Doing Dune Justice

Dune is an epic adventure that I’m a bit ashamed to admit I read rather late in life. While I read The Lord of the Rings when I was eight years old, I read Dune when I was already in my twenties.

With the Dune movie coming out soon, I thought it would be the perfect time to recommend this classic to my favorite Above Average readers, i.e. all of you.

Dune is a sci-fi book that combines high-tech escapades and ideas with a mystical flavor. It does so with dense political history, religious ideologies, and risky thematic overtones.

I’m usually hesitant to recommend hefty sci-fi tomes to people because there is so much diversity in the genre. Even if someone says they like it, there’s no telling what part of it they enjoy. For example, someone who enjoys a realistic tale like The Martian might not like the zany humor of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

In addition to that, sci-fi books are usually a huge time investment to read, and they’ll put forth downright weird notions that can prove difficult to swallow.

So when I say I recommend you read Dune, know that it will take a decent time investment to read it (especially if you want to read its sequels), it has an occasional bout of weirdness (like strange marital practices and cannibalistic tendencies), and it focuses on a mix of predestination, heightened mental awareness, ecological consciousness, and space politics.

The story follows the young Paul Atreides as his family moves to the desert world of Arrakis. They have been relegated there from their lush homeworld of Caladan thanks to the political maneuverings of the Emperor. Different families rule the galaxy, like a sci-fi aristocracy, together under this one Emperor, and the Emperor is not supposed to show favoritism to one family over another.

Unfortunately for the Atreides, this Emperor has decided to ally with the Harkonnen family in an attempt to eradicate them from the galaxy. (The Harkonnens and the Atreides have this epic feud going on between them.)

Paul and his family have to contend with this betrayal while trying to survive on Arrakis. While Arrakis is a dry dump of a place, it is home to a valuable spice that is worth a lot to the ruling families of the galaxy, including the unaffiliated Guild, who needs the spice for their trade.

Arrakis has a population of native Fremen who protect and harvest the spice, but the Fremen are hiding a secret that Paul must uncover if he hopes to have the Atreides line survive. Not only does he have to deal with this, he has to contend with these amazing mental powers bestowed on him by his mother’s Bene Gesserit training. (Think something like telepathy plus hyper-analytical thinking, bordering on precognition.)

The whole book culminates with a revolution on a planetary scale.

I’m rather fond of sci-fi stories that don’t hold your hand. Dune is that kind of book. While it does come with a helpful glossary at the end, it does not do much to introduce you slowly to its world. It just dumps you into it and you have to get used to using context clues to figure out what’s going on.

I have to be in the mood to read these kinds of books, so be sure you’re up to it yourself if you pick up Dune.

The book strikes an awful middle ground with its female characters. Most of the ones you meet are all incredibly powerful in their own way, especially those who have been trained as Bene Gesserit. This group of women has intense skills when it comes to controlling their minds and their bodies, so much so that they can easily manipulate other people.

However, even the most powerful female is subservient to men. Influential Bene Gesserit exist to serve male leaders. The most prominent female character is Paul’s mother, and she is a concubine to Paul’s father because he has to remain marriageable if he wants to continue to negotiate with other ruling families. The whole system of every society we encounter in Dune is patriarchal in nature. This is something I sincerely hope they change in the new movie.

In addition to that, it sometimes seems like emotional moments, moments that would make for a deeply impactful, character-development kind of scene, are just skipped. For instance, there is a death of a person whom you would assume is very close to Paul, and in the book, you don’t even see it. It’s told to you that it happened.

These leaps in time can be confusing if you’re trying to follow the emotional beats of the story, but Dune seems to prefer to focus a hell of a lot more on the aspects of fate and precognition that it sets forth from the very beginning of the novel.

But when it comes to detailing mental processes, Dune excels. There is nothing I like more than reading through Paul’s thoughts before he makes any decision. It makes you believe in the power of positive thinking, if that makes sense.

I rate Dune a decent-read-that-was-groundbreaking-in-its-day-for-its-ecological-themes-and-is-still-fantastic-even-though-it-is-showing-its-age.

It’s a Wonderful Book: Wonder Review

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m a huge reader.

Like…a huge huge reader.

Anyone who knows me knows that I lug around a giant book bag filled with a multitude of books that I read simultaneously. It is an encumbrance that I am notorious for. Whenever I travel places, it is a whole other bag I have to take with me.

I read so much, there is usually a never-ending supply of books that I can recommend to my sister, who is also a big reader. I basically introduced her to all of Stephen King.

I think it’s apt to say I’m a more voracious reader than her, but my god, sometimes she just floors me with how awesome her reading selection is.

To give a perfect example, she is the one who introduced me to Game of Thrones.

Alya also introduced me to Wonder, a delightful book that is easy to read and absolutely touching to finish.

Wonder is about a young boy named Auggie with a disfigured face. He has lived most of his life being supported by his family with little interaction out in society, but the story covers his first trying year attending a public school. With a sense of humor and realism about his situation, Auggie navigates both the cruelty and kindness of other human beings.

I thoroughly enjoyed Wonder. It is without a doubt a feel-good story, even though it deals with sore themes of humiliation and public disdain. The book is parceled out into different sections, each section narrated by different characters, whether it’s Auggie, his sister, or one of his classmates.

This shift in perspective allows you to draw sympathy for varying characters that you might not have otherwise sympathized with. However, it did make me wish to linger a while longer with POVs I enjoyed. It sometimes felt that certain perspectives could have been expanded upon. The steady shift in narrators often left things unsaid.

That said, that is probably my only complaint with Wonder. It is seriously an uplifting book, even though its subject matter might come across as depressing. I know it made my sister cry on more than once occasion. As for me, I think I only cried at the ending, when there was a really sweet moment. A moment of unexpected kindness caught me completely off guard and I choked up. (It was the blatantly uplifting ending the narrative needed.)

Wonder’s chapters are very short, and the book as a whole makes for a fast read. This is the kind of book you could take with you on a holiday and finish in one go. I don’t read these kinds of books often enough, so I really treasure them when I do.

There is a movie based on Wonder, but I haven’t seen it. I would be very interested in watching it. As a matter of fact, I think I should get together with my sister and we could watch it together. Not only would it make for a great follow-up movie review post (yikes, I sound so mercenary), but it would be a nifty feel-good movie to watch with my bestest friend.

I would recommend Wonder to anyone who enjoys a heartfelt story that is straightforward and not overly sentimental. I’d only note the fact that it can be binge-read in a single evening and that the narrator changes from time to time.

I rate Wonder a wonder-to-read-and-a-joy-to-finish.

Revisiting the Major Suckage of Twilight with Good Humor: Midnight Sun Review

Okay, feel free to make fun of me for going out of my way to buy Midnight Sun as soon as it came out. But let me just remind you that I have proven to have fairly discerning literary tastes over the course of this blog (I hope), so if I want to go through the book equivalent of discount sugary cereal, I am totally within my rights.

Besides, Midnight Sun was one of the most hilarious things I’ve read in a while. I think I cackled more than a hundred times over the course of reading the whole thing.

For those of you who don’t know, Midnight Sun is just the latest installment in the infamous Twilight franchise. However, instead of covering new territory, it retreads the same ground as the original book. This time, instead of reading through the story from the human girl’s perspective, Midnight Sun gives us a tour of the same story through the eyes of the vampire boy.

Or should I say man, since the dude is over a hundred years old at this point?

When I found out the plot of Stephanie Meyer’s latest book, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I mean, it sounded like comedy gold. And I was not wrong.

Just in case you’ve never read Twilight, here is a brief summary.

  1. Human Bella moves to a new place to live with her father very grudgingly and falls in love with an elderly vampire who lives there too, named Edward.
  2. The two of them spend a lot of time talking and trying to overcome the biggest obstacles in their relationship, one of which is the fact that Edward wants to eat her (and not in a fun way or anything like that he seriously wants to fucking kill her and drink her blood).
  3. Bella’s life gets put in danger because obviously she’s chilling with vampires on a regular basis and that’s not good.
  4. After a harrowing experience where she nearly dies but Edward saves her, the two of them go to prom.

Yeah, that’s seriously the story.

And Midnight Sun is the exact same plot as told by Edward.

I’m going to be completely honest, there were some good parts to the novel. For example, Edward is a special vampire that possesses telepathy. In Twilight, when you’re reading from Bella’s perspective, Edward either tells her what he senses from other people’s minds, or Bella has to make educated and convenient guesses as to what he’s “hearing” based on his expressions.

In Midnight Sun, we get it from the horse’s mouth. And I’m a total sucker for telepathy in books. Stephanie Meyer does a good job detailing what it’s like to hear people’s thoughts, so any time that happens, it’s an ameliorating experience.

One of Edward’s vampire siblings, Alice, has the ability to see into the future, and that too is also fun to read about.

However, one of the best things about reading Midnight Sun is for those cringey moments you remember from the first book. They are made even more cringey (and thus more hilarious) in this one.

I remember when I first read Twilight, I always thought Bella came across as an insanely selfish person who was constantly directly characterized as being selfless. For instance, she makes the move to live with her dad as a bit of a sacrifice play to help her mom out. However, her treatment of her father is nothing short of abysmal. She looks at him as an annoyance and often does not seem to stop and consider how he might feel about things.

She also treats purported friends as hindrances. Other people are stepping stones to get to what she wants. Aside from Edward, she never goes out of her way to think about what another person might be feeling.

But in Midnight Sun, we now have Edward coming along, showcasing left and right how he believes Bella is a phenomenally generous and giving person.

I don’t buy it.

Another thing that sucks but is funny is how the book maintains that incredibly unhealthy notion that you can find your one true love in a matter of months and then think it is okay to die for them. Or to be absolutely devastated if they leave you. I mean, don’t you think you shouldn’t necessarily base your life around another person? Shouldn’t your happiness stem from yourself?

The book also does a poor job of trying to explain plot holes that are apparent in the first. When Bella’s life is in danger, the vampires have to take a car to get to her, but one of the things we are frequently shown in every novel in the series is that vampires can move faster than a human can see. Even if it is daytime and they might sparkle if they stepped outside, you would think Edward and his family could have super-speeded to go rescue Bella without anyone noticing.

In my opinion though, the most hilarious thing about Midnight Sun is how it seeks to pull back from some of the troublesome content it included in Twilight.

As a pseudo-erotic young adult novel, there are moments in Twilight that play into these dominant-submissive stereotypes. However, if these moments were to occur in real life, they would come across as some severely messed-up behavior. Edward stalks Bella and watches her sleep at night without her knowing. Edward tries to control Bella’s actions, even going so far as to physically man-handle her to prevent her from doing things he doesn’t want her to do. He also has a tendency to order Bella to do things he does want her to do, no pleases or thank yous.

None of these things sit well with me given the context of the novel.

And how does Midnight Sun seek to rectify these mistakes?

By giving Edward intense anxiety in his inner monologues.

Every time he says something that could be seen as problematic, he instantly second-guesses and berates himself in his mind for doing so.

This is absolutely side-splitting to read.

One second Edward is displaying a terrible temper to Bella, the next he’s mentally horrorstruck at his own audacity.

I got whiplash reading Midnight Sun trying to keep up with Edward’s mood swings.

Now, as my totally Above Average readers, you’re probably wondering whether or not you should buy this book. I’ve simultaneously bashed and praised it in equal measure. Therefore, I have constructed a guide to help you determine whether or not you should pick up Midnight Sun the next time you’re in a bookstore.

Loved ItHated It
If You Have Never Read TwilightIf you have never read Twilight, but you think you might like the type of hilarity I’ve described, I’d recommend reading Midnight Sun only if you read Twilight first.If you have never read Twilight and loathe the notion of the story, don’t pick up Midnight Sun. You will hate it.
If You Have Read TwilightThere should be enough in Midnight Sun for you to love if you are a hardcore Twilight fan. Go right ahead.Pick up Midnight Sun only if you plan to read it with good humor and wish to really poke fun at how hilariously bad the first book truly is.

I don’t mean to bash on you if you do enjoy Twilight by the way. Everyone can like whatever they want. You’ll get no judgment from me if you like to immerse yourself in the series. My personal opinion is that the story is pretty flawed, but clearly I still draw enjoyment from it.

So in all seriousness, Midnight Sun builds on the strengths of Stephanie Meyer’s writing style, but that also means it falters when it rests on the foundational weaknesses of her first book in the series.

I rate Midnight Sun an absolute-riot.

Literary Sins: The Children of Men and Froley’s Namesake

Many of you Above Average readers know of my pet bird, Froley. I can’t seem to shut up about him. I’ve devoted a bunch of posts to anecdotes about his inane yet gorgeous behavior.

However, I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned how I came up with his name. (Honestly, I might have. I have a tendency to repeat myself, especially when it comes to talking about my bird.)

Years and years ago, I saw a movie called Children of Men, and the name “Froley” was just dropped. There isn’t even a character called “Froley.” It’s just offered as a possible baby name. But as soon as I heard it, I did this mental reminder thing. “You’ve got to use this name someday.”

And I did.

I got Froley at the pet store and immediately named him “Froley.”

What I didn’t know at the time was that Children of Men was based on a book called The Children of Men. And I unforgivably did not find this out until the book was staring me right in the face at a used bookstore in Tucson.

And as soon as I saw it, I knew I had unknowingly committed a literary sin. What sin is that, you ask? It’s the sin of enjoying a movie, loving it, in fact, and not reading the book it was based on.

So I bought the book immediately and I’m happy to report I just finished it and I loved it too.

Just in case you haven’t watched the movie or read the book, I’ll clue you in as to what it’s about. It’s set in a world where women and men suddenly become both infertile and sterile. The whole globe is suddenly faced with the realization that no future generations will come after them.

The movie takes a more action-oriented style to the story, focusing on one man as he rushes to protect the world’s first pregnant woman in years. The two of them have to escape from a literal war in the process. As a movie, I get why they took the story in this direction. It made the plot more visceral, and gave the audience a more visual experience when it comes to the desperation everyone was feeling.

The book takes a ponderous approach to the situation. The lack of children in the world is described with a quiet horror. As everyone slowly ages, despair permeates the reflections of the main character. Set in the UK, an authoritarian government has been constructed to make life more comfortable for the aging population. If you’re in a good spot, the oversight and executive privileges the government wields might not bother you. But if you’re part of a less than desirable social rung, your decline into old age is not as easy.

The main character is well off, but his comfortable world is thrown into disarray when a group of rebels confront him with the disquieting truth about society as it currently stands. These rebels’ position is heightened in our protagonist’s awareness when it is revealed that one of them is pregnant.

Despite the drama of these broad strokes I’m painting of the plot, the pace of the novel is measured and sedate. The Children of Men is really about reflecting about how humanity’s progress and innovation largely stems from the knowledge that people will come after you. Without that hope for the future, humanity stagnates.

These musings are portrayed to readers perfectly in small moments. My favorite is when a deer makes its way into a church. This church is like the rural ones we always see described in Victorian novels, small stone edifices nestled in green hills or gentle woodland. The protagonist sees a deer has made its way into the church and is standing by the altar. For him, it’s a small moment of beauty in a world that is turning decrepit.

That’s when the pastor runs in screaming.

It was not a moment of beauty for him. This elderly man rushes at the deer with his arms waving, angry at it for making its way inside. He cries after it as it bounds away, saying that the world will soon be its for the taking, so can’t it just wait a few more years before claiming it.

The Children of Men was by no means a lighthearted read, but its fairly short length makes it a quick one. You can dive into it and escape in the span of two evenings if you’re pacing your reading time. However, I’d recommend this only to people who enjoy thoughtful prose. Because while it is a digestible size, it does not hold back when it comes to ponderous paragraphs.

I rate The Children of Men a deep-yet-quick-read-that-will-have-you-appreciating-the-continuity-of-the-human-species.

Literary Sins: The Firestarter to Stephen King’s Flame

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a Literary Sins post. I think the last time I wrote about my experiences reading classic books that I probably should have read ages ago, I was railing against On the Road.

Well, this time, I’ve rectified a Literary Sin that many will probably shake their heads and scoff at. “Firestarter by Stephen King is not a literary classic,” they’ll say, “and therefore it’s not a sin that you had not read it.”

I beg to differ.

As a self-proclaimed Stephen King fan, it is an egregious oversight on my part to have not read one of his earlier works. As a matter of fact, I’m making it a personal mission to read through his entire bibliography, so expect to see a few more Stephen King titles in future Literary Sins posts.

Stephen King’s early pieces are some of my favorites. They capture a grisly kind of horror that has become more nuanced in his more recent novels. Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and Rage cover not only horrific themes and monstrous people, but they do so in a very raw fashion. So while I do appreciate the mastery of King’s later works like Under the Dome and 11/22/63, my inner horror fanatic much prefers the slasher qualities of young King.

However, Firestarter is not a terrifying tale such as you would expect from Stephen King. It tells the story of a young girl named Charlie who possesses the ability to start fires with her mind. Her parents were both subjects of MK Ultra-esque experiments, and their child’s latent gifts are a result of those experiences.

Most of the fear in Firestarter comes from two main sources: the unpredictability of a child having access to such destructive power and the widespread reach an immoral branch of government can have on a person’s life.

Charlie and her father spend most of the novel on the run, and you really feel for the dad as he tries to instruct his daughter about when it is okay and not okay for her to use her powers. And those government agents dog them relentlessly.

As you can probably see, those monstrous horror elements that King usually includes in his stories are missing here, and Firestarter suffered a drop in my esteem as a result.

That’s not to say I disliked it. I adore Stephen King’s writing style more than any other author’s, and that was still apparent in Firestarter. But I was expecting something different from what I got.

Before I dive into the negatives, let me focus on the positives.

As always, King excels at describing a person’s inner thoughts. He could cover a whole page with one person’s ruminations, and I would not be bored. Plus, since Charlie’s father possesses some low-key telepathy powers, that makes King’s style of writing from a person’s mind ten times more exciting.

This is doubly obvious when he writes about men who are just plain evil. There is a character named Rainbird who could accurately be called the villain of the novel, and reading from his perspective always induces a shudder. King takes the time to set up Rainbird’s character and motivations, and that is a large driving force behind the plot.

Now, on to the negatives.

The plot meanders.

That’s perhaps the biggest flaw. (Be wary of spoilers ahead, by the way.)

If you want to know the broad strokes of the plot, it is as follows:

a) Charlie and her dad are on the run.

b) Charlie and her dad hide out on a farm.

c) Charlie and her dad get caught and taken to a government facility.

d) Charlie and her dad try to escape.

While handy flashbacks provide context for how Charlie got her powers and fill space between these plot points, they can’t hide how bare bones the story feels. Though Charlie and her father are the protagonists of the narrative, the people we root for, they are often not given much agency when it comes to charting their own course. Granted, when you’re on the run from a shady government organization, you don’t always have a lot of options. However, there never seems to be a big plan or future that they are heading toward.

When compared to some of King’s other stories, Firestarter falls short of a gripping narrative.

In addition to that, none of the characters are as magnetic as some of King’s other infamous characters. Any Stephen King fan worth their salt can name the most memorable characters from The Stand, but a lot of the characters in Firestarter are forgettable.

In conclusion, I would not say that Firestarter is a must-read, even for Stephen King fans, not like Carrie. However, it’s not an altogether bad book. It’s enjoyable. I’d even rate it above the majority of Dean Koontz’s stuff, i.e. all of it.

I rate Firestarter a flaming-good-read-that-won’t-set-fire-to-your-world-but-can-serve-as-a-warm-outing-into-the-world-of-Stephen-King.

Dracula: A Mire of Misogyny

I decided to reread a horror classic for the blog (and myself), giving it a more thorough analysis than I ever did in college (and I was an English major).

Most of you are probably aware of the existence of Dracula. How could you not be? Written in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Gothic tale of horror about a vampire made shockwaves through the genre, creating a solid foundation of tropes we use to this day.

However, what I thought I’d focus on is how Dracula tied horror elements to a woman’s sexual agency.

‘Cause holy shit, if you didn’t know, you’re about to.

When you think about it, a lot of horror movies do this even now. In movies where a group of young teenagers are slowly killed off one by one, the females who are more sexually active are typically the first to go, while the “virgin” character is either left for last or is the only one to survive. Movies like The Cabin in the Woods do a delightful job of pointing out this trope to us.

In Dracula, there are two prominent female characters: Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker.

Let’s start with Lucy.

Lucy is Mina’s best friend, and she seems like an all-around kind person. It’s clear she adores Mina, she’s very generous, and she is very beautiful, enough to attract three suitors. Unfortunately for her, she’s also what I like to call the “starter victim.”

In horror movies, you often see a person undergo a horrible fate for the sole purpose of knowing what lies in store for your protagonists. Lucy Westenra is this person for Mina. Lucy is Dracula’s first victim in the novel, and everything we see happen to her spells out how Dracula’s later attack on Mina will play out.

However, there is a stark difference between Lucy and Mina that makes it more “acceptable” for the evil fate to fall on Lucy while Mina ultimately gets saved.

And that would be the fact that three guys like Lucy.

Three men propose to Lucy, and she likes all of them well enough, though she ends up agreeing to marry one. However, she does make the statement, “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?”

And because Dracula was written during the Victorian Era, this daring idea is what seals Lucy’s fate to be the doomed starter victim.

But the misogyny doesn’t stop there, oh no. My mouth fell open in resentment and shock more than once.

Once Lucy comes under the sway of Dracula, well on her way to becoming a vampire herself, she is described as being more sensuous. Her looks and demeanor changes. Her voice becomes soft and inviting, and the men who loved her for her “purity” draw back in fear from her “voluptuous wantonness.”

So basically, Stoker ties sexual confidence to the evil growing inside of Lucy.

Now let’s look at Mina, the leading lady who is sure to survive.

Mina is absolutely loyal to her husband, doing work for him, learning new skills to ease his career, and caring for him when he’s ill. When Dracula attacks her, she’s a more unwilling victim than Lucy. Where Lucy sleepwalked out of her house to a cemetery at Dracula’s call, he has to break in to the house where Mina is staying at with the help of an asylum patient to get to her.

And even aside from the fact that Stoker paints Mina as an “angel in the house” (another popular Victorian-era trope), the other characters are also incredible dicks to her, albeit in a roundabout, kindly-meant way.

Get a load of this.

Any time Mina does something smart, whether it be to learn shorthand, combine all their records so they can create a timeline of Dracula’s activities, or use river maps to figure out how Dracula intends to return home, the men compliment her by telling her she has the mind of a man.

“She has man’s brain – a brain that a man should have were he much gifted – and a woman’s heart.”

“…her great brain which is trained like man’s brain, but is of sweet woman…”

Like seriously, what the fuck, you guys.

Van Helsing is the worst of them. He constantly praises Mina for being so smart for a woman. His doddering compliments only served to make me angrier and angrier as I read through the novel, especially because when things looked to get too dangerous, he would be the one to say, “We men must go on, while dear Madam Mina must stay behind.” Dracula turns into the most annoying save-a-damsel story I’ve ever read.

Dracula gave the horror genre a lot of its tropes, for better or worse. Clearly, there were already issues with how people perceived women and their role in society back then.

That said, I’ve always thought that the horror genre serves as an excellent vehicle for social commentary. You can find out a lot about societal pressures and fears by taking a look at their horror stories. (The Victorian Era was clearly ripe with sexual anxiety.)

Combining sex and terror makes for truly uncomfortable tales, but putting readers/viewers in a place of discomfort and fear is all part of what makes the genre tick. We should look at old classics with (very) problematic sections as windows onto perspectives instead of an accurate representation of real life.

I mean, that’s fiction in a nutshell.

Dinosaur Lore Galore: A Review of The Dinosaur Lords

I’ve always had a fascination with dinosaurs, ever since I was a child, so it stands to reason that a fantasy epic set in a world where dinosaurs exist would catch my eye. Browsing through the aisles of a Barnes & Noble (pre-pandemic), I saw a book cover depicting an armored knight holding a lance aloft while riding a reined raptor, and it caught my attention like a magnet attracts metal.

And to make the book seem even more appealing to me, a blurb made the bold statement that it was like a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones. My curiosity thoroughly piqued, I snatched the book up, paid for it, and took it home.

The Dinosaur Lords builds a world that is ripe with dinosaurs, and it is a truly fascinating place. It makes you, as a reader, want to spend more time learning about the ways in which people exist in this particular dino-riddled universe. However, choppy writing and unclear character motivation stops the book from fully endearing itself to you.

Caution. There be spoilers ahead!

The story follows several characters navigating the politics and wars of a land called Paradise, particularly focusing on the Empire of Nuevaropa. There is Voyvod Karyl, the disgraced fighter who is called upon to enter the fray once more. Rob Korrigan, a brash bard, accompanies Karyl as he attempts to organize a resistance among peasants against warmongering lords.

Following the more political side of things is the Princess Melodia and Jaume, two lovers who must deal with the trials of perhaps being on the wrong side of a war while also staying true to their ideals.

I’ve just given you my basic understanding of these characters, and, unfortunately, I’m still not entirely clear where their paths may take them or even if I pegged them right in these brief descriptions.

There is a lack of characterization throughout the novel, that makes motivations incredibly unclear. As such, character details that might make me like one character more than another are…well, missing. I formed absolutely no connection with these characters because I couldn’t really understand what they were fighting for.

Let’s take Karyl, for example. He becomes “disgraced” after losing a battle, but since he was betrayed by people from his own side, I was never entirely on board with the whole “he’s a disgraced commander.” If anything, his downfall was completely out of his hands. He returns to his natural role as a military leader after being approached by a deity of some sort and acceding to her requests. And it honestly seems like he did so because he had nothing better to do. It’s almost as if we as readers spend no time in Karyl’s head whatsoever.

Rob, Karyl’s bardic companion, is an easier nut to crack. He’s looking for a good story, and he’s always admired Karyl as a dino handler and strategist. It makes sense why he would follow Karyl in his endeavors. But Rob’s one of the exceptions when it comes to learning about motivations. As I was reading, I kept expecting to finally come to an understanding about why a character does the things they do, but each time I felt like I was coming closer to some sort of answer, the revelation just wouldn’t happen. It was like turning a corner expecting to find a door and finding nothing there.

One reason this happens is because the author skimps on details even when he is being forthright about personalities. Victor Milan’s writing style is to-the-point, a true exercise in brevity. And if the novel had been based in real-life, I would have had no problem with this. But The Dinosaur Lords is set in a fantastical world with its own religions, forms of government, and species of animals. To be frugal with details in a fantasy land leaves readers grasping at straws.

Try imagining the world of The Lord of the Rings if J.R.R. Tolkien decided he didn’t really care about informing readers concerning Hobbits.

And this writing style also causes characterization to suffer, as I’ve said before. For instance, Princess Melodia’s father is briefly described. He is kind and doting toward his daughters, but he has a vague sense of clarity when it comes to retaining his throne. And, hand to heart, that’s all I really learned about him. So when a scheming knight tells Melodia’s father that she has betrayed him (a scene we don’t even read about directly), and she is pushed into a prison and left to the mercy of this devious knight, there is a massive part of you that wonders in bewilderment why her father, the freakin’ Emperor of Nuevaropa, would allow this to happen.

So not only are reader connections to characters missing (meaning how well we can relate to one of them), reader comprehension of character actions is gone too!

The one aspect in which The Dinosaur Lords shines is in its premise. The very potential of a world in which dinosaurs are used as mounts, as hounds on a hunt, or as a veritable tank in battle, kept me reading to the very last page. I wanted to see the dinosaurs in action more than I wanted characters speaking to each other.

The setting of The Dinosaur Lords is also enhanced by the strange religion they have going on. Quotes from their version of a “Bible” introduce every chapter, and it’s interesting to note how they perceive the world and the dinosaurs in it.

This curious and unique environment is the novel’s only major draw.

After some quick research, I discovered there is a sequel to The Dinosaur Lords. However, before I even attempt to purchase and read it, I seriously want to give the first book another go. This is not because I enjoyed it so much that I want to read it again. I want to reread The Dinosaur Lords to see if I can understand characters better a second time around.

I rate The Dinosaur Lords an epic-premise-that-covers-an-intriguing-but-fairly-unsatisfying-narrative-that-will-leave-you-more-puzzled-than-a-paleontologist-who-has-gotten-requested-to-endorse-a-theme-park.

Mystery Nostalgia: Catch Those Meddling Kids

I’m not quick to trust new authors, so when I do find myself wandering past the shelves of a bookstore, it’s a big deal. I look at covers. I look at titles. I read synopses. I’m typically a “completionist” type of reader, so once I start a book, I’m saddled with finishing it.

A few months ago (pre-pandemic), I was walking along the aisles of a Barnes & Noble looking for potential purchases. I’d already picked up a few favorites, so I was ready to find something new. What should catch my eye but Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids.

Right off the bat, the title, cover, and synopsis grabbed my attention.

I didn’t watch that much television in my childhood, but you can bet one of the few shows I did make a point of watching was Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? My sister and I would sit together and watch old reruns of the Hanna-Barbera original for hours when we were being baby-sat by our aunts.

And as anyone who has watched an ounce of Scooby-Doo knows, “meddling kids” is a very familiar phrase.

Already inclined to try out the novel, I picked up Meddling Kids, bought it, and gave it a read.

It was even better than expected.

Former teen sleuths have to revisit an old case of theirs after years of being apart, with all the stereotypical tropes a mystery like that might entail. However, the plot twists are especially delicious, with certain Cthulhu-esque horror elements being liberally borrowed from. And while the characters might fit into set roles, they also diverge from what you would expect, with all the self-aware humor you could want.

I seriously don’t want to spoil the plot for anybody because it’s that good. It’s satisfying and fun without being too heavy-handed.

However, more than the plot, Cantero’s writing style really captivated me. He has this bead on pop culture that leaks into his writing and makes it feel like readers have a window into characters’ inner thoughts. It’s almost akin to the manner in which Stephen King details how his characters think. For example, one of the characters has an intense crush on a girl with curly orange hair. Every time Cantero describes that hair, even though the metaphors start to blend together after a while, you can feel the depth of emotion behind those feelings.

And the references he makes are insanely cool.

Maybe I’m the only dork who think so, but holy hell, he drew more than a few chuckles from me thanks to them.

Occasionally, his writing will devolve into a script-like structure, where he writes a character’s name and then just types what they say.

For example…

Amanda: (Slowly) I’m not sure how I would feel writing like this, but it worked for Cantero.

At first, this sudden change in style and structure startled me and pulled me out of the story. But he does it often enough and in moments where it just fits seamlessly with what’s going on, that it starts to feel natural. I grew to appreciate the risk he took in doing that, especially as it lines up with (I assume) his love of pulpy cinema.

Meddling Kids is an incredible read, and I can’t believe how lucky I was to have just stumbled across it. It was like finding a diamond in the rough.

Actually, scratch that, it was like finding a diamond in a pile of diamonds.

Because if finding Meddling Kids has taught me anything, it’s that there are so many talented writers out there who don’t get enough love from readers. There are so many stories out there waiting to be read, it’s giving me chills.

Ian McEwan Is a Writing Genius

Most know that intricacy and simplicity are two different things. Upon examining the definitions of those two words, they almost seem to be polar opposites.

However, in my experience reading the written works of one Ian McEwan, I now know otherwise. In all the novels I’ve read of his, he combines the two notions seamlessly.

Granted, I’ve only read three of his books.

But goddamn if I didn’t love each one.

McEwan is a skilled writer, with a firm grasp on how to use the English language to convey so much emotion without inundating a reader with too much diction. If you’re looking for a hard-hitting, emotional read without wishy-washy plots, McEwan is your man.

As with many of my favorite books and authors, I first got introduced to McEwan through my middle school library. While browsing the shelves, I saw a book titled Atonement. The cover had a lonely girl sitting on some steps looking off to the side. It wasn’t the cover alone that caught my eye. It was the hefty word “atonement” in conjunction with that young girl about my age that made me pick the book up.

Next thing you know, I’m crying during second period as I flip through the final pages of McEwan’s novel.

I absorbed Atonement like you wouldn’t believe. Book lovers aren’t necessarily born; they’re grown. And that story was the best fertilizer I ever could have used. Even though it was not a book I had been assigned to in class, I dissected it. I pored over every page looking for themes that spanned from beginning to end.

It’s honestly because of Atonement that I got a 5 on my AP English Literature exam. The final essay question had us write an analysis of a novel, and it could be any novel from a number of assorted literature the prompt listed. Atonement was one of the books on that list. Have you ever written an essay for school and actually cared about what you wrote? Yeah, that was probably the first and last time that happened for me.

Just so I’m being upfront with you guys, I’d like to reiterate that I’ve only read three of McEwan’s books.

The first, as I stated just now, was Atonement. The story is all about a girl who tells a single lie in her youth that drastically affects the lives of the people around her. There is a fantastic film adaptation for it, starring James McAvoy and Keira Knightley. Just be prepared for tears.

The second is Nutshell. This one has a strange premise. It’s told from the perspective of an unborn fetus as it overhears that its mother is conspiring to murder her husband with her lover. I just read the little snippet about Nutshell within its book cover, and I was hooked. I mean, aren’t you with that premise alone?!

The third one is The Children Act. I just finished it a few days ago. It is about a judge who hears a case regarding a young boy who refuses life-saving treatment because of his religion, and her decision affects both of their lives in ways neither imagined possible. After reading this book, it was confirmed to me that Ian McEwan should properly be called one of my favorite authors.

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is fucking destiny.

The simplicity that McEwan captures comes from moments. From what I’ve seen, his stories capture brief snippets in time. While the entire narrative might span years or weeks, the story is pieced together over what occurs in small moments. The situations he writes about are never overly extravagant. There is no drama for the sake of drama. A lot of the complications he talks about feel so relatable they don’t have to be explained.

That’s where the intricacy comes in. The details of a person’s feelings are utterly delved into, leaving little to be left unsaid. The ups and downs of what you might think is an average moment are examined through similes and metaphors. He captures the nuances of everyday occurrences.

I don’t want to shove Ian McEwan donw your throats, but…

…well, actually, I do. He’s that good. He’s a superb writer. I feel like I’m running out of words to describe how awesome he is.

Bottom line, his premises are gripping, his writing style is engrossing, and I’m flipping out over how excited I am to pick up something else he’s written.

Top 5 Books To Reread

I’m a rereader in a major way. About half the books I read in a year are books I’m not reading for the first time.

I know that’s not necessarily a good thing, that I should probably expand my horizons and pick up books by new authors, but I can’t help myself.

For one thing, I’m a creature of comfort. I like revisiting characters, stories, and writing styles that I know I enjoy.

For another, I feel I have to justify the amount of books I have in my possession. I mean, what’s the point of buying them for myself if I’m not going to read them again and again and again.

Now, I can reread any book. You name it, I’ll reread it. But I have to admit, some books are easier to reread than others. What follows is a list of my all-time favorite books to read over and over again.

I will vouch for these books’ rereadability with my life.

Side note: Figuratively speaking.

So let’s browse these page-turners and get on with it!

Abandon in Place – Jerry Oltion

This is by far the best book I ever picked up in my middle school library. When I was in school, there was a program for students called Accelerated Reading. It forced kids to pick up books and take comprehension tests on them afterwards in order to collect points. I don’t mean to brag, but I always got number one for AR points at school. But the real benefit from AR wasn’t the points. It was the fact that I got my hands on this fantastic book.

The premise alone is fantastic. Rick Spencer, an astronaut, is feeling low after Neil Amstrong’s death. However, after the funeral, a ghostly Saturn V rocket launches from a NASA pad and no one knows where it came from. The government and the space agency, along with Rick, have to figure out where these things are coming from and what to do with them.

Abandon in Place is able to pass off as a cerebral read, but it’s actually like popcorn. It delves into space-race nostalgia and paranormal questions alike with a sense of humor and honesty. It’s not often that you see a sci-fi book paired with obvious romanticism, but that’s what Abandon in Place does. At the end of the day, the book is about hope and optimism, and I love it for that.

Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen

Is it cliche to like Pride & Prejudice? I feel like it is. Regardless, there’s a reason this book is so popular.

The story is all about Elizabeth Bennet dealing with her family’s quirks and how they make her relate to societal classes. Oh, and also it’s about her romance with Mr. Darcy. That’s why most people read it, and I can’t say I blame them. Darcy’s demeanor is the absolute draw of the novel. I mean, who doesn’t like stoic gentlemen?

It’s a fairly short read, and no chapter is wasted. If Austen includes a paragraph in her work, it is for the express purpose of furthering along her story. That sense of direction and purpose will carry you through every page and make Pride & Prejudice a total speed-run of a book.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery

There is absolutely no reason why I should have bought The Elegance of the Hedgehog that day at the bookstore. I normally don’t extensively peruse bookshelves the way I did. Plus, I don’t like it when book covers feature photos of people. Call me crazy, but I prefer artwork or abstract symbolism on my book covers. But I bought the book, and it’s one of my favorites.

The story has two deuteragonists. One is an aging concierge at this swanky French hotel, where she has to deal with snobbish residents. She pretends to be dumber than she is so that she doesn’t have to share the fact that she is a thoughtful and intelligent person. The other is a young girl, the daughter of one of the families at the hotel. She is incredibly smart, and has decided to kill herself before she grows up to be exactly like her parents.

This book is wonderfully deep, and it makes you feel emotions regardless of whether you’ve heard of the literature or philosophers the characters constantly reference. It’s the most moving quick read I’ve ever read. I remember the first time I finished it, I was in a Dillards, in the shoe department. I cried next to the Gianni Bini heels.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Absolute best book ever. If I had to pick a book to take with me on a desert island, it would be this one. Funny story, I once hit a guy in the nutsack with a collection of Douglas Adams’ work. I’m not proud of that moment (for reasons I may or may not mention another time), but I feel like it adds to the legacy of my copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Anyways, the book’s plot is exceedingly straightforward. Earthman Arthur Dent has to confront the wider reaches of the galaxy after the Earth is destroyed in order to make room for a hyperspace bypass. He goes on adventures, and hilarity ensues.

It is that hilarity that makes The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy such a great reread. The humor never gets old. It’s comparable to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The trappings might get aged, but the essence of the thing can draw more than a few chuckles from you.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

This book makes it onto this list based purely on the fact that I have reread it more than twelve times. I honestly think it’s my most reread book. Any of the Harry Potter books are great rereads since they move so quickly (yet enjoyably) through their plot points.

This was the Harry Potter book I had to content myself with before The Order of the Phoenix came out. So what else was there for me to do if I wanted to immerse myself in the Wizarding World some more than reread The Goblet of Fire for the umpteenth time.

Hope you liked the list, and I also hope I was able to pique your interest in the direction of any of these books!