Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian
by Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: The Martian #1
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Publication date:  February 11th 2014 (first published September 27th 2012)
Source/Format: Bought/eBook
Purchase link: Amazon 

My Thoughts:
Hey-o, of course this book needs no introductions, with a strong 4.39 average rating in Goodreads from over half a million account users and with a movie adaptation starring Matt Damon. I’ve seen the movie and I liked it. I’m trying to decide if I want to read the author’s sophomore book, Artemis, being released this month. I have a copy of “The Martian” lying around so I guess it’s high time to read it and have a feel of Andy Weir’s writing style.

Happy to report, I am with the majority on this one. High stakes and humor are what I enjoyed most in this book. I mean, what could be more dangerous and high stakes than being stranded alone in a hostile planet? And yet Mark Watney, despite his dire circumstance is joke-y, has a never-say-die attitude and has ace problem solving skills which, made his character easy to root for. The periphery characters — NASA employees, Mark’s crew mates, and basically all the humanity — are all rooting for Mark’s survival, too so there is really no villain character here. Man versus Mars, bring it on!

I admit there are boring hard science stuff, this is why I do not read sci-fi that much, but I mostly skimmed over these parts and still found the book enjoyable. I will keep this post short now because there is nothing much I could add to the glowing reviews other people wrote. “The Martian” is entertaining and I decided that I will read Andy Weir’s next book.

Diversity Watch:
Mark Watney is racially indeterminate.

Director of Mars Missions, Venkat Kapoor’s ethnicity is not explicit in text but I am inferring he has Indian roots. He mentioned his religion is Hindu.

Director of JPL, Bruce Ng’s ethnicity is not explicit in text but I am inferring he has Asian roots.

Martinez, one of Mark’s crewmates, explicitly mentioned that he is Mexican.

Vogel, one of Mark’s cremates, is the European Union’s delegate for the Ares 3 mission. He is German.

Guo Ming, Zhu Tao, Su Bin Bao from the China National Space Administration.

My Rating:

Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
by Julie C. Dao

An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl's quest to become Empress--and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng's majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins--sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Rise of the Empress #1
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication date:  October 10th 2017
Source/Format: Netgalley/eARC
Purchase links: Amazon Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iBooks | Book Depository

My Thoughts:
“Forest of a Thousand Lanterns” follows Xifeng, a peasant girl with exceptional beauty and great destiny. Her witch aunt Guma groomed, disciplined and taught her poetry, history and other ways of the aristocrat, as preparation for her future. A part of Xifeng doubts her foretold great destiny but another part wants to believe it. One day, while being fed up with her aunt Guma’s beatings, the part of Xifeng which believes fate won over and she decides to run away with her lover, Wei. Together, they chase their luck in the Imperial City.

Xifeng’s character is a re-imagined origin story of one of the most iconic fairy tale villains, the Evil Queen. As a villain in the making, Xifeng is not intended to be likable at all but she will grow on the reader just the same. She never lets people who step on her get away with it. When people underestimate her, she does every thing in her power to prove them wrong. The Feng Lu Empire is a man’s world but Xifeng gets to do a little smashing of the patriarchy in the end. Murky morality aside, she is a strong character for sure.

I like how Xifeng’s character takes the reader to an exploration of the concept of freedom. A large chunk of the book is about Xifeng starting to figure out her way to being free and her own person. There is this thought Xifeng had earlier in the book where she questions if running away with Wei is the freedom that she wanted after being finally free from Guma’s clutches: “When had she gone from being Guma’s possesion to Wei’s?” Hey Wei, dude, don’t mess with this girl, she can think for herself. And then there was this instance when she killed small animals for their hearts to heal a scar in her face. This ritual had always upset Xifeng before when Guma made her do it but when she does it on her own volition, there is this hint of triumph in Xifeng. I had goosies when it dawned on me that she was upset in sacrificing animals before not because she thought it was wrong but more of because she was being forced to do it.

Being on top has become Xifeng’s idea of ultimate freedom. Xifeng one by one discards any thing (poverty, love) and any one (there are murders, gasp!) she thought would suppress her from ascending the ranks of the Imperial court. She totally becomes out of touch from herself, even succumbing to an evil spirit so she can ensure the fruition of her goals. Am I giving away too much plot here? Sorry, I just cannot stop with too much pleasure in discussing all things Xifeng. Just as I told you, she grows on the reader.

The book’s world-building is not that defined yet. I hope it gets more enhanced on the sequels. The Feng Lu Empire appears to be vast but I experienced only a glimpse of it. Aside from Xifeng’s travel from her obscure village to the Imperial City, most of the story’s setting is limited inside the city of women, which is a place she cannot leave as a court lady. There are still a lot of people (the Five Tigers, the Crimson Army, the royalty of the other Kingdoms) and places (Kamatsu, Surjalana, Dagovad) mentioned that I hope to meet and visit in the next book/s.

The supporting characters are serviceable but aside from maybe Aunt Guma and Empress Lihua, they are mostly broadly written. There is a distinct lack of humor that I know is not really required but could pick up on the unexciting bits of the book. The pacing is a little uneven with the first parts going slow and steady day by day, week by week and then rushing to year by year on the last parts, using casual birth and death of periphery characters to indicate the passing of time.

Strangely enough, I am willing to let go of these little flaws and jump right into the next book in the series. I just want to bear witness to the terrible things Xifeng has in store for the Feng Lu Empire. I also can’t wait to meet the Snow White equivalent of the series, although I believe I’ve already saw her briefly in this book. I hope she becomes a formidable foe to Xifeng. “Forest of a Thousand Lanterns” is a confident set-up piece for a book series, with a strong anti-heroine at its front and center. It delivered a promising origin story and an excellent character study for Xifeng whom we all know is bound to unleash her reign of terror in the future. I don’t know about you, but until someone proves to be a worthy adversary to her, I’ll be standing here holding a sign: U DA BADDEST & DA FAIREST, XIFENG!

Sidenote: Check out the ongoing PH Blog Tour of "Forest of a Thousand Lanterns", hosted by Erika @ The Nocturnal Feyfor giveaways and reviews from other Filipino book bloggers!

Diversity Watch:
Although The Feng Lu Empire is inspired by Imperial China, there are mentions of other people of color (brown skin, copper color skin, etc.) in its capital.

Shiro, the Ambassador to the Kingdom of Kamatsu, is a dwarf.

My Rating:

Wandering Thoughts: Things That I Want To Add In My Reviews But No Can Do

Image: Kaboompics

Wandering Thoughts is where I let my mind stray, think and talk about non-routine things. This is an avenue for bookish personal stories, fun posts, musings and discussions.

When I read reviews from reviews sites and fellow book bloggers, I sometimes stumble upon stuff that I find so pretty or brilliant or important that I want to also incorporate them with my own book reviews. I want to emulate them because they make their reviews so extra. Being extra means you love what you’re doing. Being extra shows passion. But most of the time, I end up not doing these things in my reviews because either I actually cannot do them myself or I could do them if I really try but it would eat up too much time. So here are some of the special stuff other people have in their reviews that I wish I have in mine but no can do.

  1. Book photography

    Image: Pixabay
    I cannot for the life of me take decent photos of anything. I have shaky hands so I almost always end up with blurry, or grainy, or off-center images. And on a really bad day, I do a combo of these three disasters  in one pic. Also, I have zero creative juice in arranging books to pretty flatlays. Like what background should I use with this particular book cover? Or how to pick things that goes with the book in the photo? I see people using flowers, candles, origami and such, how do they even come up with these themes, color coordination and all that aesthetic? My lack of competence in capturing pretty pictures is one of the reasons why I do not bookstagram. Book photography, while it comes natural for others is too much for me to handle.

    One of the many talented book blogger slash photographer out there is Hazel of Staybookish who takes crisp and clean photos. I also like the minimalist aesthetic of book photos by Shelumiel of Bookish and Awesome which also functions as header images for his review posts. And if going crazy with colors is your thing, Cait of Paper Fury is the ever reliable book blogger.

  2. Parental advisory

    Image: Pixabay
    It’s good practice to include trigger warning advisories in book reviews. I make sure that I do this in my reviews because I believe it’s important and the right thing to do. Another thing that I think important and value-adding is a parental advisory for books. TV shows and movies have them so why shouldn’t books be any different? I feel that this is needed especially for middle-grade and young adult books. I often see Goodreads questions from parents asking if this book or that contain mature content. I mean, I hope they are asking because they want to guide and explain sensitive matters (like sex and drug use) to their children and not to censor them on what to read or not. There are times when I feel obliged to include parental advisories in my reviews but I don’t do it because of general laziness. Woah, seeing my reason for not doing something I feel important in plain writing makes me look like an irresponsible adult. I suddenly feel bad. But the good thing is, there is a review site who does this kind of thing already. I found this review of “What to Say Next” by Julie Buxbaum from Common Sense Media really helpful and informative for parents. So for all the parentals in need of mature content warnings for their kids, head in on this review site.

  3. Book quote

    Image: Pixabay
    I do give quotes from the books I review, but not all the time. Kate of The Bookaholic Blurbs is consistent in providing quotes at the end of her reviews. I dunno, perhaps blame my general laziness again. Even if the book is quotable, I keep forgetting to bookmark all the beautiful lines. And sometimes I am just more engrossed with the story and not conscious for searching quotable quotes while reading.

    Quote posters are gems that I wanna also be able to do in my reviews, too. Have you seen these quote posters in Hazel’s review of “Girls Made of Snow and Glass” by Melissa Bashardoust?! Darn nice, it’s like woven with magic or something. I dream of conjuring things like these but alas, I am the Squib of making things pretty. True story: back in high school, my Science teacher required us to prettify our notebooks and I made use of those pesky cray pass colors. Long story short, I made mine messy instead of pretty. Like I can’t even read my science notes through all the mess, what even is the point?

  4. Talk to me portion

    Image: Pixabay
    I would love to have more interaction in my review posts but sadly,comments come in trickles in this side of the internet space. It’s an arid, windy place where tumbleweeds go to tumble. Swoosh! There’ goes one tumbleweed a tumblin’, see?

    Of course I get few comments mainly because I have little (like close to zero) blog following. But being a little book blog aside, I think that another great way to get readers’ reactions and comments is by throwing them your post-related questions. It’s like give and take (or Newton’s Third Law which I don’t think I learned properly because of my stupid messed-up science notes). It works like this: I give you my thoughts about this book and I ask what’s your take on it. Have you read it yet? Are you planning to? Questions like that. An example would be, again the great Cait of Paper Fury. (Is it too obvious that I idolize her?!) She has this “Chat With Me” portion at the end of every post and look at the flurry of comments in her blog. But then again, we have to factor in her huge blog following. So I guess the formula is blog fame + asking questions in posts = party everytime in the comments section! Would I like to test this little theory and put it to practice in my blog? Partly yes, but mostly no. I can work on asking questions with my blog posts from time to time but amassing a huge following is a tricky thing to achieve.

There you have it, the extra stuff that I really want to add in my book reviews but can’t. Mostly because of laziness and incompetence. Or euphemistically speaking, let’s just say that I’d rather spend more time reading and being content with my own style of reviewing than trying too hard on things that I have no talent for. Don’t get me wrong tho, the lack of pizzaz in my reviews does not mean that I don’t love what I’m doing. I treasure my book blog. I enjoy talking about books. I put effort in every post that I write. I work through my word wall of reviews, brick by brick with my own sweat and tears.

 Talk to me portion: Hah, let’s do this! How about you? Are there “extra” stuff that other bloggers do that you wish you can do in your own blog? Or are you one of the talented book bloggers out there? Maybe you make art nails that look like the art cover of books? Or you put fashion pieces together to capture the aesthetic of book covers? Show me your stuff, leave your artsy reviews in the comments so I can see them.