octavia_cade's reviews
2070 reviews

Mystery of the Missing Crew, by Michael Jan Friedman, Todd Cameron Hamilton, Catherine Huerta

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adventurous fast-paced

2.0

I like that this quick children's tie-in novel is strongly centred in the Star Trek ethos - that alien species are beings that can be communicated with and worked with, and that no matter how threatening they may initially seem, common ground can be found. The execution, on the other hand, is a little baffling. On his way to join the Academy, Data and a handful of other would-be cadets are faced with a situation that they have to handle alone, after the disappearance of all the ship's officers. And it's basically likeable, I suppose, but it's hard to get around the fact that none of these other young people do anything. Every action, every suggestion... everything comes from Data, and so I'm left wondering what was the point of having them there? Honestly, if the other cadets had disappeared along with the rest of the crew, nothing functionally would have changed with regard to the plot. And that just seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity, really. 
Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, by Rhonda Wilcox

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informative medium-paced

4.0

I have to admit that when I first saw the title of this book, I thought it would be about visual art; instead, it's an argument that Buffy the Vampire Slayer can be interpreted as art. Which doesn't seem such a stretch to me, but then some people are snobby about what they call art, and as Wilcox points out, even the best episodes of the show got little critical attention for their writing or acting in the form of awards, or award nominations, from mainstream outlets such as the Emmys.

The book's structured in two parts, and while both are interesting, I found the second half - comprising close reads of half a dozen episodes as case studies - to be more appealing. Primarily because most of the episodes chosen, such as "The Body" or "Once More with Feeling" are also favourites of mine (though for the life of me I can't remember a single thing about "The Zeppo"). Anyway, it's an enjoyable and generally accessible read; there was never a point where my attention faded out. I suspect that's at least in part because I'm a big fan of the show, but Wilcox also takes care not to wallow overly in academic-speak, which is frankly always helpful. 
Logs In The Current Of The Sea: Neli Lifuka's Story Of Kioa And The Vaitupu Colonists, by Neli Lifuka

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informative medium-paced

3.0

Mildly interesting autobiographical account of a Tuvalu man, and his eventual involvement in the purchase of an uninhabited Fijian island, subsequently colonised by a number of immigrants from Tuvalu. It's quite short, and I'm not sure that the editing has done it any favours. Much of the autobiographical content, which makes up the bulk of the work, has been taken down from oral records by the editor, who has also contributed a short essay at the end of the book. There are some endnotes, but I tend to think that these could have been more extensive; as it is, this feels as if it's all a bit bare-boned - as if the editor's directing this book at an already quite well-informed audience. Not being so knowledgeable, I'd have liked to have a broader cultural and political context to get a clearer picture, as it were. 
Oblivion's Gate, by David Mack

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adventurous slow-paced

2.5

I think that sometimes you read a book, and you can appreciate the effort, the organisation, and the intent behind it, and still just not find it that interesting. I did not find this that interesting. It wasn't awful. It was better than the first book in the series. I just... I don't care about alternate universes, or alternate timelines, or convoluted plots that are more interested in moving parts than in characters. So many people died in this, in so many supposedly thrilling death scenes, but the overall emotional effect wasn't there for me. I was overdosed on drama, and by the end I did not care. My overwhelming feeling, on reading the final lines, was "This book is about 150 pages too long."

The trilogy's a giant reset button for the Star Trek universe. I get it, I do. But there are Trek books that I will read again, primarily for their character work. This book - this series - I won't be reading it again. Once is enough. 
Death and the Penguin, by Andrey Kurkov

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dark funny medium-paced

4.0

This is very black-humoured, and I could see the twist as to the obituaries a mile off, but the penguin is so entertaining that I just don't care. Viktor, a not especially successful writer, is engaged to produce obituaries for people who aren't yet dead. He also has a penguin - an emperor penguin, no less, called Misha, obtained from the zoo in Kyiv after they could no longer afford to feed him. A journalist's small apartment is no place for a metre tall penguin, and Eastern Europe is just too hot anyway. Misha is, naturally, depressed. It shouldn't be funny but it is... and the penguin, it seems, is one of the few lines of defence between Viktor and the local Mafia.

It's ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, but it is satire, and it's enormously entertaining. I don't think the end was quite as strong as the rest of it, perhaps, but I've just found out that there's a sequel, so fingers crossed that Viktor and Misha are reunited for more frozen fish and political disaster. 
The Black Cathedral, by Marcial Gala

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dark medium-paced

3.5

This comes across as absolutely chaotic, but in a really interesting way. I like the structure of it, too - each part is told from multiple points of view, from a variety of different characters. This is pretty common in a lot of the books that I read, but it's more often that the multiple perspectives have a different chapter each, for instance. Here the characters' points of view last anything from a couple of paragraphs to several pages. It's a really interesting technique, and I think it's one that I'd like to try on one of my own upcoming projects.

I admit that the story's pretty grim. Those multiple characters include scorned lovers and criminals and ghosts, even, as relationships change and fall apart. There's a serial killer, there's a pair of brothers who murder their own dad. And in the middle of it all, there's the black cathedral, being built by the community in a vast expression of religious outpouring, which is all well and good except it seems that the cathedral is cursed. Evil, even. That's what tips this over into magical realism for me, even more than the ghosts and the small expressions of magic. The cathedral's being built in an area of extreme deprivation, of extreme social dysfunction, and it's easy to imagine that all the things that are happening around it - the murders, the abusive relationships - are a result of that dysfunction. It's a plausible explanation... but it's always undercut by that looming, unfinished monstrosity, that both attracts and repels people at once and puts the untrustworthy at the centre of the narrative. 
The Ashes of Tomorrow, by James Swallow

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adventurous dark medium-paced

3.0

This is a significant improvement from the earlier book in the series. Gone is (I'm sorry to say it) Ward's leaden prose, the life sucked out of it by an over-reliance on technobabble. In its place, a more readable style, and characters who are actually allowed to feel things. Swallow's version of the characters seem more like people than compartmentalised chess movements, and it's so much more appealing to read. The plot is pacy, some of the deaths are affecting, and everything regarding the destruction of the wormhole was genuinely exciting. Kira was excellent. I was all set to give it four stars, and then...

I don't know why I was feeling horribly suspicious as the last few pages ticked over. I got that sinking feeling that I really only associate with one element of the Star Trek universe, but I thought "No, it couldn't be."

Reader, it was. If Bashir's last-minute suggestion is anything to go by, the next book will involve the mirror universe. I cannot overstate how much I hate the mirror fucking universe. Every time this overused lazy goddamn trope turns up I hate it, and it turns up again and again because it is, apparently, the shit well that never, ever runs dry.

It ruined the ending of an otherwise decent book. But that's the mirror universe for you... constant disappointment. 

 
Cockroaches, by Scholastique Mukasonga

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dark emotional sad medium-paced

5.0

There's one quiet, awful little sentence towards the end of this book, where the author goes back to the place she grew up, and where thirty seven members of her family died in the Rwandan genocide. She says, of that destroyed community, that there's no longer a school, because there are no longer any children.

I think that might be my entire review. There's nothing else to say that will make any of this better. 
The Fox Hunt: four strangers, thirteen days, and one man's amazing journey to safety, by Mohammed Al Samawi

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emotional inspiring tense medium-paced

5.0

This was such a riveting read! I have to admit that I knew absolutely nothing about Yemen before starting this book, and I don't know much more now. No blame to the author there; he cannot be expected to fill in so much ignorance with a single book. The religious war that is devastating the country has a very personal consequence for Al Samawi - as a peace activist with a particular interest in building bridges between people of different faiths, he's pretty much directly in the firing line of all the parties currently at war in his country. His family, though loving, is less than sympathetic and he can't really confide in them anyway, as doing so would only put them at more risk as the conflict escalates. Disabled, cut off from everyone he knows and sheltering in the port city of Aden, pretty much the only resource he has is the internet. He uses it to ask for help... and then something amazing happens, something that helps to consolidate a belief in the human potential for goodness. A handful of strangers come together and, in a desperate last-minute bit of networking and politicking, involving two countries and numerous officials, they manage to smuggle Al Samawi out of Yemen.

It's all horribly exciting. I say "horribly" because, even though I knew going in that he'd get out safely (the fact that he survived to write the book being something of a spoiler in that regard) the sequence of events is so fragile, and so terrifying, so dangerous and apparently hopeless, that it's genuinely nail-biting to read. 
Picnic at Hanging Rock, by Joan Lindsay

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dark mysterious medium-paced

5.0

I've been meaning to read this for ages, and have finally plucked it off my bookshelves. What a great story! It's unsettling and atmospheric, and I like the sense of is-it-real-or-is-it-not that the author promotes. I think what I like best of all, though, is that there's no solution. We never find out what happened to the missing girls. I understand from Wikipedia that there was a chapter, sensibly taken out by the publisher before publication, that gave a somewhat science-fictional explanation. Honestly, the total ambiguity and sense of mystery just works better as is. It's also what tips it over into horror in my opinion; mystery stories often have solutions while horror stories are less reliable that way. 

The ending, I have to say, didn't quite work for me as much as the rest. It was a little too abrupt, and I thought the conclusion of the Sara storyline was a little too.... concrete, I think I'd describe it? Although the Wikipedia summary gives an entirely different interpretation of Sara's fate than what I thought, so perhaps the ambiguity is there as well. That said, the whole was still wonderfully creepy, and I'll certainly be reading it again in the future.