Media week in review

In an attempt to branch out from posting about only books, I'm going to try to use isiscolo's weekly post format of what I'm currently reading/watching/playing.

What I'm currently reading

I decided to bite the $1.99 bullet and get the third LitRPG Fjorgyn book. Its editing is a little worse than the previous two, but I suspect I'm going to get my money's worth from it.

What I'm currently watching

I finally gave The Man in the High Castle a chance (well technically, a second chance) and this time it totally hooked me. I watched the first nine (of ten) eps of season one in two days. I told myself I wouldn't marathon it, it's too heavy for that, but here I am.

I tried it once before, but hadn't even gotten through the first ep. Often times I want a show that I can just watch in the background while doing other stuff, and High Castle is NOT that kind of show.

What is that kind of show? Big Bang Theory. That has 12 season, 24 eps per season, and I've watched it from beginning to end six times now. Every time I hit the last ep, I just start over from season one again. It's really a perfect 'keep on in the background' show. I keep expecting to get sick of it, but so far nope (other than the themesong, I'm starting to hate that).

I'm also watching The Great Australian Bake-Off, which is a mirror copy of the British version. I finished the Canadian version a week or two back. All three are exactly the same. The hosts/judges are different people, but they fill the same roles, so it's basically the same show.

What I'm currently playing

FFXIV continues to be my MMO of choice. I've been playing it about six years now. If I'm home, I'm logged in, even if I'm not actively playing. Like now. I'm making this post, chatting on Discord, and have a show in the background.

Unfortunately I got drawn back into Candy Crush. Which would be fine, if it didn't eat into my reading time. It's way too easy to go from "I'll just play a moment now and then" to me spending all my pre-sleep reading time on it.

My other phone game of choice is at least not addictive. Jurassic World Alive. Basically Pokemon Go with dinosaurs (but a much better game).
Book with cat 1

Book #72 of 2019: Visser

Visser by K. A. Applegate
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

Even though I finished the Animorphs series months ago, there were a few "extras" books I never read. This is one of them.

First off: The cover is very misleading. The whole book was about Visser One, but that's Three on the cover. (And we won't even talk about the quality of that cover...)

I think I can better appreciate these extra books now that I've read so much fanfic, but it also underscores that good fanfic can make a much much better story of this material than the books themselves.

This story was an interesting look at the first stages of the Yeerk invasion of the Earth, told through the lens of a military trial being held against Visser One herself.

The whole Animorphs series always seems odd to be YA/MG. It's too mature, too dark. This book was especially so. Not just the horrible physical injuries (imagine being on trial for your life while in a body with multiple unhealed broken bones), not just the psychological torture (imagine having an alien control your body, get you pregnant, force you to have children), not just torture-torture (imagine being forced to shoot your own child)... but all of those in one book. A book meant for young readers.

More than all those things... when Visser One said she'd put a Yeerk into her daughter's head to make the child love her? Man.

This really was one of the best Animorph books. I just wish it had been longer.
Book with cat: On stack

Book 70 and 71 of 2019: A Rebel Rises (Fjorgyn #1), The Deep Below (Fjorgyn #2)

LitRPG books (ones about people trapped inside a video game) should be a perfect match for me, but unfortunately it's all so badly written, so male-centric and anti-women, it's the opposite of a good match. An author of a series (not Fjorgyn) used this as his about-the-author blurb. It pretty much perfectly sums up why most LitRPG is so bad:

Just an average guy. No seriously that is all I am. Okay fine I love RPG's, video games and similar things. Yes that includes LITRPG's, why wouldn't it. Yes I have joined the Facebook page for LITRPG. No I won't sign you arm? Why? Because I'm not like that go away.

What was that miss? Sign your breast, well yes of course!

Filled with grammar and writing issues, and misogynistic to the max. In most of them, the main character is so overpowered it's no fun to read. In almost all of them, women get naked (literally) and throw themselves at the main character for zero reason. Nothing but male masturbatory fantasy.

While not perfect, the Fjorgyn falls into few of the usual LitRPG traps.

Its main character is a gay man. I've never seen a LitRPG with a single (non-joke) gay character, let alone main character.

While the main character is stronger than everyone else, is better than everyone, at least he's coming into his powers slower (across two books so far), so it feels more reasonable.

Like seemingly every single other LitRPG book, the MC is a unique race that no one else in the game world can be. Again, it took two books to get there, so it feels... mostly reasonable. I don't like it, but I can go along with it.

The series' game world setting is the best part about it. There's way too much 'game info'. Leveling up each spell or power gives at least a paragraph about it (nothing interesting, "does #% more damage! Takes X seconds to cast!" stuff like that). Sometimes there were multiple pages of nothing but leveling up info -- completely unimportant to the story. But I like how the game works and I especially like that areas (like a town) can be leveled up.

The biggest downside of the series is the characters. After two books, I can't name one single trait about the main character. He's a good leader, I guess? I know that only because his leadership skill keeps leveling up. He's in a relationship with another man, which usually would be a big positive, but as I feel nothing for either of them, it's just kind of... meh.

Since I didn't stop and write a review after the first book, they've kind of run together in my head, so the above info can be the review for them both.

There's a third book out. I might get it, but I'm not sure yet. Probably. Maybe.

A Rebel Rises (Fjorgyn #1) by R.J. Castiglione
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

The Deep Below (Fjorgyn #2) by R.J. Castiglione
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

Did not finish books

Bazaar of Dreams (Stephen King) 14% - I read the first four short stories, and none of them worked for me. One was scary, but even for that one, the resolution made no sense. The other three were pointless, more "slice of life" stories than anything else.
Root (John Ancock) 17% - The author had an agenda. He put his politics in the About the Author section, then his main character spouted the same things.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in these books: 14 + 17 = 31%
Previous abandoned book total: 666%
New total: 697% (6 books)
Book with cat 1

Book #69 of 2019 The Hork-Bajir Chronicles (Animorphs) / 2019 book: Keeper of the Books

The Hork-Bajir Chronicles by K. A. Applegate
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Liked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

I bet you thought I was done with Animorphs books! There were a few additional stories outside the main plotline, and I had skipped them at the time I was reading the series. I kept hearing such good things about this one, I picked it up.

This one was written by Michael Grant, and it shows. He said of this book: "Hork-Bajir Chronicles was neat because it was basically a Vietnam parable. We even incorporated a version of the famous line, 'We had to destroy the village in order to save it.' HBC was history and politics and philosophy snuck into a kids' book about monsters in trees."

This was one of the best books in the series, and I'm glad I came back to read it. I really disturbingly realistic look at war, especially hopeless ones.

The plot follows two young aliens, one Hork-Bajir and the other Andalite, as they try to drive back the first wave of Yeerks arriving on the Hork-Bajir planet. How do you fight something that takes over the body of your people and uses your people against you? How do you fight an enemy completely willing to slaughter noncombatants? Answer: You don't, not well. You do your best to hold on as long as you can and cause as much trouble as you are able.

The whole story felt so realistic and believable. I suspect I wouldn't have pinpointed it as being about the Vietnam War if I hadn't known that going in, but that's only because of my limited knowledge of that war.

A very enjoyable read! I'll probably go back and read the others I've skipped.

Keeper of the Books by Asher Elliot, Jason D. Morrow
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

Not the worst book I ever read, but flat and didn't hold my interest. Writing wasn't bad, wasn't good. Dialogue was bad. Characters didn't seem real at all. Descriptions were okay. Plot seemed like a typical Western if you're into that.

In the 6% I read, a bounty hunter tracked down and caught two brothers who did all sorts of crimes, the latest one stealing a magical book that "makes people disappear" (I assume pulling people into a different world).

Not worth continuing.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in this book: 6%
Previous abandoned book total: 660%
New total: 666% (6 books) That's a lot of sixes!
Book with cat: hugging book

Book #68 of 2019: The Scavengers

The Scavengers by Michael Perry
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Liked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

The first third of this book was some of the best reading I did all year.

Set in the near future, everything happening right now (global warming, scary political stuff) has gotten worse. Fear mongering has driven most of the American population to live in "bubble cities". Kept safe. Jobs for everyone. Food for everyone. Healthcare for everyone. But all that comes with a price.

CornVivia, a massive agriculture company, has geneteched its corn to be the perfect food for everyone, and to cure basically any illness. But to get those benefits, you need an injection. That injection makes you unable to eat anything other than their corn, and if you can't get any of it, you turn into sort of a zombie (not dead or undead, but otherwise people act just like zombies).

A few people saw through all that, and chose not to go live in the bubble cities. Maggie (or Ford Falcon as she renames herself) is one of those people. She and her family live out in the non-bubble world, fighting the corn-zombies, wild animals, and trying to keep themselves fed.

The first third of the book was all wonderful, wonderful worldbuilding. Then the author gave a massive info dump, which lead to the plot of the book. While I loved the first third, the info dump was a bit much, and the plot wasn't bad at all, but... I liked the worldbuilding part best.

I really can't say enough about how well all the worldbuilding was handled. Emily Dickinson/poetry, a whole new language, "Patriotic Partnership", word-play, a whole new way to handle money/banking when the US dollar has no value. Jobs that could be held after the world changed so much. It was all so good.

This is a middle grade book, but other than Maggie's age (preteen), there's no way I'd have guessed it was meant for younger readers. The best MG and YA books are like that: Perfect for adult readers, too.

Random thing I didn't like: The bad guys were so cartoony. One was very overweight, the other was ugly. In a story where every other character was realistic, they were flat and straight out of some cartoon.

Random thing I liked: This is a stand-alone book! Not the start of a trilogy or series! How rare is that nowadays? I really, really liked all the unanswered questions.
Book with cat: On stack

2019 books: The Ghost Seekers, The Bloodwolf War, The Fishing Widow

The Ghost Seekers (The Soul Keepers) by Devon Taylo
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Hated (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

This was one of my most looked forward to books of the year, and sadly it completely didn't work for me.

In the first book we met the crew of dead people (mostly teens) who traveled the world in a 'ghost ship' (ship of the dead) to save the souls of newly dead people.

The first 10% of this book was one long action scene, complete with a car chase. Yawn. I tried to stick with the story, since I had enjoyed the first book, but my attention kept wandering and so I stopped reading at the 27% point. Sad.

The Bloodwolf War (The Equinora Chronicles Book 1) by Paula Boer
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

Positive elements of this book:
- A "talking animals" story -- my favorite!
- The horses were 100% realistic. I fully believed them as horses. Yay!

The negatives:
- The story was completely unoriginal. If you switched out the horses for human characters, I've read this story a million times. (One young kid/colt was chosen to save the whole world, turned out to have a surprising bloodline, reluctant hero, picks up other people to help him on his quest...)
- The fantasy element. With such realistic horses, unicorns were jarring.

Stopped reading at 57%.

The Fishing Widow by Amy K Marshall
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

This was the very oldest book on my Kindle. The writing completely didn't work for me (book was set on a boat, but the author didn't write in a way that non-ship people would be able to just get lost in the story). Also, the book was horror, and I don't enjoy horror. (How did it get onto my Kindle? I think it was one of those free monthly giveaway books from the publisher.) Stopped reading at 2%.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in these books: 27 + 57 + 2 = 86%
Previous abandoned book total: 574%
New total: 660% (6 books)
Book with cat: hugging book

Book #67 of 2019: How to Defeat a Hero: A Novel (The Henchman's Survival Guide Book 2)

How to Defeat a Hero: A Novel (The Henchman's Survival Guide Book 2) by J Bennett
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

Set in the future, the world is a mess. Most people need an escape of some kind. The same ones we have now: drugs, gaming, reality TV, etc, but all of them amped up to the max.

Big Little City is one of many reality TV-based zones. It's a whole city that lives in a reality TV superheroes setting. Everyone is a hero or a villain or trying to become one. The most successful people in the city have a TV show made about them, but every show is constantly in danger of being canceled if the hero or villain doesn't keep their ratings high enough.

As in the first book of this series, the author does a GREAT job of world building. Everything, including language, is used to show that the story takes place in a different time. The language evolved in such a natural, believable way.

The one small element I didn't like was the use of special pronouns (zir/zer). Having a third, fully accepted gender (nonbinary) felt kind of like shoehorning RL inclusive stuff into a fantasy story. I'm sure some people loved that it was included, but it repeatedly knocked me out of the story.

All of the characters, from main to minor, were great. Even in a story about heroes and villain, no one was black/white, they were all just people who were doing what they needed to to survive.
Book with cat 5

Book #66 of 2019: The Farm

The Farm by Matt Moss
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Okay(Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

Sometimes it's hard to review a book honestly. On his website the author wrote about how he wants to give up his day job and support his family on his writing alone. I'd love to be able to tell everyone to go buy this book now and support him, but man, it had so many issues.

The story opened with five men standing on a farm. They had no idea how they got there, who they were, where the farm was, or anything. I loved that. They were nearly complete blank slates, other than some mild personality traits. I love stories like that.

The problem was with where the story went from there. As more and more of their personalities came out, I disliked all of the characters. As characters are usually why I enjoy stories, that was a big issue. Every single character, from main to minor, was completely unlikable.

As more of the story unfolded, I believed it less and less. The logic of the story made so little sense, and I really didn't believe most of the characters' actions.

There was another issue that is harder to explain. The story felt more like a "male fantasy" than something female readers could enjoy as well. It was so action movie-ish at times (not that women can't enjoy those) and the two minor female characters were literally only there for the enjoyment of the men. Literally. That's why they existed in the world. There was one throw-away line about the women enjoying themselves in the kitchen while the men played games. Sure, what woman wouldn't have fun cooking snacks and serving drinks to men while they played? They were also the only female characters in the whole book. (Edit: Most of the AI interfaces were sexy woman. As in "sexiest woman the main character ever saw" and they fell instantly into "lust" with them. Those AIs were, of course, there to serve the men as well.)

By the last 10% of the book, I was just skimming. I just didn't believe the plot enough, I just wanted it to be finished.

While edited better than average for a self-published book, there were still a number of typos, spelling errors, grammar issues, etc. Not enough for me to stop reading, but enough to be noticeable.

I went from loving it in the beginning to hating it by the end, so I averaged the rating out to okay. I'm tempted to go with disliked instead, but I really had enjoyed the beginning a lot.
Book with cat 2

Book #65 of 2019: The Collapsing Empire | 2019 book: Magyk

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency Book 1) by John Scalzi
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

As much as I like Scalzi's writing, his books are very hit-and-miss for me.

Set in the far distant future, all of humanity lives in space. Spread across various worlds, they're all connected by the "Flow". Picture a river through space with a limited amount of locations you can enter/leave it, a river that flows to each of those worlds.

All that is well and good, I'd enjoy that much of the story, but the book was about political conflict between the Houses that control all the trade and stuff. Political intrigue, fighting, etc. Completely not my cup of tea. It was sort of like Game of Thrones set in space, but with 1000% more political correctness.

I finished this book, but I won't be continuing with the two others in the series. It wasn't at all a bad story, it just wasn't a good match for my tastes.

Magyk (Septimus Heap, Book 1) by Angie Sage
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

This book did the most annoying thing ever. It bolded the important words. I guess so that there would be no chance you miss what was important. But it was so distracting to read.

The story, about a magical baby, seemed like it was okay, but the bolding made it impossible to read. I stopped reading at the 9% point. I only got that far because of how short the book was.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in this book: 9%
Previous abandoned book total: 565%
New total: 574% (5 books)