31 May 2016

Review: Save Me a Seat

Save Me a Seat Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of Sarah Weeks after reading Pie however long ago, and pretty much anything she does is an automatic for me at this point. Save Me a Seat is a collaborative effort with first-time author Gita Varadarajan, and, while flawed, ends up being a charming book about acceptance and friendship.

The story follows two kids. One, Joe, has some special educational needs and is struggling in school but at least knows how to navigate the social aspects a bit. Ravi, our other main character, just moved into town. An Indian-American boy, he speaks with an accent and his family is proud of their heritage, but it's causing him some distress at school both in terms of outright bullying and smaller issues. Over the course of a week, we follow these two kids who get to know each other in a specialized class for struggling students.

On one hand, the book is a really charming story about friendship and acceptance. We get just enough in the way of the cultural and social navigation to be a good entry point for the intended age group without overwhelming the story, which is good. On the downside, some of the issues are a little heavy-handed, and I probably noticed it more because of my awareness of the current literary climate in regards to cultural issues than a regular 10 year old reading this would. Still, it's not enough by any standard to not recommend this across the board.

Sarah Weeks continues to be great, and I also hope we get more from Gita Varadarajan as well. This was a wonderful read for everyone.

View all my reviews

Review: Sing

Sing Sing by Vivi Greene
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I'm not part of Taylor's Squad or whatever, I can appreciate what she's accomplishing culturally and I find the constant attention to her personal life to be fascinating even if the details don't matter much to me. Sing absolutely takes advantage of that cultural zeitgeist (up to and including the obvious cover) and succeeds extremely well in the process.

The story follows one of the biggest pop singers in the world months away from her next tour. Her album is coming out and it's basically about her boyfriend, but they just broke up, so Lily heads to a small island to get away from it all and maybe write some new songs there. She, of course, meets another boy and things are hit off a bit, and the story quickly becomes about this balance between work, fame, and love.

It's a surprisingly quiet book for this genre and age group, which was sort of refreshing. You got a good sense of the speed that things move on these small island/coastal towns (I could absolutely picture this taking place on Cape Cod), and while the book doesn't throw you much in the way of curveballs, this felt different enough across the board where I fully enjoyed it from start to finish.

Definitely worth your time if you're into the contemporary YA stuff. A fun, solid read.

View all my reviews

30 May 2016

Review: Lily and Dunkin

Lily and Dunkin Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lily and Dunkin is one of the latst in a long line of stories about trans kids and, in part, the trans experience. I've read a number of these now, and I think this one might be the best even with some of its flaws and sameness.

On one side we have Lily, an eight grader born Timothy that is seen out front of his house by a classmate in a dress. That classmate, Dunkin, has bipolar disorder and has been treating it, but just moved into town and he's not taking it well. The two strike up a bond and friendship even as the world around them changes rapidly.

An issue with the trans books for YA and middle grade, at least so far, is that the stories all follow a similar trajectory. I appreciated what Donna Gephardt did in contrasting one story that few readers will be able to relate to in Lily's tale with a more accessible one in Dunkin's, but Lily's story does still suffer from that sort of sameness that others like it have followed. Plus, having to handle sensitive and confusing topics for this age group is difficult as is, and Lily's story in particular has its share of difficult-to-read parts from an emotional standpoint.

Still, this is miles ahead of George (in spite of some of the age differences), and easily the best in the space I've read in spite of a lot of the tropes being replicated here. The trend of featuring trans issues in books for kids and teens isn't going to go anywhere anytime soon, and it's great that we have one that is mostly appropriate and well-written. Especially if you're running a library and looking for the right book in this topic space, this one is worth your time.

View all my reviews

Review: Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend

Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Probably closer to a 2.5 or so.

When you see a book titled Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend, you pretty much have to scoop it up, right? I got an early copy of this, was very excited, and it left me... I don't know.

The story takes place at a high school where a pterodactyl randomly shows up. And he's hot. And the girls like him, as do a lot of people in town. And he plays football. And when you get romantic with the pterodactyl, you're branded in a way. and the whole thing really turns the town upside down.

The book was inspired by a quote at a writing summit, where an author recommended to the writers to not "go writing your hot pterodactyl boyfriend novel." So, of course, this guy does exactly that and kind of proves exactly why it was a bad idea. I still wonder if there was a good was to put this story together, but there was a lot of ridiculousness beyond the initial conceit added in on this (including an ending where it all completely goes off the rails) that ultimately makes this not even too much fun as a curiosity. I can't even recommend this as sort of campy fun, unfortunately, it just doesn't work.

View all my reviews

29 May 2016

Review: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 2: Squirrel You Know It's True

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 2: Squirrel You Know It's True The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 2: Squirrel You Know It's True by Ryan North
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the first volume of the rebooted/"new" Squirrel Girl. The second volume? I just felt like saying "yeah, that's enough."

It's not that she's not necessarily fun, or that it's not necessarily well-written or anything like that. The character is fun, in capable hands, and so on. It's just kind of exhaustingly self-aware already, a sort of self-congratulatory idea behind it that's nodding to a lot of the discussion surrounding the property these days that I could have just done without. If you want to wink at the meta, wink at the meta, y'know?

There's so much that could be done with this character, and I wasn't seeing it from this in what I felt was kind of an annoying fashion. Maybe we'll get some better expansion moving forward, but so much of the major comics right now don't seem to know what they're doing and it's a little frustrating to see such a positive comic possibly head down this road, too.

View all my reviews

Review: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For some time now, I've really been struggling with depression issues. Stress, malaise, the whole bit. This book was recommended to me as something that I might be able to relate to and get something from, and imagine my surprise when I did.

Dan Harris is a national news anchor, born and raised not too far from where I live. He had a panic attack while on the air after years of, well, not dealing with a lot of the issues he was having mentally. Resorting to drugs, more work, unhealthy habits, all of these things came to a head on national television, and 10% Happier is basically the story of how he explored the idea of staying more mindful and grounded in the face of some of his biggest mental health issues.

I got quite a bit out of this if only because I saw a lot of my own personal situation with Harris (minus some of his worst behaviors), and he was a fellow skeptic both of religion and of a lot of the sort of Secret-style, Eckhart Tolle-ish solutions we see paraded around on television and the internet these days. While I can't go as far as he did regarding meditation and the like, he was able to explore some of those concepts and find a way to get a little better, and we see the road throughout the book.

I respond well to this right now because of what it offered me, but for those interested in these sorts of mindfulness exercises or just looking for a story of someone who broke past their problematic behaviors and responses, Harris spins a good read in that way as well. I'm glad I read this for many reasons, and you might be, too.

View all my reviews

Review: Providence Act 1

Providence Act 1 Providence Act 1 by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As one of maybe a dozen people who actually enjoyed Neonomicon, getting my hands on the first set of Providence, Alan Moore's latest foray into the Mythos, was a bit of a priority. I don't know if we call this a prequel, spiritual or otherwise, to his Neonomicon/Courtyard, but the mood it exists in certainly matches up, and that might be all that matters.

For this story, though, we're in late-1910s New England (of course) with a journalist-type exploring some information on a story supposedly inspired by The King in Yellow (which gained some prominence for those of us in the real world thanks to True Detective a few years back) that is causing people some issues (to put it mildly).

The story is a real slow burn in many ways. One thing Moore does in this one is intersperse the comic form with a lot of text, and, frankly, this doesn't work so much for me as I would have preferred all one way or all the other. The way the tale jumps back and forth between comic and prose is too jarring (and the prose is not simply like you'd expect in book form, either) to really be resonant. The art, however, continues to be second-to-none, and Burrows in particular has a style that I really associate with Lovecraftian comics for better or for worse, now.

Overall, I don't see this drawing in new readers to the Mythos or to Moore's Lovecraftian stuff period, just because of how strange and nonstandard it is. For someone who is a major fan of both, however, this felt like a bit of a misstep in comparison while still being one of the most engaging reads in this area I've had in some time. Really, your enjoyment of this will depend on your tolerance for the weird (and The Weird) as well as the format Moore opted to run with here.

View all my reviews

Review: Vermilion

Vermilion Vermilion by Molly Tanzer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If I have any real issues with some modern fantasy these days, it's that there's a certain level of try-hard-edness that's permeated some of the less mainstream stuff. In a rush to make a book that is Different and Edgy and perhaps meets up with some of the current societal trends, you end up with books that have great concepts and disappointing execution. This brings us to Vermilion.

Vermilion is sort of a fantasy-western-steampunk hybrid in a sense, but doesn't really delve too much into either area while our heroine, Lou, heads on a rescue mission of sorts. There's not a lot of trust for the work she does at home, but a lot of strange encounters on her way as well.

This ultimately just didn't connect for me. Sometimes a book will focus on the main character and it will work, but other times it will feel a little more forced than it needs to, and that's where I sat with Vermilion. By trying to get me to care so much about Lou, it almost felt like the rest of the story went by the wayside, and it just ended up not being the type of worldbuilding I was looking for.

Some might like this, especially if the modern shift in fantasy/science fiction excites you. For me, though, this didn't do it.

View all my reviews

Review: The Portable Veblen

The Portable Veblen The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm trying to figure out what it was about The Portable Veblen that didn't work for me. A well-written piece of contemporary fiction about a woman with a few quirks and a curious squirrel navigating through pre-marriage life, it's just a little off-center from the genre that it exists in, and yet it just didn't 100% connect for me.

Maybe it was the way it felt like it moved from scene to scene in a less organic way? Maybe it was the way Veblen was portrayed and how I couldn't figure out if she was meant to be what she was or if it was an attempt to subvert any specific trope. I can't place it, but I think a lot of people would find a lot to like about this one even if I didn't.

View all my reviews

27 May 2016

Review: Six Impossible Things

Six Impossible Things Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

YA contemporary titles try so hard to stay relevant and fresh that sometimes books like this come out that feel more like they're trying too hard as opposed to being truly essential to the current experience. While this book is a few years old and is Australian, the subject matter of a kid with a gay parent who is also being bullied using similar sexual-orientation-charged language who also has a crush is so well-worn and done so often that a book really needs to clear a pretty high bar, and Six Impossible Things, while readable and entertaining enough, doesn't meet that high standard.

This may be a book that resonates with a very specific teen, but it's more subject-oriented toward boys with a marketing appeal that seems specific to girls, which means those who might get something significant out of the story will miss out entirely.

Overall, just an unfortunate miss. Skip this one unless this sort of genre is your thing or you know a kid who would gain a lot from a story like this.

View all my reviews

Review: The Silent History

The Silent History The Silent History by Eli Horowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While The Silent History is proof that sometimes the medium matters, put aside on its own merits, it's a solid science fiction tale. I just wish I had followed it as it was released in a more serial form.

The book takes place over many decades, with children being born basically silent and wordless. We see some things from the perspective of parents, teachers, politicians, and scientists as the situation is understood and dealt with.

The concept is great, and it was serialized online as part of an app, I guess, so the narrative does suffer a little bit in the 500 page print form with shorter chapters and a more streamlined experience. I do wonder what it would be like under normal publication or under the app itself, but in terms of a basic story plus everything else, this was a pretty great read.

Definitely recommended.

View all my reviews

17 May 2016

Review: My Best Friend's Exorcism: A Novel

My Best Friend's Exorcism: A Novel My Best Friend's Exorcism: A Novel by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Closer to a 2.5.

What do you call a goofy period piece that doesn't bother with anything advertised in the plot until nearly the end? For me, it's My Best Friend's Exorcism, a book that let's you think you're getting a funny tale about an exorcism and ends up never quite pulling the trigger on any real aspect of the tale.

The story is about two girls in the 1980s. Best friends in everything until one of the girls starts acting different and it's decided that she's actually possessed by a demon, and she'll be the one to get it fixed.

What annoys me so much about this book is just the lost potential. There's such a great option to do an 80s-tastic Exorcist sendup, but nothing really comes about and the "is she or isn't she possessed" back-and-forth becomes kind of tiring as time goes on. The end almost certainly and completely rescues the book, as it gets truly insane, but the issue is ultimately getting to that point. It's just not engaging enough, which is especially unfortunate given Quirk's track record as a publisher.

Overall, skip this one unless this is a specific interest of yours. I hope we get a better book like it at some point in the future.

View all my reviews

15 May 2016

Review: Keep Me In Mind

Keep Me In Mind Keep Me In Mind by Jaime Reed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sick lit is still a thing, right? How about amnesia lit?

Ella falls during an early morning run with her boyfriend, and she loses the last two years of her memory. Her boyfriend can't quite understand, but neither can anyone else, but Ella quickly has to relearn what her life was like and begin trying to piece together a life of someone who she isn't sure she actually likes.

This is a book that hits a lot of good notes, from its handling of diversity to the somewhat unique plot to even how it ends. The issues for me feel nitpicky, but still took me out of the story. Why is the boyfriend so seemingly okay? Why is Ella coping so well with this? Why isn't there more of an identity crisis in play? A lot of the individual pieces work, but I ultimately feel like it never goes as far as it should.

Overall, a solid read, especially for those looking for something different from the teen romance/sick lit genre. It won't blow you away, but it's an enjoyable one.

View all my reviews

13 May 2016

Review: The Future for Curious People: A Novel

The Future for Curious People: A Novel The Future for Curious People: A Novel by Gregory Sherl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ina way, this book was a somewhat frustrating read, but it's rare when characters and concept win out in a science fiction book. In a way, The Future for Curious People is the sort of anti-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind in how it handles relationships and technology, if that makes any sense, and that makes it an interesting read.

The story is about a future where people can essentially hook themselves up to a computer and see various iterations of their future. The story bounces back and forth between two people who have their own issues, but find some solace in the technology as well as some other information that begins influencing things.

This is not hard science fiction in any regard, and tends to be a little light around the edges, but that works. It's less about the tech and more about the people, so if you're looking for significant future ideas here, you're not going to find them. What you'll find instead is a story about a dream many of us already have and the pitfalls that invariably come from them.

Not for everyone, but absolutely what I needed to read right now. Certainly a quality read on a whole.

View all my reviews

21 April 2016

Review: Sleeping Giants

Sleeping Giants Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had read about this book ages ago, and then when I got an opportunity to read it, I was pretty hyped up about it. Even with high expectations, this book, with an unconventional narrative structure and a cool premise, more than delivered.

The situation is fairly simple - the United States is finding pieces of... something. They're coming up from the earth, wreaking havoc, but they seem to be parts of a giant. A big hand, a leg segment, and so on. What starts as a collection quickly becomes a construction, and the more we learn from the construction the more strange everything seems, both from the perspective of what the weird giant machine is for and for the motives of those involved.

It's such a simple premise, done almost documentary-style in a fly-on-the-wall sort of way. The characters are simple but almost secondary to the overall concept behind the story, and it's a real page turner as a result. The beauty of the book is in its simplicity - we see the plans put into motion, the results, and slowly, more mysteries are revealed.

It's a simple read, popcornish in a sense, but it's exactly what I was looking for in a book like this. Absolutely recommended, especially for a sci-fi palate cleanser.

View all my reviews

13 April 2016

Review: OCDaniel

OCDaniel OCDaniel by Wesley King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Is it possible for something to try to be the OCD Stargirl?

Maybe so, as OCDaniel is about a boy who is the backup punter on his school football team. He struggles to keep his situation in line, having a lot of small OCD episodes, and meets a girl who intrigues him with a mystery and might be a good distraction for him.

There's a lot that's endearing about this book, but a lot that's kind of wrong about it. The girl, who signs a note "Fellow Star Child," feels like an attempt to subvert the whole Manic Pixie trope and just kind of falls flat, and Daniel's OCD is almost too stereotypical at times and the idea of him not having a clue as to what's going on until this point in his life defies believability. Especially when you have what is basically the seminal YA work on OCD in Kissing Doorknobs, a book like this doesn't necessarily have to surpass it, but it does have to go a little further in order to succeed, and this just didn't pull it off.

Ultimately, not really a recommendation except if you're seeking something specific from it. Closer to a 2.5.

View all my reviews

Review: Dreamology

Dreamology Dreamology by Lucy Keating
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'll always at least give a nod to books that try something a little different. Dreamology takes a basic teen romance trope and turns it on its head a bit, and, while it doesn't always work, it's a unique enough tale to take a look at.

Alice goes to her new school and sees a boy there, Max. Max happens to be a guy Alice has dreamed about for seemingly her whole life, and now he's just there at the same school. To make matters worse, it appears that the dreams that they have been sharing are starting to bleed into their real world, and this is causing obvious problems across the board. So now, Alice and Max need to figure out what's going on before it's perhaps too late.

In a way, this book is a little too unbelievable in some regards, and the way it gets sorted feels strange. The entire thing is a little mind-bendy, but I've never been fully into the "world of dreams" the way a lot of people, including those who are likely to be drawn to this, would be. It does try to use some sort of future-science scenarios to explain what's happening, but there doesn't feel like there's a ton of urgency or anything going on, which is arguably the biggest flaw.

If the concept appeals to you, you might love this. If you're a little more critical, though....

View all my reviews

12 April 2016

Review: Going Red: The Two Million Voters Who Will Elect the Next President--and How Conservatives Can Win Them

Going Red: The Two Million Voters Who Will Elect the Next President--and How Conservatives Can Win Them Going Red: The Two Million Voters Who Will Elect the Next President--and How Conservatives Can Win Them by Ed Morrissey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5.

Ed Morrissey is best known for his work on Hot Air, the conservative news site, but this book ended up being a surprisingly great, well-researched primer on the upcoming election.

Why does this work? It's more like a basic electoral roadmap about some of the most important areas for Republicans and how they can win. It's so well put together that it will work well as a historical document in a few cycles, and gives enough tips and information to work for years beyond as well.

The downside? In a year with Donald Trump making such great inroads, we'll never really get to see the extent of the value of this work.

Honestly, there's not a ton to say about this. The appeal is for conservative election wonks and movement types who are looking for in-depth information about Republican electoral options. Beyond that, it might not be much, but, for myself, I really found a lot to enjoy and digest in this. A pleasant, wonderful surprise.

View all my reviews

05 April 2016

Review: Queen of Likes

Queen of Likes Queen of Likes by Hillary Homzie
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Mmmm, anti-technology cautionary tales.

We have a girl names Karma who is obsessed with an Instagram-style clone. Her parents don't like her social media fame, she breaks a rule and loses access to the phone. She quickly Learns Her Lesson through volunteering and that there's more to life than just getting approval on social media. Everyone's happy.

Argh, this book. Yes, there's more to life than technology and social media. No, that doesn't mean that we must treat our phones like cancer. No, this doesn't mean that we need to be Luddites about everything. No, this especially doesn't mean we need to treat local historical societies as the last standard-bearers of a more innocent and humane time in which technology wasn't perverting everything.

This book just irritated me. Everything about it felt insincere and melodramatic, from the cover to the cardboard caricatures within the book. It's almost too preachy and on the nose, and sends just a terrible message. There's a way to write a book about our relationship with technology (especially in a teen/school setting) that does not require us to look at technology in such a negative way. It's just as unhealthy to treat cell phones, social media, and the like as negative tools as it is to be chained to our devices, and this book misses that completely.

Avoid this like the plague. It's just not a good read or a good message. Closer to a 1.5, but I'm not feeling generous.

View all my reviews

Review: When We Collided

When We Collided When We Collided by Emery Lord
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

The Start of Me and You is one of my favorite books ever, balancing fun teen romance with a great message about coping mechanisms and moving forward in times of crisis. When We Collided comes along with a similar point of view but with a different angle, and there are parts that work and parts that don't.

The story is about two teenagers, Vivi and Jonah. Jonah has essentially become the head of his household following the death of his father, especially given that her mother isn't coping well. Vivi is in town for the summer, and her flighty spontaneity quickly evolves into a whirlwind relationship where the two of them get to spread their wings a bit, learn about each other, and learn to cope with each other and each other's problems and failings.

It's definitely a good story, and I feel like Emery Lord is starting to find a nice niche for herself here. The issue with this story is more that I feel like the weight of the story isn't quite there. Jonah resists help, Vivi perhaps too stereotypical, and the choices being made are all a little strange. I can't quite pinpoint what didn't work, and maybe it was just my expectations being too high.

Still, a book I think will matter to kids who have to grow up too fast, teens who are depressed, and those prone to the type of fast-falling that summer relationships often provide. Growing up too fast is hard, and maybe this is a book that might slow it down for the right readers.

View all my reviews

29 March 2016

Review: What You Always Wanted

What You Always Wanted What You Always Wanted by Kristin Rae
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

I'm always surprised that YA books don't push the theater/performing arts nerd angles more. We've seen a few published over the last 18 months, but, having been a theater and chorus geek myself, it's fertile ground for a lot of the sorts of love triangles and situations in play with groups like those. What You Always Wanted mines that cavern a bit and mostly works as a fluffy teen romance that is reminiscent of those times, but lacks the weight it could have had.

In this tale, Maddie is obsessed with old movie stars and is now in a new school. She's carpooling with one of the stars of the baseball team, but that's not usually the guy she goes for. At least it isn't until she learns about his secret performing past, which changes the entire game and makes her wonder if she can change him.

That key plot point is where the story kind of falls apart for me. It's a fun airy romance and then takes the sort of turn where you feel like it's okay to try and mold someone into the type of person you want them to be as opposed to accepting good people for what they are. It's not a great message in a genre (teen romance) light on substance, and that concerned me.

With that said, looking past that one flaw, it's a fun and fast read. It's unlikely to change anyone's life, but that's not really the point, either. It's candy for the teen performer set, and that's extremely valid in and of itself. Recommended for kids looking for characters that represent their interests, for sure.

View all my reviews

20 March 2016

Review: Dragons vs. Drones

Dragons vs. Drones Dragons vs. Drones by Wesley King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As someone who does love b-movies and absurd premises, Dragons vs. Drones sounds like a fun, absurd idea in theory. In execution, though, it's a little too serious and overdone to truly reach a successful place for me.

Marcus is the child of a CIA agent, and he's spent much of his childhood trying to find the man who has been branded a traitor. He is somehow zapped to an alternate dimension where dragons are real and Earth-based drones are hunting those dragons down in what is actually an interdimensional war.

This is a bad movie premise, and it's just an okay story that would truly work better if it played up the absurdity of it all. Instead, it tries to play straight and just ends up being okay. It fails to really make any sort of impact in any direction and, with a massive cliffhanger at the end, offers no payoff to speak of.

I want to see this book done by the guys who do Sharknado instead. That might be something where we could accept what was going on instead of the half-baked craziness we ended up with. Not great, just a pass.

View all my reviews

Review: The Rule of Mirrors

The Rule of Mirrors The Rule of Mirrors by Caragh M. O'Brien
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a classic case of a good story going completely off the rails. In The Vault of Dreamers, we had a conspiratorial-type tale that involved a reality television show and teenagers being manipulated in their sleep. The Rule of Mirrors swings the curtain back, and just throws it all in disarray.

Our heroine from the first book? She's in two different bodies now. One of them is pregnant. Both need to find a way to merge together and fix the situation before it's too late.

I'm more than okay with strange, but this whole thing just got weird for a reason I can't figure out and there will be a third book that I can't even begin to figure out where it will start or end.

Overall, I can't say much about it because it's just a puzzling read with some real puzzling choices being made. Considering how much I enjoyed the first book, I'm just disappointed at the direction here and think it's a significant miss.

View all my reviews

Review: Version Control

Version Control Version Control by Dexter Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, time travel books, how I love you.

This book basically follows a couple. One is a scientist, working on a time travel device, the other his spouse. In this futuristic America, the president's hologram can address citizens directly, cars are self-driving, and so on. So there are a lot of complications to go along with this story, and a lot of questions regarding the nature of time travel and such that are discussed.

I kind of loved how this book played with the idea. Early on, the seeds of doubt as to what's going on are sewn, and once we get into the idea of what time travel means in this story (both from a frank scientific standpoint that I had never considered before and thus has ultimately made me personally doubt the ability to actually have time travel occur in a way I didn't before) and how it would impact society if it worked, it throws the entire narrative into disarray, and I kind of love it. It's such a different, unique take, and with characters I enjoyed reading about and a few curveballs along the way, this is probably one of my favorite books that plays with time travel in some time, and definitely my favorite "nontraditional" take on the genre.

Overall, if you like science fiction, read this anyway. If you're really into time travel stories, this one should get as close to the top of your radar as possible. Just a great read on a whole.

View all my reviews

08 March 2016

Review: Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls

Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls by Raymond Arroyo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I, for whatever reason, didn't care much for Percy Jackson. As an adult, I get why I didn't like it, but I also understand why the kids are so excited about the series. A lot of people have tried to do something similar and it hasn't always work, but Will Wilder is the closest I've seen anything come in terms making it happen, and it ends up being an interesting read with some curious choices.

In the story, Will is a kid in a small town with a history. Will is also a little irresponsible, breaking someone's shoulder during some horseplay. There's a relic of St. Paul in the local church, and a local man approaches him to get it for him, as it has healing properties and could help his hurt friend, but it ends up reawakening a multigenerational war in the process as he pursues the relic.

It's kind of a crazy story, and perhaps most noteworthy is the use of the Christian imagery to get the plot going. It's not crazy overt, it's not a stealth religious book proselytizing, but there are some bible stories mixed in along the way and I can see how that can turn off some readers. Beyond that point, though, it turns out that the book balances humor, action, and adventure in a really interesting and accessible way. This could end up being a pretty great series, especially if it tones down the religiousness a bit.

Overall, a good read! One to be wary of, perhaps, depending on your sensitivity to religious material, but I surprisingly enjoyed it.

View all my reviews

06 March 2016

Review: The Siren

The Siren The Siren by Kiera Cass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kiera Cass is best known for The Selection, which is a brilliant YA series across the board. The Siren i her now-traditionally-released self-published debut, and it's pretty solid.

Kahlen is a siren, sentenced by the sea to sing and lure sailors to their inevitable oceanic doom. She the meets a boy, and falls for him, but cannot speak to him lest he hears her voice and the worst thing occurs. Thus the conflict inherent in the story.

It's a pretty straightforward read, and it's a lot lighter fare both in structure and tone compared to The Selection. It takes few chances and works out about as you'd expect it to at the end of the day, and that results in a perfectly pleasant experience.

Fans of Cass will love this. If you're not into her stuff, this might not quite do it for you, though, and that's also fine. The story is an imperfect specimen, but still a quick, quality palate cleanser. Closer to a 3.5 on a whole.

View all my reviews

02 March 2016

Review: Arkwright

Arkwright Arkwright by Allen Steele
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a way, Arkwright is Seveneves on easy mode. A multi-generational science fiction exploration novel, instead of being reliant on super hard science, it's a love letter to science fiction itself to fuel the plot along and make an enjoyable read.

The story is about an author, Arkwright, who is right in line with the golden age of his time generations ago. With his royalties and investments, he starts a secretive fund to eventually launch an interstellar spaceship to a planet believed to be able to sustain life. The story follows his progeny over the generations working toward this goal, the problems that persist in such a feat, and, ultimately, the end result.

This book works in the sense that it's a really pretty, low-stakes investment with an enjoyable outcome. If you're looking for the sort of "against all odds" action and problem-solving that Seveneves provided, you're not going to get it here - this book is more optimistic and is more about the people involved than the science to get there. If you're not okay with a lot of handwaving away of problems and situations, this book might be frustrating as a result, but it's not what the book is for. Instead, it's an appreciation for the Big Thinking science fiction used to provide and an appreciation for those willing to make things work even with no immediate benefit, like those in space industries today who will not live to see the fruits of their effort.

As a read, it was great. I loved my experience with the book. As a science fiction read, I prefer the harder stuff, but that's okay, too. This book was just too fun not to put down, and is a worthy read on its own. A great read overall.

View all my reviews

01 March 2016

Review: In Real Life

In Real Life In Real Life by Jessica Love
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There's a running meme about the television show Seinfeld that theorizes that the show would be basically uninteresting if they had cell phones, since most of the conflicts could have been resolved with them. In Real Life is kind of like that, except Seinfeld existed when cell phones weren't ubiquitous and In Real Life is a present day story where things like Google are real.

Hannah and Nick have been friends for ages, with phone conversations and online chats and such. They've also never met in real life. So Hannah decides to crash a concert for Nick's band in Vegas and she learns that there are things she doesn't know about Nick along the way.

The description sounds more like a cautionary tale than it really is. There's no real danger in the plot here, and Nick and Hannah do know each other, just not as well as they thought. Having basically experienced a lot of my teen years through online friendships, and having met many of my closest friends via the internet, this story isn't strange at all. What's strange is that the major plot point hinges on something that, with literally 5 seconds of Googling, would have been solved. It defies belief that Hannah would not have explored this specific plot point (which I'm not going to spoil here) pretty quickly, and it just throws the rest of the story into question. It all ends in a very tidy way, and that's all well and good, but this is such a blatant, avoidable flaw that I'm surprised that either a) no one caught it or b) it was seen and allowed to continue onward (especially since I can think of a half dozen ways to mitigate it without disrupting the plot).

Overall, just a major miss. I'd love to see a book like this that handles the topic of online/non-"real-life" friendship in a better, healthier way.

View all my reviews

23 February 2016

Review: Just My Luck

Just My Luck Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of the many trends in middle grade and YA fiction right now, autism and stories about family struggles are leading the way. Just My Luck is one of the better ones that covers these trends, and deserves a lot of attention.

This is mostly about Benny, who finds a new best friend but also has to deal with his autistic brother and his father's sickness. It's a balancing act, and one that might not always be working in Benny's favor.

It's a simple book that excels because of the simplicity and humor in play. As someone who has a parent who slowly became nonverbal, a lot of the coping I saw in this book felt real, and that includes the humor that goes along with it. On a whole, a great read and one that should really be on a lot of middle grade bookshelves, and perfect for those kids who are dealing with these issues. Just one of the more pleasurable reads I've had of late.

View all my reviews

21 February 2016

Review: Flicker

Flicker Flicker by Theodore Roszak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes a book hits all your interests all at once, and there's really nothing else quite like it out there. Flicker, as a book, is closing in on 25 years old, and yet this book felt far too much like something that was relevant and on-trend today as it may have been when it was written, and that says a lot.

The story, on the surface, is about a man, Jonathan Gates, who falls in with the art film crowd and becomes enamored with a specific filmmaker who specialized just as much in important artsy filmmaking as he did the sort of schlock Roger Corman and the like are known for. As Gates begins to do more research on this filmmaker, he begins to slowly unravel something a lot more strange, including a multi-generational conspiracy, religious cults and propaganda, Old Hollywood (and some of the Code-era figures as well) and a whole lot more.

I do wonder if Marisha Pessl has read this book, because the mood in this is reminiscent of Night Film (another book I absolutely adore), but this goes a lot deeper. For sure, a lot of my love of this book in particular is that it's so willing and able to dive into existing, little-known conspiracy theories and effortlessly incorporate them into a story that traverses decades without feeling too long or overambitious. In an era like today where the "new weird" is taking hold, reading a book that would, in a lot of ways, fit right into the existing trendy oeuvre is just icing on the cake for me, as there's just enough here to keep you on the fence as to what's actually going on here, and the way Roszak opts to end the story is just as weird and fascinating as it is completely out of left field, and is a tactic I really appreciated.

This book won't be for everyone. If long-winded diversions of sorts featuring a fictional Orson Welles or deep-rooted European Christian conspiracy cults aren't your bag, you might be bored or frustrated with parts of this story, but if you're looking for something kind of meaty without being overly literary or over-the-top, you might want to take a flier on this one. Absolutely one of the most immersive literary experiences I've had in recent memory.

View all my reviews