definitely done is make me more interested in looking into the history and lore of the Saxon time period. As I mentioned in my last review, I have a particular fondness for anything Saxon from my involvement in the SCA, but I obviously did not learn as much history about that time period as I should have. Should I ever get back into the SCA (and I would like to), I’ll have new information to bring to my persona.

Next week, I’ll be reviewing The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa for “A book with a love triangle.”

The Sea of Trolls

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer is “A book by an author you’ve never read before” mainly because the sequel caught my eye for “A book based entirely on its cover,” which I will review next time.

Because I determined to read the sequel, I picked up The Sea of Trolls without having a clue about what it’s about. Usually, I’ll read the blurb on the back or inside cover and often I read the first paragraph of a book to see if it catches my attention. I didn’t do any of that with this book. I just grabbed it and added it to the pile of books that waited for me to finish The Three Musketeers.

The Sea of Trolls is a YA fantasy set in 793 A.D. and follows the adventures of Jack, a Saxon farmer’s son. Jack is apprenticed to the Bard, a druid, and begins learning magic when Northmen attack and take Jack and his little sister Lucy away. Jack must use his little magic and his wits to keep his sister and himself safe from Picts, crazy Northmen, trolls, and numerous other nasties.

I was delighted the moment I realized that Jack was a Saxon, because a few years back, my husband and I were pretty active in our local SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) group. Both of us selected Saxon personas and I’ve had a fondness for Saxon history ever since. Nancy Farmer has a lot of historical tidbits tossed in. The different food and clothing is woven in well, giving you a taste of the different time period and culture without bogging things down.

Nancy Farmer really did a nice job of balancing history with the myth and legend of the time. Catholic Christianity, Druidic, and Norse religion are all represented and while I disagree with the Bard that all religions are true, the idea allowed for the story to weave in a lot of interesting conflict.

The story itself wasn’t spectacular, but it was fun in it’s own way. The last few pages of the book are dedicated to explaining some of the history and references that Nancy Farmer used in the book, adding to the educational value of the book itself.

I’ll be reviewing the sequel to this book, The Land of the Silver Apples, next time as “A book based entirely on its cover.”