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(Art by hamburger.)
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 #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.
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)
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica George
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

A retelling of some fairy tale, I believe the same one Beauty and the Beast was based off of. A poor girl is stolen away by a talking polar bear, taken to a castle to live in for a year, but because women are weak willed and cannot help themselves, she doomed a prince to a horrible life.

I loved this book in the beginning, but the longer I read it, the less I enjoyed it. The turning point was this:

Trapped in the castle, every night a strange man got into the girl's bed. Unsurprisingly, she had issues with this. She tried to avoid sleeping in the bed, but he kept carrying her back. There were no lights, so she couldn't see who it was. Because she could not just accept that fact, because she was all sneaky and snuck a light in to see who it was, the stranger (polar bear in human form, a cursed prince) was doomed to marry a horribly ugly troll woman.

If she had only just accepted a stranger in her bed for a whole year, everything would have ended well!!!!!

The lesson of this book pisses me off to much. All the problems in the book were caused by her being unable to accept a stranger climbing into her bed every night. (I know fairy tales are old, I know the lessons in it are dated, but the author chose to write this book based on it.)

If I were rating just the latter half of the book, I'd rate it hated, but I did enjoy the first fifth or so of it, so going with disliked instead.

Space Is Just a Starry Night by Tanith Lee
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

It always feels odd when a famous author's books don't work for me. I think this is the first thing I've read by Lee, but I just didn't enjoy it at all. Wiki said critics described her writing as "use of rich poetic prose" which really also sums up why I didn't like it. It was so wordy, I would have described it as nearly purple, I just wanted her to get to the point of her sentences.

Stopped reading at 11%.

The Beginning (Dark Paladin Book #1) by Vasily Mahanenko
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Dislike (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

LitRPG still makes me so sad. It should be a completely perfect match for my tastes (people trapped in a video game), but almost without exception, they're nothing but poorly written, poorly edited, macho male fantasies. And so, a year or so back, I culled all the LitRPG off my Kindle. Or so I thought. Now and then I discover one I missed, like this one.

I really should have just deleted it, but instead I gave it a chance. In the 2% I read it actually had no typos/editing issues (wonder of wonders!), but it was still not a match for my tastes and I stopped reading.

Amusingly, like so much LitRPG, this one was translated from Russian. (Why is the lion's share of LitRPG by Russian authors?) In the middle of a conversation (in English), the main character said to himself something like "It's amazing how descriptive the Russian language is". Gave me quite a laugh.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in these books: 11% + 2%
Previous abandoned book total: 552%
New total: 565% (5 books)
I can't go back more than 100 posts in my friends list. On the second page (of 50 posts), there's only a 'next 50' which moves me to the more current posts, or a 'back to the top' post. If I edit the URL myself to make it skip back more, I end up with a blank page.

I haven't seen an LJ news post in ages, so maybe I unfriended them by mistake somehow.

Is this a new thing? I was trying to find an older post...


Guild of Tokens: Novice by Jon Auerbach (Removed from Amazon, so Goodreads link.)
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Disliked(Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

I dropped this one pretty fast. The story opened with some guy in love with a beautiful girl, so he did "romantic" things like sitting in a car outside her house and work so he could learn her patterns, then "just happening" to run into her places, of course not telling her the truth about what he was doing. It was the most disturbing, stalker-ish behavior, and the book played it off as him being "romantic" and putting all this effort into her. It was not at all pleasant to read, so I abandoned the book at 5%.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in this books: 5%
Previous abandoned book total: 547%
New total: 552% (5 books)

Misfit Pack by Stephanie Foxe
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

I rarely say this but: My review of this book shouldn't be given much weight.

I really, really hate urban fantasy. This was urban fantasy, thus it was a poor match for me.

I have no idea why I dislike UF so much. I'm fine with dragons, dinosaurs, kids who can turn into animals to fight an alien invasion, but elves, trolls, werewolves, etc living in neighborhoods is my believability line in the sand? Makes no sense, but that's just how I feel.

The story was fine. The characters were fine. If the setting had been something other than urban fantasy, I probably would have enjoyed it. But as it stands, I read the whole book with a frowny "I don't like this" feeling.

If you're okay with urban fantasy, you'd probably enjoy this book.
The Beginning (Animorphs, #54) by K.A. Applegate
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Okay -- it's complicated (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

The first half of this last book was great. It looked at the impact of the war on all these kids. What happens to the "bad guys" (Yeerks). What happens to the other aliens. I loved it and believed it, especially how Jake changed once the war was over. Or how he didn't change, as the case may be. Some kids were able to leave what happened and what they did behind, and some could not.

Though this was a YA book, it pulled no punches on the morality of acts done during war. Cassie, the pacifist, speaking to a Yeerk, about Jake's act of genocide.

"Jake did what he had to do."
"Did he? Someone flushed the Yeerk pool into space. Did he have to do that, too? They were unhosted Yeerks. They were harmless."
"We needed a div —" I stopped myself.
"A what? A what did you need? A diversion? You're going to tell me you needed a diversion so Jake massacred seventeen thousand sentient creatures? A diversion?"

But unfortunately, and somewhat bogglingly, the book didn't end there. The whole second half of the book started a new adventure. An unfortunately not very believable one. *announcer voiceover* Animorphs In SPACE!

Worse than the ending being pointless and unbelievable, it ended on a cliffhanger. The whole series, ended in the middle of an action scene.

I suppose young readers wouldn't have been satisfied with the ending at the halfway point of the book. There was no action, it was too thoughtful. Perhaps young readers don't want "realistic impacts of war".

But man, for an older reader? The latter half of the book ending SUCKED.

Eight hours or so later: I've had time to think on the end of the book, as well as to read others' reviews. While I still dislike the latter half of the book, I understand the point of it. As unbelievable as it is, it sort of gives a happy ending for Jake, since he's a man unable to leave war behind. I just wish the author had been able to do it in some other way.

The first half of the book was so great though. The author said she wanted a realistic look at a war, and she completely succeeded at that in this series.

Rating for first half of the book: Loved
Rating for second half: Disliked (or "hated" if I'm being honest, but that pains me to write)
I averaged it to: Okay


I went back to check my ratings for the whole series.

Loved: 12
Liked: 17
Okay: 7
Disliked: 14
Hated: 7

I read three of those extra Chronicles/Megamorphs books, and of them 1 I hated and 2 I disliked (included in the count above). That's why I'm kind of unenthusiastic about reading the ones I skipped.

I kind of thought my overall ratings would be higher. 29 books were liked/loved, 21 were disliked/hated.

Was the series worth reading? Yeah. Even with issues, it was. Even with the sometimes silliness, it was nicely dark and often realistic. It was also interesting (and somewhat boggling) to see what could be gotten away with in YA books. I actually want to reread the whole series right now.

Elementals: Ice Wolves by Amie Kaufman
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

This was an odd book. I loved the setting and the worldbuilding. I loved the characters. But the story didn't hold my interest at all. More than any book before, every page or so I had to go back and reread, because my mind had wandered from the story.

Set in a fantasy world, a few humans have the power to shapeshift into animals. Each land has two animals that can be shapeshifted into. In the country this story is set in, people can transform into wolves or dragons. In his case, the two groups are at war.

There was so much interesting about this story. I loved how different the wolf and dragon cultures were. I think the issue was that the main character (a child) made really stupid mistakes and assumptions. His decisions and actions were believable for a young kid to make, but for adult reader me it was so frustrating. However, this book is for ages 8-12, so I can't fault it for having kid characters making realistic kid decisions.

Sadly I won't be continuing with this series.
The Absolute (Animorphs #51) by "K.A. Applegate" (Lisa Harkrader)
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Hated(Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

This series is 54 books long. This is book #51. So why was it so so so bad? Okay, in this case I can answer that: Because I'm not the target audience. Young readers probably liked this one a lot, for reasons adult readers likely did not.

This book was like the worst, most nonsense action movie ever made. The Animorphs decide to go to the government to tell them what's happening, so Jake sends Marco, Tobias, and Ax to visit the local governor.

This mission somehow ends up involving a train heist.
Marco (in gorella morph), Tobias (Hork-Bajir), and Ax in his real body end up kidnapping the governor and racing away in a limo with her.
Somehow they blow up a yacht.
There are multiple battles with the US military.

I'm so annoyed, there are so few books left, and this one seemed a complete and utter waste (other than one paragraph at the very end).

The Sacrifice (Animorphs, #52) by "K. A. Applegate" (Kim Morris)
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

This review is different than all the other Animorphs ones. I wrote it as I was reading it, instead of once I was finished. This was such a book, it's jarring how much things changed between the beginning and the end of it.

On to the review!

A grizzly, a tiger, a wolf, and an Andalite appeared as if from nowhere and quietly knocked the ten men unconscious.

For a series about war, about an alien invasion of the entire planet, there is oddly little death. I can think of only two deaths in the 52 books so far, and both were implied and off camera. I guess that's part of this being a YA series. [Now, near the end of the book, I have to laugh at that observation. Boy how things changed...]

While the writing and story in this book were good, I still had lots of issues with the characters' actions. Remember, there are five (now maybe twenty) kids trying to defend the whole Earth from an alien invasion.

Immediately, the human-Controllers began to morph.
"Jake!" Rachel's voice was shrill. "Let's get them before they're in battle morphs!"
"No! We give them a fair fight. We fight the Yeerks. We don't become them."

When you're a few people fighting a whole army, to try to fight "fair" is insane.

Okay, but I'm getting ahead of myself. This is an Ax POV-story, and such a good one. Ax finally completely grows up, he sees humans how we really are, and he hates us for it. How very cool is that? That after 50-something books, Ax changes enough to hate us (and it's completely believable, doesn't feel like the character did a 180 just for Plot Drama).

But for all Ax matured, the rest of the Animorphs seemed to go in the opposite direction. The group comes up with a plan to win the war, to drive the Yeeks off the planet, but they don't want to do it because some innocent people might get hurt. What in the world do they think will happen to ALL people people if this battle is lost? It was so frustrating. Understandable, but frustrating as hell.

But they end up doing the plan anyway, and some innocent people do get killed. The reactions and conversations about it seemed so realistic.

"Well, [the surprisingly successful win] is something," Marco pointed out. "But you know what the saddest thing about this whole situation is?"
"l wouldn't even know where to begin," Cassie answered.
"The saddest thing is that this is our greatest victory. And I've never felt more depressed in my entire life."

The end of the book was so sudden, I actually blinked in surprise and tried to scroll more. "Wait, that's it?". A really, really good note to end on. This was one of the best books in the series.

Just two more to go. *sob!*

Animorphs #53: The Answer by K.A. Applegate and Michael Grant*
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Liked**(Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

I've fought them for more than three years. I was just thirteen when I started.

Can you imagine a group of five children spending three years not just taking part in guerrilla warfare, but commanding it all, no support from any adults at all? And having to keep their efforts secret from everyone, their parents included?

Two or three books ago, there was a great line. I wish I had saved it. Jake, the leader of the Animorphs, was ordered by his mother to clean the basement. The battles were getting worse, the Animorphs were losing. He hadn't slept in days. He was in pain from wounds. And his mother still had the power to make him do chores.

What strikes me most about this book is how old their voices have become. This is a Jake POV book, and he sounds like a man. An old, old soldier with scores of battles under his belt.

We were just kids. But in some ways we were the ideal guerrilla fighters. The morphing power let us fly and dig and crawl, sense, hide, and fight with far more than human power. Our youth made us the least likely of suspects.

So different than the last couple books, in this one they start finally, finally making the hard calls. How hard? How about using a bunch of disabled children as cannon fodder? Knowingly let them die? Watching them get killed?

And not just disabled children:

Seventeen thousand. Living creatures. Thinking creatures. How could I give this order? Even
for victory. Even to save Rachel. How could I give this kind of order?

Aliens. Parasites. Subhuman.

"Kill them," I said.

That's what war is about, isn't it? Making the other side subhuman?

This book, the second to last one, ended on a cliffhanger, but a completely unexpected one.

* Michael Grant himself said "I’m Michael Grant author or co-author of Animorphs", he stated he wrote more than half (up to 90%) of the books credited to K.A. Applegate. I know his writing, and this book feels like his work, not hers at all.

** If comparing to only Animorphs books, I'd rate this one a loved. It was one of the top 10 in the series. Compared to other books though, it doesn't quite reach a loved rating.
The Diversion (Animorphs #49) by "K.A. Applegate" (Lisa Harkrader)
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

This book got such good reviews on Goodreads, but it didn't do much for me.

With only a few books left in this 50+ book series, the war is getting closer to being full fledged. (I can't help but wonder why we didn't hit this point at book 10 instead of all the way at the end of the series.) The bad guy aliens have (finally) realized that they're fighting Earth kids, so they're going after their families. This book was all about getting the families somewhere safe.

Unfortunately, once again, the whole thing wasn't believable. Including things like a blind adult woman who apparently was completely able to live alone and had a life, who would rather die than stay blind.

So many books in this series are in the meh to bad range, and yet I still feel the series as a whole is worth reading. Strange. (Edit: After entering the year's books into Goodreads last night, I wonder if that's true? Once I'm done with the series, I'm going to see my average review for the series as a whole.)

The Ultimate (Animorphs #50) by "K.A. Applegate" (Kimberly Morris)
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Liked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

I guess it gets to a point in any war when you wonder if your side are the good guys or not. The Yeerks are questionably the bad guys, but are the Animorphs the good guys anymore?

With only five Animorphs against the whole Yeerk army, they decided they needed more members. For surprisingly logical plot reasons, they decide the only trustworthy kids to give morphing abilities to are physically handicapped kids. Suddenly instead of just a few Animorphs, they have dozens.

Until Cassie. In probably the worst decision of this entire series, Cassie did the most stupid thing anyone has ever done. She gave the object that grants the morphing power to the Yeerks. Why? No good reason, other than "it felt like the right thing to do". Literally, she said that. I guess that must be one of the reasons why she's the least popular character in the fandom.

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