20 February 2018

Review: The Armored Saint

The Armored Saint The Armored Saint by Myke Cole
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Myke Cole is best known for his military sci-fi, so his foray into fantasy was kind of a given. And I haven’t read his military sci-fi stuff yet, but the sort of matter-of-fact way military sci-fi tends to operate gets carried over to the fantasy realm with this one and… yeah, it was a bit of a miss.

This is more my problem than the book’s problem – the worldbuilding is minimal, the characters are just kind of there doing whatever is required of what’s happening, and the book just completely failed to engage me. I fully respect that I might not be the target audience here, but I had expectations that ultimately weren’t met here. I can say for sure that if you’re looking for high fantasy, this won’t be it.

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08 January 2018

Review: The Idiot

The Idiot The Idiot by Elif Batuman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book… I don’t know.

I remember that book Prep from 13 or so years ago, and this book has a very similar conceit and setup. In this one, a clearly bright college student falls a bit for an upperclassman and ends up following him for a semester overseas. She’s definitely in over her head a bit in pretty much everything, and the book chronicles those results.

I struggled with it largely because I couldn’t tell, exactly, whether we were supposed to feel pity for the protagonist, whether we were laughing at her, or whether it was something else entirely. The whole disconnect there made it pretty awkward on a whole, and I almost feel like I may be the idiot in that I didn’t quite follow the point. Or maybe that was the point.

Still, not the most compelling read as of late. I can’t really recommend as much as I’d like to.

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Review: We Are Okay

We Are Okay We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This came to me fairly highly recommended, and I think I can see why. Sort of an emotional journey through teenagedom as things slowly unravel that our heroine is fairly incapable of stopping, I was ultimately impressed by the core of this story and the way it was presented. While it is really reliant on a lot of standard and typical tropes (in many regards, I could hear the checkboxes being filled in as I read), it stands out because of what felt like some serious realism across the board.

Where I struggled was that the narrative did ultimately feel detached from the story being told. I wanted more from this and wanted to care more about what was happening, and the plot was instead a lot quieter and relied perhaps too heavily on those emotional notes in favor of a plot that didn’t truly gear up until the second half. By then, a lot of my investment in the tale was among the missing, but it came around.

This won’t be for everyone, and people with a LOT of YA experience might see this as more of the same, but there’s enough here to make this stand out. Closer to a 3.5.

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03 January 2018

Review: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve never actually watched The Room from start to finish, but I’ve seen enough bits and pieces that I have probably seen the entire thing at this point. With the movie version of this book out, I finally decided to dive in and read about the making of the film from one of the people closest to director Tommy Wiseau.

As the author is a friend of Wiseau, if anything, you figure he may actually be holding back on how absolutely strange the whole affair, including Wiseau himself, truly was. And even as you read through this, it’s just entirely puzzling how it got to the point it did and I found myself wincing at a lot of the amateur issues that more seasoned professionals (read: not me) would likely know to avoid by the time they were making a feature film.

On a whole, this is definitely worth a read whether you’re part of the Room cult or not, if only for the stunning way everything went down on a whole. I’m definitely more interested in seeing the movie now than I was before I read it, and maybe now it’s time for me to actually watch The Room properly. A good read, not as great as I expected, but pretty enjoyable on a whole.

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Review: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I’ve never actually watched The Room from start to finish, but I’ve seen enough bits and pieces that I have probably seen the entire thing at this point. With the movie version of this book out, I finally decided to dive in and read about the making of the film from one of the people closest to director Tommy Wiseau.

As the author is a friend of Wiseau, if anything, you figure he may actually be holding back on how absolutely strange the whole affair, including Wiseau himself, truly was. And even as you read through this, it’s just entirely puzzling how it got to the point it did and I found myself wincing at a lot of the amateur issues that more seasoned professionals (read: not me) would likely know to avoid by the time they were making a feature film.

A good read, not as great as I expected, but pretty enjoyable on a whole.

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14 November 2017

Review: Artemis

Artemis Artemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Oh, Andy Weir. You rocketed into our hearts with The Martian and now you’re doing your version of a moonbase tale? I was fully on board from the start, but by the time it was over…

Effectively, the story follows our hero on a moon base trying to move her way up in the world. Jazz is struggling to stay on the straight and narrow, but there are other options available to her. One of these options is one that ends up netting her a lot of money, but a lot of trouble in the process.

This is basically a light heist story on the moon, and considering how really robust and strong The Martian was, that this is the follow-up is more than a little disappointing. The book falls quite quickly from its initial heights and never quite recovers, resulting in a thriller crime tale that never truly thrills. I felt like I was going through the motions with this a lot more than I wanted to, and mostly because I believed it would eventually pay off or at least attempt to come to the place The Martian sits and it never got there.

Honestly, there is no reason why someone who is looking for this book shouldn’t reach for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress instead. There’s nothing here of exceptional note, and it just feels like a lot of filler. It’s a fine book, but it fails to meet basic expectations and isn’t going to do much for those who have read a lot of science fiction over the years.

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08 November 2017

Review: Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus

Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus by Laura Kipnis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The issue of Title IX on college campuses in regards to sexual assault has been on my radar for a while. There have been a lot of issues of due process raised, and no amount of articles written about the issue. This book is largely about one specific experience, but is one of the first books to really cover the issue from start to finish with the sort of precision and detail necessary to do it justice.

The book was an upsetting read for me in many ways if only because of the political climate we’re in right now as well as the issues raised by multiple articles involving due process. Reading this during the significant national conversations concerning Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey only magnified the message of this book and the need to get it right, and how much we’re failing. This book is far from perfect even if it’s necessary. Its focus on one story above many diminishes the problems on campus, and it could have used a more persuasive tone. Still, in terms of what it actually offers as a cautionary tale, it’s an important record of an insane time that’s worth having.

This book offers nothing new to those on a certain side of the discussion, and needs to be read by those who are troubled by the alleged problems of sexual assault on college campuses to give some perspective. My one concern is more that I do not think those who need to know this information will get it, or be open to receiving it.

A necessary, sobering read in any regard.

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Review: Black Goat Blues

Black Goat Blues Black Goat Blues by Levi Black
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Red Right Hand, I felt like it really nailed the feeling of Lovecraftian helplessness and despair. This second book dials that back for a lot of the story, which was unfortunate, but once everything finally lined up and came together about halfway through, I was fully and completely in love yet again.

There’s plenty to like here, and a lot of solid storytelling and desperation throughout. Enough nods and easter eggs for any Lovecraft aficionado to take some time.

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21 October 2017

Review: Lovecraft Country

Lovecraft Country Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Considering my love of all things Lovecraft, I knew I had to go for this eventually. The wrinkle is that the book is one of a few that have come out with Mythos-related content designed to “take on” or “confront” Lovecraft’s racist viewpoints. Without getting into that debate at all here, my concerns of that aspect being heavy-handed were not borne out, and the result is a solid Lovecraftian take that is truly different than a lot of the stories I’ve read.

Where it succeeds is taking the existing Lovecraft tropes and pasting them onto the traditional “old boys club” that many think of when they think of the more exclusionary, class-based segregated areas of the past. The setup makes for the execution and the madness to come in and the story quickly becomes more standard, but I truly enjoyed the effort and take.

If you’re looking for a real overt blasting of Lovecraft here, you might not find it. Taken on the basic surface of Lovecraftian escapism, though? This certainly deserves a spot on the modern shelf.

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18 October 2017

Review: Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a lot of thoughts surrounding this book.

It's basically impossible to discuss this book without discussing John Green and the state of YA at this point, as this book is dropping at a weird time. First, looking at Green, this is his first novel release since The Fault in Our Stars close to 7 years ago. Green, in the acknowledgements, notes that Turtles was in the works for at least 6 years, and that does say something. I wonder if it's that he has a lot of irons in the fire between movie deals and the Vlogbrothers and Crash Course and what have you, but the book feels pretty engineered. I assume a lot of that is because TFioS was such a phenomenon in and of itself, but I can also imagine that being hard to top and this is sort of along the same lines as the whole "sick lit" thing that Green put into the adult lexicon after it spent so much time in the YA space.

That does lead us to the YA space a bit, because, as I write this, yet another flap about who gets to write about what is cropping up with the book American Heart, not too long after the flap surrounding The Black Witch. I know that Green is at least sympathetic to the crowd that takes issue with those books, and I can't help but think that the overengineered feeling this book gives (and the length of time it took to write) is at least part of this whole culture. And that's too bad, because I also wonder if he's being influenced by the "manic pixie dream girl" criticisms or by trying too hard to do right by too many readers who may never be happy, and, well, there are turtles all the way down that spiral of thought, too.

On the book itself? It's fine. It's informed heavily by Green's struggles with anxiety and depression, and as a human being with those same struggles, I totally related to a lot of this. Instead of doing what Aza did, though, I just retreated into activities and stuff to mask it. It wasn't sustainable, and Aza's behavior isn't sustainable either, and this book does a good job mapping all of that out. It's a book that says it's about one thing, but it's really about something more important than that, and it's what John Green excels at.

So why the low-ish rating? It just feels really forced, really overdone, and maybe a little eye-rollingly over-the-top. And we can argue that depression and anxiety make everything like that, but I didn't feel like the story was this way, but the book. If the story itself mimicked this feeling a bit, it might be impressive, but this is instead basically a standard anxiety book that fit in better with a contemporary YA trend of three years ago.

In terms of John Green books, this is definitely my least favorite, and it's not even close. But like some other authors, a mediocre John Green book is better than a lot of really good books by other talented writers. So don't skip this one if you're on the fence. But as an introduction to Green? I'm still handing you An Abundance of Katherines or even Paper Towns before this. It just doesn't work quite the way I wanted it to, or the way it needed to.

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26 September 2017

Review: Invictus

Invictus Invictus by Ryan Graudin
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Time travel is tricky. This is true of all books, but especially in the YA space. Invictus is a great example of this, where the premise itself of a time travel romance that could, in theory, unravel the very essence of time, just does not work. Not at all. The setup of everything works well, but the wheels come off extremely quickly.

The story follows Far, a person who should not, by any real logic, exist. Born to a gladiator, flying about in the future, he runs into a woman during a visit to the Titanic and it sets in motion a series of events that eventually put this timeline in danger.

Feel like you’ve read this before? If you’re versed in time travel at all, you absolutely have, and you’ve read it better. In the YA space, we have better stories like this too - The Ship From Everywhere is a key recent one, but even the countless multidimensional tales that are out there scratch that itch better than this does. I can’t really recommend this to anyone beyond those really, really looking for a YA take and have exhausted what’s already there. It just loses the plot so quickly that it’s not worth the time.

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Review: Paradox Bound

Paradox Bound Paradox Bound by Peter Clines
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I'm a sucker for time-travel. I was a sucker for Peter Clines's last effort, which did interdimensional portaling right, and when I saw he had a time travel book? Alrighty, cool, I'm on board.

The end result is just okay.

As a child, Eli meets a strange woman. She reappears a couple more times, the final time is when he heads off to some time-traveling adventures with what can best be described as American time-traveling hobos seeking the literal American Dream. The premise brings us around to some weird wheeling and dealing, some interesting characters, and a conceit in and of itself that is really strange out of context but works in the story.

The big problem, though, is that it's just very difficult to care about what happens. The book gets very bogged down in its own premise, and ultimately took me out of the story more than I hoped it would. The great spots - and there are plenty of them - are too often overshadowed by the problem ones, and that's what keeps a good book from being great.

Overall? A fine story, but not something that needs to be at the top of your list.

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19 September 2017

Review: Strangehaven: Arcadia

Strangehaven: Arcadia Strangehaven: Arcadia by Gary Spencer Millidge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With Twin Peaks done, I’ve began searching in earnest for books and shows to fill that void. Strangehaven is a comic series that came up more than a few times, and the series is delivering so far. This first volume introduces this quiet little town tucked away in an area that doesn’t appear to show up correctly on maps, with a weird cult in town, and with enough strange happenings throughout that keep you guessing as to what’s relevant and what’s not. The strange aspects of this have not materialized outside of a few small but important scenes, but I will say that I was absolutely riveted by this and had to stop myself from just going straight into the second volume.

Very solid read, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Review: Summer of 1840: On the Shores of Singletary...

Summer of 1840: On the Shores of Singletary... Summer of 1840: On the Shores of Singletary... by Arthur L. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book by a local author in these parts, and has some local interest.

Summer of 1840 is an interesting historical romance combining the author’s love of old dance and the history of the Millbury/Sutton region to bring together a story that has a lot of Easter eggs for local readers while telling a fairly engaging love story along the way. Self-published, it’s been given a good editorial eye and the overall package is pretty great, and I really have few complaints about the whole thing. More critically, the story itself does take a little time to ramp up, but things feel otherwise realistic and a lot of the historical notesline up (and are meticulously researched).

If you have interest in local New England history and are looking for something a little lighter, this is a book that will fill that particular niche. It’s one I started out fairly skeptical on and ended up finding pretty readable and compelling. Ultimately closer to a 3.5.

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Review: The Last Kid Left

The Last Kid Left The Last Kid Left by Rosecrans Baldwin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a low tolerance for murder mysteries and for literary fiction a lot of the time, so a book that effectively does both? I took a flier on this mostly because Jeff VanderMeer recommended it on Twitter, and I’m honestly glad that I spent some time with this.

There are a few aspects to this story – the kid implicated in the murder of two people, the teen girl embarking on a webcam career, and the small town stuff that invariably goes along with such a circus. The book is deliberate in unraveling all the implications and information, provides some interesting characters in the media to sharpen the edges, and provides some answers while offering new questions as well.

There’s a very Tom Perretta-esque feel to this, although this specific book feels a lot darker. There’s definitely meant to be a sort of introspective look here on media and kids in the modern day, and I’m not sure how well it hits the mark, but the full book was still extremely engaging and compelling, and that’s basically what I was seeking out here.

Definitely recommended, closer to a 4.5.

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Review: Sloppy Firsts

Sloppy Firsts Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve had this on my Kindle seemingly forever, and I’m actually familiar with the lead character through the middle grade series (which is basically the opposite of most adults), and a friend said it was one of her favorite series, so I dove in. This was written quite a while ago, and would likely slot in high-YA/new adult today, but that’s fine.

It essentially follows the year in the life of Jessica Darling, high school student, dealing with all sorts of basic high school drama. It’s paint-by-numbers in a lot of ways, except that this was probably a lot more revolutionary for its time. You’re getting the boy drama, the friend drama, the diary stuff, the whole nine yards, and it’s adult enough to not feel like you’re reading a young adult book, but has enough YA appeal to cross over, too.

I’m gonna stick with this series for sure. It’s a great diversionary read that ended up being a fun read for me, especially considering how little YA I’ve been able to consume as of late.

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Review: Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days

Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days by Chris Guillebeau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are two things that are true:

1) I generally don't like self-help reads.
2) I desperately want/need a "side hustle."

Chris Guillebeau provides a blueprint of sorts for those who are looking to engage in some side jobs. It's got a very "Four Hour Work Week" feel to it in a lot of ways, with a lot of hand-holding and "you can do it" affirmative-style framing. For someone like myself, who kind of knows the moving parts to doing some side gigs and has been stopping and starting on it, there's definite value in this book as a sort of inspirational text. Those who don't know what they're doing? This is possibly indispensable from this perspective in how easy Guillebeau makes it sound. But if you're already a hustler, there's not much here for you.

On a whole, this was a surprisingly better read than I anticipated. Good information, good balance of what one needs to make this work. No real complaints except its entry-level nature.

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29 August 2017

Review: Ban This Book

Ban This Book Ban This Book by Alan Gratz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ban This Book is the latest in a long line of middle-grade reads designed to send a message about a school/societal ill using precocious kids subverting authority. This is basically the Frindle of banned books, and as a message title that deals with a long-discussed topic, it's absolutely fine.

This book will appeal to the readers that it's geared toward in part due to the cameos of sorts by a lot of their favorite titles and authors - Dav Pilkey and Captain Underpants both feature broadly in this book in particular - and while the book does veer into unlikely territory as the arms race escalates, you can almost forgive it for the overall message.

While I fear this is more a book for librarians than for kids, there's enough kid appeal here to get through the noise, and Alan Gratz is a known name in slightly older circles in his writing, so this has a lot of promise. I don't know if I'd put it ahead of the Clements "School Stories," but it's worth being part of the discussion.

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28 August 2017

Review: The Secret History of Twin Peaks

The Secret History of Twin Peaks The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am totally and completely obsessed with Twin Peaks right now, and having an hour of The Return every week just hasn’t been enough. Now we have The Secret history, written by David Lynch’s Peaks partner Mark Frost, that acts as a document dump of the weird happenings that led us to what happened in the show.

From a basic “this scratches an itch” standpoint, this was a wonderful diversion. So much going on here that I loved, from the tiny Easter eggs to giving a much fuller accounting of some of my favorite characters and moments. Frost litters in a lot of real history (Lewis and Clark factor heavily into the Peaks Mythos, it turns out) in with the information established by the show, and we end up with a lot of background into some of the more important characters. With that said, it’s not all coffee and cherry pie – there’s a lot of diversions into UFO culture and more basic conspiracy theories that not only don’t quite fit into the overall Peaks experience, but almost divert it away from there. Plus, if you’ve watched The Return, some key moments in the show (most notably the happenings in Episode 8), barely factor into this book at all. An odd choice, perhaps, but one that I would have liked to see resolved – and maybe it will be in the companion to this that’s releasing soon.

Overall, though? One big Agent Cooper thumbs-up from me on this one. A great companion to a classic show, and a solid guidebook to The Return on a whole.

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Review: The Uploaded

The Uploaded The Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been keeping up with Ferrett Steinmetz for over 15 years on various internet platforms, and I’ve been jumping at the chance to read his books ever since he got an agent and was able to publish traditionally. His Flex series is a solid read across three books, and perhaps should have gotten more attention than they ended up receiving, but The Uploaded is Steinmetz’s shot at techno-dystopia. It… doesn’t always work.

Effectively, imagine if, instead of Social Security, the older folks moved their consciousness online instead. And they still got to run things, and it was up to the rest of us to maintain their servers and their way of life until it was out turn. That’s the idea behind this story, which follows some people who are willing to fight to undo the status quo.

The good on this is that, as with the Flex trilogy (and with some insight on how Steinmetz writes), there’s really not a wasted word here. The poetic-yet-seemingly-direct way he gets the plot from point A to point B is as much of a joy here as it was in his previous works. The issue, though, is that this is less of a story that lends itself to that sort of treatment. The Uploaded is reminiscent a lot of the sort of Cory Doctorow technopunk that has really hit home in the last few years, and the writing doesn’t always fit it. This means that the book does feel like it’s meandering off a bit in ways that were not probably intended. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the way that everything works out kept me engaged, but it’s not the same as Flex and doesn’t quite hit the same notes the same way as other books in this genre.

I don’t want to call it a miss, because the book still has its share of action and awesomeness. It’s just not great the way the Flex series was, and it’s just quite good in a lot of others. If the concept grabs you, the book probably will as well, but this is not as direct a recommendation for this book the way others might be. Dystopia, especially today, can be a tough sell, and the book makes a good attempt at being up to the challenge. Closer to a 3.5.

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Review: Nxt: the Future is Now

Nxt: the Future is Now Nxt: the Future is Now by Jon Robinson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I know better at this point than to read books like this. Still, as a wrestling fan who really, really likes NXT as a brand and product, I heard enough positive things in other reviews in wrestling circles about some of the insight this book gives into the overall project and process to give it a read.

The bad news? The morsels of interest are completely buried under a mountain of promotion and marketing that is so overbearing that it’s hard not to skim through portions as they’re repeated for the third, fourth, seemingly fifth time. The glowing adoration of everything NXT is doing from the wrestling talent to the complete lack of any indication that there haven’t been issues (like, most notably, the Bill DeMott bullying/hazing issue) makes this book almost indefensible outside of being a marketing piece, never mind a piece of literature that a publisher expects human beings to pay for. This isn’t a tie-in book or anything like that, it’s just a 200 page glossy profile that misses what makes the subject truly great.

Do not waste your time with this. Find a few posts on the internet highlighting the interesting takeaways from this book, and pretend the total package never existed. You’ll be better off.

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Review: Furnace

Furnace Furnace by Livia Llewellyn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I mentioned before, in my review for Gemma Files’s short story collection, that body horror ain’t really my thing. This book was mentioned in a Twin Peaks group I follow, noting that the story the collection takes its title from has a real Peaks-ian quality to it.

It does, but where this collection shines is in a lot of the other stories. The author isn’t afraid to put much of anything out there, and the result is a dark, often uncomfortable, occasionally psychosexual journey through a series of unrelated stories that hit that sweet spot of unsettling and thought-provoking. Considering how deep I’ve fallen into the New Weird/New Horror pit as of late, I’m frankly surprised this collection doesn’t get more attention.

Give “Furnace” a shot as a story, try the cowboy romance piece, and you’ll get a feel for the writing and want to spend a lot more time with this one. Just a great read, and one I’ll be recommending for some time.

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23 August 2017

Review: Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency

Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency by Joshua Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I dove into this book in the middle of a week that ended with Steve Bannon either getting fired or having his resignation take effect. So while part of me was laughing at the timing of reading this book when it didn't matter so much anymore, it was actually a solid read that gives a pretty solid background as to how we got the Trump we have now.

The story is less about Bannon (who is an interesting figure all his own) and more about his political impacts as of late. We get a surface-level look at how his history influenced his takeover of Breitbart and, later, the Trump campaign, and how his gadflyish attitude informs the current political conversation. On these points, this book is very interesting and informative. The book stumbles a bit when Green leaves the world of fact and begins editorializing a bit, but those places are few and far between and ultimately don't matter.

How long the legs for a book like this can be, I truly don't know. But if you're looking for a read about the current situation that is relevant to the now? Find a copy. It's likely to be pretty illuminating.

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25 July 2017

Review: Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a super cool book.

I want to say I heard the author or something about the book on a podcast a while back and sought this out. The book brings us deep into the lives and societies of various animals, giving us an idea as to how they operate, their heirarchical structure, and so on. One section is dedicated to elephants, another wolves, and so on.

For someone who has limited science knowledge, this was a really great book where I learned a lot. Elephant societies are fascinating! Wolves are weird! It's all super interesting and complicated, and this book strikes the near-perfect balance of not dumbing the information down while also not playing a pandering game with the audience. An underrated nonfiction read for me - I don't know why I'm not constantly hearing about this book.

If you like science, animals, biology, sociology, learning... check this one out.

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21 July 2017

Review: And We're Off

And We're Off And We're Off by Dana Schwartz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My favorite thing about this book is the concept - any time a story wants to subvert the coming-of-age traveling novel, I'm on board, and when it's because an overbearing mother trying to relive her own teen years vicariously through her daughter? I'm totally in.

It's sort of like a Gilmore Girls episode with a lot more conflict, and there's a lot to love about it on a whole as our mother-daughter team bumble through Europe and ruin each other's experiences.

The downside to this book is that the conceit does get a little stale in the middle part until things move to their conclusion. Getting to the end can be a bit of a rough patch if you're used to a more typically-paced narrative from the YA genre, but that shouldn't keep you away from the book on a whole.

It's funny and it's got a lot of heart, and it's definitely a fun read in the genre.

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20 July 2017

Review: The Night Ocean

The Night Ocean The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

While I'm pretty much into a lot of Lovecraftian stuff these days, The Night Ocean takes a slightly different exploratory track with it to mixed results. Ostensibly about a woman trying to find answers after her husband goes missing and how it lines up with her husband's obsession with a specific facet of Lovecraft's life, this book gets bogged down VERY quickly with a lot of fictional-and-not-so-fictional research and history, and the narrative completely loses the plot very quickly. As someone who enjoys books about research and such, yeah, sure - you do you, Paul LaFarge. But losing the narrative in service to theories regarding the Barlow/Lovecraft relationship simply didn't do the trick here.

This was a very frustrating read without the payoff I was hoping for, and I thought this book had some amazing potential. Unless your consumption is almost exclusively Lovecraftian in nature, consider skipping this one.

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Review: Kissing Carrion

Kissing Carrion Kissing Carrion by Gemma Files
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've noted before that I'm relatively new to horror at this point, and I've been delving into a lot of short stories as of late. While I didn't love Experimental Film, I was interested in the short stories of Gemma Files anyway, and this collection came highly regarded.

Like any collection, there are hits and misses, but there are a lot of solid, creepy stories here. The highlights of the title story, of the story with literal meat puppets, they don't take away from anything else, and even the stories that don't quite work still succeed in the efforts. My big complaint is less structural and more personal - one thing I have not been able to really do well with on the horror side of things is body horror, and Files deals heavily in this area. If that squicks you out a lot, this might not be the collection for you.

For everyone else, though? Check it out. The stories are quick and well-crafted, and there are some real gems here. Worth a read.

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Review: Windfall

Windfall Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

Jennifer E. Smith has hit her stride as of late with some great young adult romances. Windfall, from the cover alone, is very clearly a change of pace for her, and while it mostly works, what it gains in story development it loses in charm.

What is the windfall in Windfall? It's a birthday lottery ticket that ends up winning millions for a girl's best friend. The story quickly rolls into a cautionary tale about the pains and pleasures of a massive financial gain before hitting the inevitable redemption arc.

I'm not saying Smith had to go the route of truly negative results on this, especially for YA. But what was truly disappointing here was the paint-by-numbers approach throughout the tale that may not be immediately obvious to the target audience but was amazingly predictable to this adult reader. While I don't need surprises in YA, it doesn't mean they can't at least be tried. Still, it's a fine read and hits more than it misses - it's just not what I feel like it could have been.

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Review: Tomorrow's Kin

Tomorrow's Kin Tomorrow's Kin by Nancy Kress
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tomorrow's Kin is a solid, interesting first contact novel. As someone who generally really responds well to any first contact novel, to enjoy one a little more than the rest is not a bad thing in the least, and I would say that's where I place Tomorrow's Kin.

The premise is pretty straightforward, where some aliens land on Earth and, once communication is established, we learn about where they are from and why they are here. The results of all this information inform a story that becomes less about "what is it like knowing there's other life" and more about coping with the aftermath, both of meeting an alien race (and all that implies in this book's conceit) and of what the aliens came to accomplish. It's a unique and different take on the genre, and one I appreciated greatly.

The big downfall of this book? Approximately the first third is basically (if not entirely) a reprint of the novella that preceded it, Yesterday's Kin. I somewhat wish someone had warned me of this ahead of time, as I worked to complete the novella before diving into this only to find that I was basically rereading the novella immediately afterwards. If there were additions, they did not make a measurable impact on the overall story for me, so use this as a takeaway if you're already familiar with the novella. For new readers, though, you can dive right in without issue. Absolutely a great read and solid take on the subgenre.

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27 June 2017

Review: Mad as Hell: America's #1 All-Night Radio Host Takes on the Dangerous World We Live In

Mad as Hell: America's #1 All-Night Radio Host Takes on the Dangerous World We Live In Mad as Hell: America's #1 All-Night Radio Host Takes on the Dangerous World We Live In by George Noory
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So I admit that I really only knew George Noory from when I had late nights out and listened to Coast to Coast with him as a guest host. But still, this is marketed as a political book by a well-known conspiracy monger (at least the fun ones), so why not take a flier on it?

The elephant in the room is that the politics really take a back seat here. There are a few mentions here and there, but they're mostly in the context of well-known alien abduction and government conspiracy tales. So instead of getting some hot takes on the current climate from the context of someone who may or may not believe in lizard people, it ends up being an introductory primer on a bunch of conspiracies I was already aware of. Great for people new to the area of interest, pretty useless for the rest of us.

The best part of the book for me, though, was the mini-memoir Noory includes in the end, telling his story and how he got to the point he's at in his career. This was perhaps the most interesting part of the read for me and might have been more valuable as the framework for whatever the intention was here than anything else.

Overall? I can't recommend it unless you're REALLY into what Noory's into and his mere existence is enough to get you excited. It offers nothing new to anyone already familiar with the topics Noory operates in. It's way too light and introductory for most audiences.

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