Geek Wisdom by Stephen H. Segal (ed.)

“Computer nerds are our titans of industry; comic-book superheroes are our Hollywood idols; the Internet is our night on the town. Clearly, geeks know something about life in the 21st century that other folks don’t—something we all can learn from. Geek Wisdom takes as gospel some 200 of the most powerful and oft-cited quotes from movies (“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”), television (“Now we know—and knowing is half the battle”), literature (“All that is gold does not glitter”), games, science, the Internet, and more. Now these beloved pearls of modern-day culture have been painstakingly interpreted by a diverse team of hardcore nerds with their imaginations turned up to 11. Yes, this collection of mini-essays is by, for, and about geeks—but it’s just so surprisingly profound, the rest of us would have to be dorks not to read it. So say we all.”

Being the kind of person who incessantly quotes books and movies, this book had an automatic appeal to me.  Granted, I got it on discount through Amazon, but that was mostly because I wasn’t aware of the book’s existence until the sale popped up.  And it ended up being a quick read–and I don’t really think that’s a good thing.  There is so much about geek culture that can inspire thought, or simply inspire, that this book should have taken the time to really dig into the ideas it was exploring.  When the synopsis says “mini-essays”, they weren’t kidding.  99% of the “essays” were only about a page long… so, less an essay and more of a sum-up of the ideas being presented.

This is a shame, because it looks to me like this book falters most in its structure.  There are some excellent ideas raised with the quotes chosen and the ideas brought up by exploring them, but there’s no significant time given to them.  I think the book would have worked better if it had kept the sections (quotes on relationships, quotes on the universe, etc.) and had longer essays that incorporated many of the quotes.  The short bits of writing, as they stand, give the book a choppy feel.  Yes, they’re grouped by general subject, but the lack of cohesion makes it feel like the authors are just bouncing around with no concrete idea of what they want to convey.

Also, it seemed like a stretch to include some of the quotes that they did.  It’s one thing if you’re collecting catchphrases and lines that people often quote, but if you’re going to look for deeper meanings in them, they need to be more than just catchphrases.  For example, it seems a bit silly to include Optimus Prime’s usual command “Roll out!” and then try to ascribe some wisdom to it.  The authors take a valiant stab at it, but honestly, it just didn’t work for me.  In this case, keeping the “mini-essays” short and sweet was best, but I think it would have been better to not use quotes with such a thin excuse.  The title and presentation of this book leads readers to believe that we’re going to be getting nuggets of wisdom, Zen sayings from the sacred tomes of Tolkien and Rowling.  Instead, it’s a few of those thoughts mixed in with a lot of mostly fun but ultimately shallow drivel.

I can’t be completely down on this book, though.  It does manage to highlight some interesting thoughts along the way.  And there are amusing bits of trivia as footnotes to almost all of the entries.  (I actually didn’t make the connection that the actor who played Mr. World in American Gods was also George McFly!)  Readers looking for something not too mentally taxing might enjoy this book if their own expectations don’t trip them up, like what happened to me.  I thought I’d get more, and I was disappointed when I didn’t.  It made me think about doing a feature on this site that explores geek wisdom, though, so that’s something else positive that came from my reading.

I’m not sure I can recommend this book, because of its choppy pace and because of the inclusion of quotes that don’t really have much to offer wisdom-wise.  But if you’re able to pick up a cheap copy, you should, because you might find something in here that resonates for you.  Personally, this book was a portrait of missed opportunities.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Wrecked by Maria Padian

wrecked“Everyone has heard a different version of what happened that night at MacCallum College. Haley was already in bed when her roommate, Jenny, arrived home shell-shocked from the wild Conundrum House party. Richard heard his housemate Jordan brag about the cute freshman he hooked up with. When Jenny formally accuses Jordan of rape, Haley and Richard find themselves pushed onto opposite sides of the school’s investigation. But conflicting interests fueling conflicting versions of the story may make bringing the truth to light nearly impossible–especially when reputations, relationships, and whole futures are riding on the verdict.”

I find myself very conflicted about this book.  I think much of this feeling stems from the choice of main characters.  Most books about rape focus on the victim, families and friends of victims, or those who were present at the time the rape occurred.  In this book, the author chooses to use two people unrelated to either the victim or the perpetrator.  Neither were present at the party where the rape occurred, and neither have close ties to those involved.

What I found worse was the focus on the relationship between the two main characters to the detriment of the story about the rape itself.  This is a story that could have been told without the characters having any involvement with either victim or perpetrator.  It could’ve been told by simply having them hear about a campus rape.  That would at least have given them an excuse for focusing on themselves.  As it stands, both characters come off as self-centered.

It doesn’t help that none of the characters are really all that likable.  We know very little of Jenny, the rape victim, beyond the fact of her rape.  The perpetrator is smug and seems to glory in the cover-up he is engineering.  Everyone who was at the party is more concerned with getting in trouble than in helping someone who was attacked.  Even those trying to help Jenny come across as a stereotype of feminists, insulting men in general and doing things “for Jenny’s own good”.

On the plus side, this novel does highlight many of the problems with reporting campus rape.  The author details the limitations that are placed on consequences for rapists on a college campus, as well as the sad fact that many colleges do not have anyone dedicated to investigating rape claims.  Most make do with appointing a faculty member to investigate the issue, and of course the campus has no ability to bring legal consequences against someone they deem guilty.  It is also genuinely heartbreaking to see jenny’s fear at encountering her rapist on campus with no way to protect herself unless she involves the police.

The part of the book that I appreciated the most was the scene at where the two main characters role play enthusiastic consent.  On the surface, this concept sounds like a mood killer, but the book successfully portrays it as something that can be very sensual.  It’s discussions like this that need to be happening on college campuses all across the country, and it’s a good starting place for readers who have never heard of this concept before.

I’m not sure if this book’s positives outweigh its negatives enough for me to recommend it.  If nothing else, this is not a book that I would recommend to somebody new to novels tackling the subject.  This is better suited to those who have already read novels about the consequences of rape itself and are ready to move on to the broader issues in society.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

carry-on“Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here–it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On – The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story – but far, far more monsters.”

Oh my God, I think this book will turn out to be my biggest disappointment of the year.  Now, some of that is probably my fault–I absolutely adored Fangirl and had really high expectations for this book.  But it’s not just that my own mindset affected my reading of this novel, unfortunately.  I really think that Rowell made a major mistake in writing this novel.

Think that’s a bit harsh?  Let me explain…

The thing that you should know is that the author has said that this is not the Simon Snow of Fangirl, either the one written by the fictional author Gemma T. Leslie or the fanfic version written by the (also fictional) Cath.  Rowell said that this is her own take on Simon Snow.  So what this means is that Rowell is writing a fanfic of a fictional fiction series that was created to exist within a work of fiction.  And then on top of that, she names her fanfic after the fictional fanfic in her fictional world, but says that it’s not the same fanfic at all.

This is where I start breaking out the ibuprofen.

I think the most major issue that I saw in this book is that there’s no way readers can really identify with these characters.  In the Simon Snow universe, students go to school for eight years, and this novel is set during the eighth year.  Readers haven’t had the experience of getting to know the characters through years of stories.  Granted, readers of Fangirl have some idea of what has gone before, but snippets and bits and pieces are no replacement for the experience of reading a fully fleshed-out story.  With this book, we’re effectively coming into the story in the last 12% or so, and the novel suffers for it.

On top of that, I didn’t find the plot very interesting.  I think the author was so invested in setting up the relationship between Simon and Baz that the thing that is supposed to be the main focus, the Humdrum, gets lost in the teen angst.  This is something that Rowling fell victim to with Harry Potter, to a certain extent, but here it’s compressed into one novel and therefore stands out even more starkly.

And I hate to say it, but that relationship didn’t work well either, and I think that’s also due to coming into the story so late.  I understand that Rowell might want to take her characters in the same direction that her fictional heroine Cath did.  And I have no objection to writing fanfic with a homosexual bent (called “slash”, for those not familiar with fanfiction), as long as it’s well done.  Believe me, one of the best fanfics I’ve ever read was a slashfic with Frodo and Sam from Lord of the Rings.  But what happens between Simon and Baz doesn’t have that backstory to draw on to make it believable, and what we see of them during the first half of the novel didn’t make me believe that they’d get together.

I can’t completely tear down this novel, though, since the author did have some interesting ideas buried in with the other stuff.  The last quarter of the book was pretty good, but then again, that’s where all the action is.  I wish it was enough to redeem the book, but I had to wade through too many pages to get to that point.

So… lackluster plot, a relationship that I couldn’t invest in, and an absence of background story doom this novel to being Rowell’s flop.  Every author gets one in their writing lifetime, so I suppose we should be glad she got hers out of the way and will hopefully be back on her game with her next project.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

A Whole New World by Liz Braswell

a-whole-new-world“What if Aladdin had never found the lamp? This first book in the A Twisted Tale line will explore a dark and daring version of Disney’s Aladdin.

When Jafar steals the Genie’s lamp, he uses his first two wishes to become sultan and the most powerful sorcerer in the world. Agrabah lives in fear, waiting for his third and final wish.To stop the power-mad ruler, Aladdin and the deposed princess Jasmine must unite the people of Agrabah in rebellion. But soon their fight for freedom threatens to tear the kingdom apart in a costly civil war.

What happens next? A Street Rat becomes a leader. A princess becomes a revolutionary. And readers will never look at the story of Aladdin in the same way again.”

This is a concept that I’ve seen used before to good effect: take one critical plot point from a well-known story and change it so that the exact opposite thing happens, and then run with the story from there.  In this book, the tale is the same as Disney’s Aladdin for the first several chapters and then takes a dramatically different turn when Jafar gains possession of the magic lamp instead of Aladdin.  The author manages to slip in some concepts that are more mature than the animated film, such as the common citizens’ perception of the sultan and the rampant poverty in Agrabah, and I liked that the story gained some maturity thereby.

From that point, most of the movie’s major elements remain intact, but skewed to the darker.  For example, instead of “Prince Ali” staging a parade through the streets, it’s Jafar who does so, with the unwilling help of the Genie.  Jafar’s initial two wishes are the same as well, although he gets them much earlier than before.  It’s this manipulation of the tale that I really enjoyed.  Braswell continues throwing in elements that are darker or more mature as well.  Going back to the example of the parade, I liked Aladdin’s observation that all of the dancers and performers look the same, and that it’s kind of creepy.  (Bet you never look at that scene in the movie the same way now.)

The novel suffers from two problems, however.  Once the story starts to diverge from the Disney original, the characters do so as well.  The author doesn’t capture their voices or their personalities very well, and having to spend time establishing new characters like the Street Rats takes away from that development as well.  The other, bigger problem is that this book is just too long.  Yes, I was liking it, but around the two thirds mark I started to feel it getting bogged down.  By the three quarters mark, I caught myself skimming more than once.  For an adaptation of a ninety minute film, 350 pages is just too long.  A good hard edit of this novel would have done wonders, in my opinion.

Braswell had some interesting twists on how you as a reader can view the classic elements of Aladdin, but I think she got too drawn into fleshing out details that didn’t need it.  I’d say that it’s worth a checkout at your local library at least.  I’m hoping the next Twisted Tale to come out does a better job holding its strengths than this one did.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)