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(Art by hamburger.)
Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



Even if I completely love a book, there's usually at least some small things I don't like about it. That's not the case for this book. I loved every single thing about this story, other than how short it was. But, since it's a middle grade book, that's expected and can't be counted as a flaw.

Set in the future, humans have the ability to genetech dogs to be much smarter. However, the really, really good thing about this book was that even though they could "talk" (not exactly), they were still completely dogs. I never for even a moment didn't think they were dogs.

Through tech (used both on dogs and humans), the two species could understand each other. And so, when humans started expanding beyond our solar system, it only made sense to bring geneteched dogs with them.

This story takes place on a ship headed to a planet way beyond our solar system -- the furthest humanity has so far reached. When something Bad happens, and the dogs are left on their own to try to survive and make it to the new planet (with the cool name of Stepping Stone).

Though this was a middle grade book, the writing never felt too simple, nor did the characters or their actions. If not for the length, I would never have thought it wasn't written for adults.

It's odd, since this author's books have not worked for me in the past (I read two of his before and abandoned both early on). But man, I loved this book so much. It was so cute and warm and wonderful, but with a cast of Good Dogs as characters, how could it be anything else?

The Sky People by Terry Goodkind
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



Book aside, I don't think I've ever disliked someone as strongly from first glance. But wow, this author... Quotes from his Biography on Amazon: "Terry Goodkind's brilliant books", "Goodkind’s incredible storytelling abilities", "[his] books are a thrilling, dizzying, mix of modern narrative, with every bit of Goodkind’s masterful voice intact." I know it's not fair to judge someone based on how they look, but from first glance he looks like someone I would hate. Plus Google tells me he's pretty right wing, so...


Anyway, I started this book before seeing any of that, so it didn't influence my reading at all. This book completely didn't work for me. Set in the past, a Native American tribe had rules against fighting at all, for any reason. So of course other tribes raided them all the time. One girl stood up and killed raiders.

I stopped reading about the 5% point. The main character girl who killed the raiders wasn't believable at all, not as a person nor her actions.

Silence of Winter by Avery Blake
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



Told in first person, I had no idea the main character was male until too far into the story. The internal voice sounded completely female to me.

Also contemporary fiction (with a dash of supernatural), which is not something I usually read.

Usually I don't check others' reviews until either I'm done with the book or losing interest, and since this was the latter, I hopped over to Goodreads to see what others thought. Reviews mentioned the same thing I was feeling (bad dialogue, author seemed to not know how teenage boys think or act), so I dropped it at the 5% point.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in these books: 5% + 5% = 10%
Previous abandoned book total: 428%
New total: 438% (4 books!)

Currently reading: A Larger Universe some kind of sciency scifi self-published book. The writing really isn't working for me, so I might drop it soon.
Animorphs #37: The Weakness by K.A. Applegate (Elise Smith)
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



I'm not sure if it's thanks to the new ghost writer or if it's because of how far into the series we are, but this book did a good thing: Whenever the Animorphs need a new morph, the local animal rescue place just happens to have that animal. Usually there's a whole big thing about them breaking in to acquire the DNA, but this time it was covered in one sentence. Something like: "We needed cheetah morphs, the zoo just happened to have a new pair, so we flew in and acquired it."

While the plot of this one was kind of pushing believability a tad (they stole a jet plane and successfully flew it...), it was the character stuff that was good and interesting. Rachael (the boldest of the group) seems to be nearly insane by this point. Jake (the usual leader) was away with his family, so she took over as leader. With her too-wild, never planned out missions, things went bad fast. Multiple characters nearly died, one character had a limb burned off, another had "a hole the size of a fist" wound going through her... It's really something how the really bad things are just casually mentioned -- you could have easily missed one character had his leg blown off. (All these wounds are easily fixed, they can just demorph and they become whole again, but they still feel all the pain and trauma of it happening.)

It was really pretty scary to see her mental state. But it was just as good reading to see the conversation she and Jake had when he returned, about what it takes to be a leader in a time of war.
Bitter Waters by Chaz Brenchley
Traditional or self-published: "Traditional" (an "independent publishing house" with typos all over its website)
Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



When the book's intro starts this way, the writing better be darned good:

"Go on. I dare you. Just read the first paragraph of the first story in this book and listen to the universe being born. Unless you find reading difficult, you may well be borne away on Disch's wings of song."

Though I have no trouble with my reading skills, first paragraph did not work for me at all.

"Some people think that a breathless hush is the natural state of the universe, as darkness is: that sound is like light, a rebellion of angels, a thin and fierce and ultimately doomed attempt to hold back the crushing weight of utter stillness."

And so, perhaps my fastest ever dropping of a book. The first paragraph was supposed to sell me, it did not, so I stopped reading. With the intro, I got to the 3% mark.

What Every BODY is Saying by Joe Navarro
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



This is by that same author I read a few days ago, the one who wrote Three Minutes to Doomsday: An Agent, a Traitor, and the Worst Espionage Breach in U.S. History. His intro (written by himself) was just like Three Minutes -- he patted himself on the back way too much for my tastes.

Since this was a nonfiction book, I was hoping it would work better for me, but nope. Oddly I learned not one single thing new, even in the 25% I read (and I skimmed more than that).

This is the video that made me so interested in him, you'd do better (and learn more) watching it than reading any of his books.

That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn [ <-- Read this story at the link here!]
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



I love this story so much. I reread it again every few months. It's a quiet look at two people during and after a war. About how peace can be made. About relationships. About enemies getting to know each other.

Every time I reread it, I check the author's website hoping she made it into a book, but nope. Unfortunately what she has written is urban fantasy, which I don't usually read, but I'm starting to think I need to make an exception.

You can (and should!) read this story by clicking the link above. It's free on the publisher's website.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in these books: 3 + 25 = 28% [No credit taken for Games, since it was so short.]
Previous abandoned book total: 400%
New total: 428% (4 books!)

Book #39 of 2019: An Oath of Dogs

An Oath of Dogs by Wendy Wagner
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Liked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



This book was many things, and while I liked most of them, some of them completely didn't work for me.

It was a (very very cool) scifi book. Set on another planet (or moon, to be exact), humans had been colonizing it for 100 years or so, but it was such a harsh, foreign place, they were just starting to get a toehold. The world was so interesting and different -- evolution went the route of fungi instead of mammals. And when you realize all the potential of that... wow, there was just so much to learn and experience! I loved the world so much!

An Oath of Dogs was also a horror book -- intermixed with the current timeline, we saw how bad things were in the first year in the new world. We saw people starving to death. We saw what these people had to do to live...

This book was also a murder mystery, and for me this was the part of it I liked least. A character died before the book started, so for me personally, I really didn't care about it because the reader had no attachment to him. Unfortunately this was the biggest part of the plot.

The story also had a plot about corporate greed/eco-terrorism, and like the murder mystery, it just didn't work for me. Sadly this was the second biggest part of the plot.

While I completely loved the first half of the book, the second half (more focused on the murder mystery/corporate greed plots) dragged some for me. By the last 10%, I was (sadly) ready for the book to be over so I could move on to the next one.

The 'dogs' in the title referred to literal dogs, the animals people can become when times are bad, and sentient dogs (sort of) found on the world this takes place in.

In addition to the moon setting being great, the main characters were really outstanding, too. Interesting, believable, I really enjoyed spending time with them. The main male character was gay and vegan, but that felt natural and not just shoehorned in.

Some of the minor characters... not so much. I have trouble believing that in the future, when we're far enough advanced to be able to live on multiple other worlds, that homophobic insults would still be around. I suppose it could be true, but if we can't put hatred behind us, can we really reach this far into space?
The Mutation (Animorphs #36) by K.A. Applegate
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Liked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



One of the interesting things about this series is how the darkness of it can surprise you.

Through unimportant happening, the animorphs found a group of "people" (the Nartec) living under our seas. The Nartec collected ships and more worryingly collected people to man those ships. Dead people. Or so it seemed at first.

The animorphs get captured by the Nartec, and through them we learned the truth. The Nartec capture people alive. And then they drug them and remove their bones and muscles and stuff them. At some point during that process the humans die, but they're awake and aware of it happening until that point.

Gah! That is nightmare material! To be awake and yet unable to move, unable to speak, while you're cut open and your insides removed? One of the Nartec even described how they do it: Cut people from the base of the neck down to the back of the knees, open them up, remove the bones and muscles... and they drug them so they can't fight back while it's happening.

Oh and then they use their genetic material to make babies, too.

While the plot had some silly elements, mostly I enjoyed this one. I can't imagine kids reading it though, the idea of it bothered even adult me.

And word is, the series only gets darker from here. Woo!

Edit: I always like reading others' reviews once I'm done with my own, and I was very surprised to see how hated this book was. Maybe it took 30-something books to just go with the wacky plot stuff instead of questioning it? Yeah, this book had a lot of silly plot stuff, but so have 34 of the last 36 books in the series. To me, the silly plot stuff was just structure to get the characters into a situation where they had to deal with bad emotional stuff.
The Proposal (Animorphs #35) by K. A. Applegate
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



I'm finally back to the Animorph books. Unfortunately this was mostly a pretty darned bad one.

Most of the story was stupid, unbelievable, sitcom-level plot. Because of stress, Marco was losing control of his morphing, which was making him morph into multiple animals at once, like spider/skunk and polar bear/poodle. Blah blah stupid plot about having to ruin some TV talkshow guy because he was secretly a Yeerk. That part of the plot was just so stupid (Marco actually demorphed from the spider/skunk into his human body in front of other people and nothing came of it).

However there was a much smaller subplot that was really good. The reason for the stress which was making Marco unable to control his morphing? PTSD. It was another interesting, if too brief, look at how the kids are handling fighting a war while also trying to keep the world from knowing about it.

Three Minutes to Doomsday: An Agent, a Traitor, and the Worst Espionage Breach in U.S. History by Joe Navarro
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



This book is not the kind of book I usually read. Nonfiction. Military history. But I saw a really good talk online the author did (about reading body language) and so I wanted to get his book about that. While looking for that one, I spotted this book by him, and it seemed interesting enough to pick up. Set in 1988, it was about the capture of one of the biggest spies ever.

On one hand, the story was interesting (at least the first 22% of it I read). An inside look at how the FBI works. On the other hand, the "main character" (the author writing about himself) was rather insufferable -- too perfect, too good at everything. While it was making me somewhat frowny, I was willing to keep reading, until he turned mean.

The scene that made me (and other readers, per Goodreads) stop reading was the one where he interacted with the office manager. She was just trying to do her job (make him fill out required paperwork) and he ripped into her with "don't you know how important I am? don't you know how important the work I'm doing?" kind of stuff. Yes, his work was important, but in an FBI office everyone's work would be more important than required paperwork about car maintenance. But the paperwork IS required, and know how often that poor woman likely heard "don't you know how important I am? don't you know how important the work I'm doing?" ? She had a job to do as well. He went on and on and on, page after page of how awful she was, what an awful person she was. While he used a fake name for her, he wrote about how she spoke (speech patterns and such) and I'm sure she would be able to recognize herself if she read this book.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in this book: 22%
Previous abandoned book total: 378%
New total: 400% even (4 books!)

Currently reading: An Oath of Dogs

Book #36 of 2019: How to Become a Henchman

How to Become a Henchman by J Bennett
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



I know a good review should start with an overview of the plot, the world setting, the characters, maybe the strengths and weaknesses of a book, but after a story like this one, I just want to go OH MY GOD YOU GUYS! THIS BOOK WAS SO GOOD! I THOUGHT ABOUT IT ALL THE TIME, I EVEN SNEAKY-READ IT WHILE AT WORK!

Set sometime in the future, the country (world?) had advanced enough that everyone got a Universal Basic Income even if they didn't work. It wasn't enough to live a good life on, but if you had no other job, you could survive on it. So in general the population was bored, so the governments set up things like "semi-reality towns" as in semi-reality show towns -- the whole city is one big reality show, with nearly everyone either a star or trying to become one. (Other cities included things like zombie attacks to keep the population busy and focused on something.)

This story was set in Big Little City, a superhero semi reality city. A bunch of people were "capes" (heroes) or "vils" (villains), and most everyone else was working on their fame levels so they could become one or the other.

The author "evolved" language in a really fun way. While (of course) the book was written in English, a lot of the words were shortened or used in unusual ways. It was a nice touch for world building.

All that was backdrop for the story though. The main character (Alice) was one of the few people who did not want to be famous. She came to Big Little City because rent and schooling were cheaper there (since attacks by vils often happened). The story followed her life and how she came to try out to become a henchman.

Because of the setting, there were such cool twists: How do you know if the person sitting next to you is actually a superhero? It made all the relationships and interactions all the more fun.

There were only two downsides of the story for me:
1) Use of nontraditional pronouns. Nothing knocks me out of a story faster than ze/zir/whatever. As much as I loved this book, every time those pronouns came up, my eyes glazed over. Luckily there were only two minor characters who used them.
2) By my Kindle's tracking, I had 15 minutes left in the book. I was saving the last of the story so I could savor and enjoy it... and boy was I sad to find it was 15 full minutes of previews for the next book, author's notes, etc. Sad!

I really wish the next book was out already. I completely loved Alice as a main character, but all the minor ones and the world setting as well.

Book #35 of 2019: Sand Runner

Sand Runner by Vera Brook
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Liked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



I used to love dystopian books, but I guess I'm getting burnt out on them. So many of them are the same -- they seem to go down a checklist of all items a dystopian story has to have.

Much like The Hunger Games, Sand Runner is set in the future when the vast majority of people are poor, and they enter a "blood sport" kind of thing to try to earn a better future. But, like Hunger Games and so many other dystopian stories, there's more to the sport than there seems to be -- it's a whole political/economic tactic.

For all this was a way, way too familiar story, I still mostly enjoyed it. While it did go down a checklist of dystopian story plot points, there was just enough of an interesting twist to keep me reading.

In the Sand Runner world, rich people are bored. Bored with being rich. Bored with being beautiful. (Gotta suspend belief a bit there, huh?) So they invent a new thing -- a race, making poor people run to try to win. But since good looking people are boring, they want more than that -- they want people melded with tech. So every poor person who enters the race has their legs cut off and replaced with tech. That's the point where I decided to finish this book, because that's a new (if horrible) idea.

I can't say the plot was anything new or great, but it was interesting enough that once we got to the leg cutting off part (early on), I never thought about not finishing the story. I really really did not like the romance in the book, and unfortunately that was a major part of the plot. Adding up all that, I really shouldn't have liked this book as much as I did, but it was sort of like empty enjoyment? I like dystopian, this was dystopian, thus I liked it even though the individual parts didn't work for me.

Apparently the second book in this series is out already, but it looks like it's continuing to mirror the Hunger Games series, so I'm not going to bother.

Book #34 of 2019: Tomorrow's Sphinx

Tomorrow's Sphinx by Clare Bell
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Liked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)



I wish I could review this book fairly. It's by my favorite author, and most of what I could read of it was good, but it was such a challenge to read. Long, long since out of print, physical copies are really expensive (lowest I saw was $56, most in hundreds of dollars range), and I can't read physical books anyway (font too small). So hunting around a lot, I found a copy online through a library lending system.

Unfortunately, unlike books from Amazon or elsewhere, you can't remove the DRM protection from a library book, so I had to read it on my computer. I really, really do not enjoy reading books on my computer. I can't concentrate on them, and it's not relaxing to me.

Worse than that, the book was scanned in, so large sections of it were completely unreadable:


I really liked about half of what I could read of the book. It was completely in Clare Bell's voice, and I would recognize it anywhere. She's a wonderful writer of "talking animal" stories -- one of the best in the world. So the parts about the cheetah character in the wild were wonderful.

Unfortunately I'm not really into ancient Egypt, so those parts of the book were less to my taste.

All in all, unfortunately I can't say I enjoyed reading this book, but it wasn't at all the story's fault. Maybe one day every book that has ever been printed will be available as a good-quality ebook...

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