30 August 2016

Review: Spontaneous

Spontaneous Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Spontaneous, at its core, is a book about teenagers spontaneously combusting.

No one quite knows why, and there doesn't appear to be a pattern except that it's happening in a small town. It gets media interest, government interest, scientific interest, but the kids just have to deal with the fact that they're all apparently blowing up in a mess of blood and guts at random times. This is a book about dealing with that reality.

On one hand, there is a bit of "coping with trauma" here that's pretty good, but, on a whole, this book is a little ridiculous and doesn't seem to miss that, but it's also where the charm of the whole story comes into play. While imperfect, there's definitely the survival instincts that kick in, and once they move along a bit toward the conclusion, it does become fairly charming.

Overall, a fun read and closer to a 3.5. Definitely nothing I can recall like it.

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24 August 2016

Review: Red Right Hand

Red Right Hand Red Right Hand by Levi Black
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This has been one of the more hyped-up Lovecraftian titles released in some time, so I had to dive at the chance to read it. My expectations were high because of the hype, and what's not shocking is that it surpassed it, but rather how well it did so.

The story is ostensibly about Charlie, who is attacked by some demons but ends up being rescued by a "Man in Black" with a "red right hand." We quickly learn that her rescuer is a major Lovecraftian god and Charlie, as repayment, must become his acolyte.

There's just so much here to love. The nods to Lovecraftian lore are all over the place here, and it's both respectful and humorous. There's a lot of action, a lot of really creepy stuff, and a couple scenes that even I found genuinely unsettling in a way most novels in this realm simply don't. The writing has a classic quality to it, yet is still paced in a way that keeps the pages turning throughout.

I mean, the horror stuff alone makes this a winner, but the way this entire book is structured makes this an added gem. I wouldn't say it's scary at all, but it's a must read for anyone who has even a passing interest in the Mythos, and, if the modern Weird movement is doing it for you but you wish the writing was a little more straightforward, you'll find a ton to love here.

A great, great read. Highly recommended.

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18 August 2016

Review: Love & Gelato

Love & Gelato Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This isn't the first book that takes place in some time away in Italy, but this is absolutely one of the better ones. A romance that also has some family drama mixed in and some mystery elements, this was a pleasant read.

Lina is in Italy because her late mother wanted Lina to be with her father, a man Lina doesn't really know. Her father takes her in, and is given a journal that her mother kept. This journal begins the process of uncovering a life Lina never knew from her mother, and uncovers some secrets best kept hidden.

This is a very tropey read in many ways, but that sort of comfort, along with the little notes of Italy dropped along the way, results in a pretty fun teen romance on a whole, and one that might have extra appeal to teen girls with family structures similar to this one. If anything, the reveals as the book goes along keeps everything moving tightly and it ends up being a solid, readable affair across the board. Definitely recommended.

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15 August 2016

Review: Them: Adventures with Extremists

Them: Adventures with Extremists Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've noted before my love for weird conspiracy theories and cranks in general. As a fan of Jon Ronson's work up to this point, tripping up on this book where he explores those who believe some of the crazier stuff and where it ends up was a fun ride on a whole.

What's kind of weird reading this now is that it's sort of a pre-9/11 book in a post-9/11 world. Much of the book revolves around a Muslim extremist in London and it's significantly strange to read now following the 9/11 attacks as well as the more recent rise of ISIS. Everyone's favorite crazy person Alex Jones makes an appearance and I realized toward the end that events in this book lead to my first knowledge of Bohemian Grove, and I spent a good amount of time after reading it wondering where this would go in 2016 if it were being written now.

It doesn't feel dated at all outside of the terrorism/Muslim extremist angle, so if you have some interest in the subject you should absolutely dive in. Just a fun, weird, light read.

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Review: The Hatching

The Hatching The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you've been waiting your whole life for a novel about the spider apocalypse, your prayers have finally been answered.

This is a big dumb book about a bunch of carnivorous spiders taking over the world. The writing is functional, the characters one dimensional, the big conflict makes you feel dumber as you read it.

And yet.

Let's be clear - The Hatching is not trying to win any awards, and it's not trying to blow your socks off with some grand narrative or statement. It's a book where spiders are taking over, and you get a sort of Chrichton-esque bounce from scene to scene and group to group as things move along. It's a fast read, and it's fun in the way Sharknado is fun. It's big dumb entertainment.

With that said, this is probably closer to a 3.5 because of how ham-fisted so much of this is. It's so matter of fact that it's almost a problem, and it's perhaps even too dime store pulpy for those who can tolerate it. Perhaps it's a little too self-aware? I don't know, but it was the one major drawback to an otherwise passable book.

You'll know if you're into this pretty quickly. If you are, you'll finish it in basically no time at all, but if your goal is a meatier, more meaningful read, this ain't it.

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Review: The Art of Not Breathing

The Art of Not Breathing The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The trope of teens dealing with loss in destructive and questionable ways continues with The Art of Not Breathing, a novel that deals with a girl's continuing quest to move on from the drowning death of her twin brother by meeting a dreamy, edgy boy and taking up freediving.

Under normal circumstances, I'd have a ton to say on the matter, but this almost has a paint-by-numbers aspect to it. Take a protagonist, make her lose X to Y, insert Z love interest that exposes her to A activity, and add in a few risky scenes and we're all set. This is a very straightforward, mainstream approach to a well-worn narrative.

The Start of Me and You does this much, much better, and with characters you actually want to root for along the way. This just feels a little melodramatic throughout, but will likely appeal to the readers who are actively seeking books like this. If you're looking for a little more meat, though, you'll have to look elsewhere.

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12 August 2016

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was weird.

I think we need to get that out of the way. It's not weird because it's a play, it's weird because it exists at all, in a sense. There's always a desire for more in-universe stuff in any widely-loved property, Harry Potter being no exception. So a story that comes nearly a decade after what we all assumed was the final book that takes place many many years in the future? Yeah, it's gonna feel a little weird. But if you move past the weirdness, the overall story itself feels very familiar and enjoyable.

The story takes place many years after the events of Deathly Hallows. Harry Potter is a middle aged father, married to Ginny, friends with Ron and Hermoine still, and his son Albus is close with Draco's son, Scorpius. Albus feels a lot of pressure, though, and not just because he's the son of The Boy Who Lived, and, with the help of Scorpius, acts out.

I would stop reading here if you don't want to be spoiled, but it's impossible to not talk about the major plot point here, which involves a stolen time turner from the Ministry of Magic. This time turner is something Albus and Scorpio opt to use to try and change the outcome at the Triwizard Tournament from Goblet of Fire, and what happens is along the same lines of any time travel story where the future is changed in a variety of ways. And, kids being kids, they do it over and over again.

The point of all the setup comes about in the final quarter of the story, and that's likely the best part and the part that feels the most "true" to the overall series. Yes, we get the humor and heroics back, but so much of the book/story spends so much time re-establishing who these characters are that it's just somewhat jarring. And, if we're being really brutal, it's very fanfictiony. I don't know if any Potter fan has tried to have a detailed conversation about Potter that doesn't end up talking about time turners and why they never used them throughout the series, but this essentially tries to answer that question and it's... kind of silly.

Still, though. It's more Harry Potter. And it's very good. Maybe better than the worst parts of the overlong books late in the series, but as an inessential tacked on piece of work, I don't think it was bad unless you have really, really high expectations for the results of this. It's also worth remembering that this is a play, thus meant to be performed. The lack of seeing a performance on this might mean missing some of the flow of nuance that would have made this a better experience otherwise.

Still, though, I flew right through this. It was a pretty enjoyable read even with my share of nitpicky issues throughout. I could complain about the changes in the characters, but I know I'm not the same as 35 as I was at 17. I could complain about going back to the well a few too many times, but this is meant to be fanservice in a way. So enjoy it for what it is, but maybe set your expectation bar a little lower than you might have wanted.

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Review: The Ravickians

The Ravickians The Ravickians by Renee Gladman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5, would have been a 5 if not for the rather flawed ending.

For all the books I've read that deal with new or mysterious or different places, I can't really think of one that attempts to evoke the experience of just being in one of those places. The Ravickians does this, and does so in a way that was one of the more compelling recent reads I've had as of late. The first book, Event Factory , had a strange outsider perspective, but most of this book takes place from the perspective of a citizen of Ravicka, the result being one that really brings about the feel of a city in transition as opposed to a lot of detail.

This book was great until the last third, where it devolves into an experimental piece of sorts that, while intended to give a deeper feel of things, resulted in my being taken completely out of the setting entirely. A lot of this is "what I wanted" as opposed to what it is, but this story, longer than either other volume that bookends up, didn't really need the diversion.

Still, this is a middle book that feels independent. It's a group of books that are really different and interesting in and of themselves. I can't wait to pick up the final volume.

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09 August 2016

Review: Marvelry's Curiosity Shop

Marvelry's Curiosity Shop Marvelry's Curiosity Shop by John Brhel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Growing up, like many kids, I had an affinity for the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, complete with their creepy illustrations and stuff teachers hated. I know they rebooted them a few years back, and I don't know if they're still as crazy popular as they were in my classes, but they occupy a very firm spot in my memories.

Marvelry's Curiosity Shop bills itself as a collection of strange tales all centered around supernatural items sold from his shop. By the third story in, I couldn't help but think how much it reminded me of Scary Stories in that the self-contained tales had a similar, classic structure to them and they weren't scary as much as strangely comforting from a nostalgic standpoint to somewhat unsettling in some other places.

The pacing and length of the individual stories are a strength, and, truly, the best story is the last one in the collection, but if there's a flaw to the overall collection, it's that it doesn't feel as if the book knows what it wants to be. If it went all-in on a nod to its inspirations, that would be one thing, but some tales are kind of silly and others maybe a little too far from a tonal perspective in terms of horror/macabre tropes. This imbalance keeps the book from being everything it could be.

Overall, though, this was a fun collection on a whole. If you put on your nostalgia glasses and put yourself back in fourth grade for a bit, you'll definitely find some enjoyment in it even if you tend to like things a little darker these days.

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05 August 2016

Review: The Marvels

The Marvels The Marvels by Brian Selznick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A 3 for the story, a 5 for the art/presentation.

This is a multigenerational story at its core surroudning a family of actors and a kid who is uncovering the mysteries of his family's past. This is common ground for Selznick, who again uses hundreds of pages of illustrations with a text story in the middle, much like Hugo Cabret and Wonder Struck.

The way he structured the story felt more organic than in his previous books, to its credit, but the issue I had overall was how relatively thin the actual story was. I was more invested in the artwork than the actual story it was telling, and the text portions ultimately felt more like placeholders to get to the end.

I wouldn't *not* recommend this to anyone, as Selznick is a master at what he does. I was just more wowed by his previous work and I ultimately don't feel as if this holds up quite the same way. Part of it might just be the subject matter, but so much of it felt like a retread that the core of the tale didn't ring the same way.

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02 August 2016

Review: The City of Mirrors

The City of Mirrors The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I loved The Passage. In a world where vampire novels are really a dime a dozen and burnt out, this take felt fresh and mature and different, and I was excited for the next volume.

Then came The Twelve, which took a more post-apocalyptic tone. Part middle book syndrome, part shift in overall tone, it was good but not great, and I was still on board.

The City of Mirrors is none of those things.

Among its many flaws is a massive, massive diversion that ends up being a history of one of the characters that is both utterly compelling in its framework and completely unnecessary in a book of this size. There is a major battle toward the end that feels like it has a complete lack of true stakes. Everything else around the story meanders toward a conclusion-that-isn't, where the most compelling stuff happens in the jump at the very end. Under normal circumstances, I would have given up on a book like this before I got to the parts worth reading, and that's just a shame.

For such an ambitious project with such a great start, this just feels like a massive, significant miss. Cronin is clearly a talented writer and I will seek out what he does next, but this was just a very disappointing end to such a solid beginning.

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Review: Every Anxious Wave

Every Anxious Wave Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is often described as High Fidelity with time travel. This is an accurate description in so, so many ways, and a book that I fell in love with within the first twenty or so pages and just blew through until the end.

Effectively, a guy finds a wormhole in the closet of his apartment. A former guitarist for a well-regarded and now-defunct indie rock band, he does what any music lover does and uses it to see old concerts. He quickly monetizes the wormhole, gets caught up in an issue with his landlord, meets up with a theoretical physicist to try and figure out what's going on, and really messes with the timeline in the process.

If there are two things I love in life, it's time travel books and indie rock. A combination of the two was going to be a winner for me regardless, but this works in part because it doesn't take itself too seriously while still doing a good job (at least on a basic level) of making the time travel work. There are tons of indie rock references throughout, and much of the history behind the plot takes place in the Boston area at one of my favorite now-defunct rock clubs, and it's just a solid read. Not perfect by any stretch, and things kind of get weird in the end, but it's not a big enough deal for me to get hopped up over. This was probably one of my favorite things I've read this year, and is just an enjoyable ride throughout.

A must for time travel aficionados, a must for those who love the indie rock of two decades ago, and a pleasant light read from start to finish. Highly recommended.

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31 July 2016

Review: Enter Title Here

Enter Title Here Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Enter Title Here is, in some ways, the Very Bad Things for the modern competitive teen set. Right out the gate, we know that our protagonist, Reshma, is going to manipulate her way to whatever it is she wants, whether it be a book deal or valedictorian or the college of her dreams, and we get to follow her machinations along the way.

This works in some sense because it's a real page turner in how it handles the situation and where things end up next. But it's so ridiculous and unrealistic and over the top that the fun in it is almost gone partways through, which means we instead have to slog our way to an ending that is both predictable and frustrating.

I like seeing YA books with terrible people being written and presented, and I hope we see more of them. As for this one, though, it's just not quite hitting the mark enough to be a true recommendation. A solid effort, and I'll be looking for more from this author, but this didn't do what I hoped.

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Review: Event Factory

Event Factory Event Factory by Renee Gladman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To start off, this is a weird book. Not "weird," not Weird, but weird and different. It's a pseudo-traditional narrative about a woman in a city that is utterly foreign, not only in language and culture but seemingly in all aspects. There is an exodus of sorts happening, but there's really just a lot happening that is strange and weird and unsettling but still compelling throughout, and the experience of the book is the exploration and immersion into this place and society.

A lot of the talk about the architecture and such gives it a bit of Lovecraftian flavor, but the idea behind it, at least on my reading, seems to be more about the experience of being in such an oddly foreign place. There seems to be a lack of fear that comes about (especially in one strange aside of a scene), but also a sense of longing and a sense of attraction to this place that isn't fully explored (but may be in the sequels).

This is a book that's ultimately a hard nut to crack, but I've started to come to expect that from the Dorothy Project books at this point. Still, I bumped the sequels up on my shelf and I'm really looking forward to exploring this setting further.

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30 July 2016

Review: Lady Killer

Lady Killer Lady Killer by Joƫlle Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was fine.

I loved the conceit behind this the moment I heard it, being a 1950s-era housewife who is a hitman on the side. Just a great idea, and the artwork is evocative of old ads and everything about it is a great idea.

The problem is that the story itself kind of falls apart midway through, where the distrust inherent in hitman organizations rises and our heroine (for lack of a better term) is balancing her home life with her work life and no one knows who to trust. The complexity is there, but it's just not handled well enough to remain completely compelling.

I wouldn't not recommend this, as there's a lot to like and the aesthetic is fun. It just doesn't do enough of what it's attempting well enough to be a top-tier graphic tale. I'll seek out the next volume when it turns up, but, overall, you might just feel like this is lacking that special something.

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29 July 2016

Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matter Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blake Crouch is getting the overdue success he deserves with how popular Wayward Pines ended up. While one can complain about his plotting or writing style, he's probably best at coming up with unique and different takes on a long-standing genre. In Dark Matter, he's approaching the multiverse with a great story and a little bit of sadism.

The story is about one man, kidnapped and drugged and seemingly left for dead. He comes to in a hospital, and is quickly informed as to why things are not as they seem, but has a way out. But the resources are finite and the avenues are a little strange as he jumps from new universe to new universe in an attempt to find his way back home.

I think this is well-trod territory, and the combination of action and the way the different universes are presented is unique in its own way. There's a good amount of action, and the characters are good enough where you definitely feel invested in the outcome. I could quibble about some of the choices, perhaps with how the universes are put forward, but the climax is so weird and wonderful as to forgive any faults that are there. I really loved how it finished up, and that means this is an enjoyable, sometimes pulpy read.

Definitely recommended.

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25 July 2016

Review: Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned"

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" by Lena Dunham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's a bit on an episode of Family Guy where Peter Griffin, the father, confesses that he doesn't like The Godfather. His reasoning? "It insists upon itself."

Thus my feeling on Not That Kind of Girl.

I come into this liking Lena Dunham's work on a whole. She's perhaps a little too arsty and big-I-Important for a lot of tastes (mine included), but Girls is great and Tiny Furniture was great, so why not?

The problem is that this is really just in Dunham's voice throughout, and there are just a lot of really frustrating things about her and her personality that ring throughout. If you find Dunham insufferable, you'll want to shake her when she talks about college boyfriends or summer camp. If you find her charming, her stories from childhood will be inspiring and fun. Those who pick up this book already have an opinion on Dunham, and it's just going to transfer onto the writing, for better or for worse.

With the controversy surrounding this book (in context, it's not nearly as bad as it's portrayed regarding her sister), it's hard to simply read it, so kind of take everything in stride. Honestly, unless you're really into Dunham both as an artist and a person, this isn't something you'll enjoy. I found it to be what it was, but I don't think I feel great about picking it up, either.

Closer to a 2.5.

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22 July 2016

Review: Black Magick, Volume 1: Awakening, Part One

Black Magick, Volume 1: Awakening, Part One Black Magick, Volume 1: Awakening, Part One by Greg Rucka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's a shame Rucka is embroiled in a bit of a controversy regarding Wonder Woman at the time I write this, because it might cause people to overlook what was a really fun, really brilliant start to a comic series.

In Black Magick, witches are real, and one of them, Rowan, is a detective. She's called into a hostage situation where the perpetrator asks for her specifically, and things go haywire. Rowan has to balance out the issues she's facing in the mundane world in this case along with a more supernatural situation unfolding around her.

The art feels modern while suggesting a more noirish bent, which works wonders in this case. The result is a read that kept me riveted almost from the moment I opened the book, and the possibilities of where this could end up are just wide open. It's a great reminder as to why Greg Rucka is so good at what he does regardless of any drama surrounding him, and it's a series I can't wait to dive back into. Absolutely essential.

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18 July 2016

Review: Carter & Lovecraft

Carter & Lovecraft Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

There's a lot of fanservice in this book, and that's not a bad thing considering that the Cthulhu Mythos is really fanservice in and of itself. Carter and Lovecraft absolutely embraces that, though, and it mostly works throughout.

Carter is a detective-turned-private investigator following the solving of a rather grisly serial killer case involving kids and the suicide of his partner. He ends up in Providence as the sole inheritor of an estate that includes a bookstore run by a woman who is the direct descendant of HP Lovecraft. Not long after his arrival, though, some strange murders occur and they seem to be circling around him.

There are plenty of little Mythos Easter eggs hidden throughout, some more obvious than others, and the pacing of the story helps that a bit. It has a lot of mystery elements which are a little disjointed (especially considering how important they are to the plot), and the characterizations feel a little thin, but the payoff is awesome and sets up nicely for future volumes.

Overall? Good candy for Lovecraft fans and supernatural mystery readers alike. More than enough fun to go around.

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16 July 2016

Review: Project Beta: The Story of Paul Bennewitz, National Security, and the Creation of a Modern UFO Myth

Project Beta: The Story of Paul Bennewitz, National Security, and the Creation of a Modern UFO Myth Project Beta: The Story of Paul Bennewitz, National Security, and the Creation of a Modern UFO Myth by Greg Bishop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

I forget what the conversation was that turned me onto this book, but considering the constant enjoyment I get from UFOs and first contact stuff as well a weird government conspiracies, this book is a nice little intersection for all of those things.

In this book, though, it's about the federal government allegedly actively waging a disinformation campaign with one man who was seeing more than he should have near a military base. The lengths and the depth of the disinformation campaign are impressive on their own, and the end result is something both fascinating and infuriating, given the source of the disinformation.

The book itself is a pretty quick, straightforward read, and that's probably where the flaw is. Little effort is made to make this an engaging read as much as a straightforward popcorn flick, and that's unfortunate because there are other books like it that make for a more compelling narrative with the description of the events. Still, there's a fair amount of meat here, and a fairly fascinating take on a piece of American lore that gets basically zero play.

Worth a read if you like UFOs and such, but far from a necessary one.

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12 July 2016

Review: The Last One

The Last One The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Last One is a weird book.

On the surface, we're talking about a story following the taping of a Survivor-style reality show. A lot of it seems sort of scripted and planned, but there's also some stuff happening that puts some doubt into the minds of the contestants as they work their way through the challenges and the show itself.

Especially since it's nearly Big Brother season as I read this, the way this handles reality TV does deserve some credit, as it places us right inside the production aspect as well as following people around as it happens. Unfortunately, this limitation makes for some difficult transitions as the story continues, and the level of unreality to get to accepting what's going on in the story as legitimate ultimately ended up being a bridge too far. Instead of an ambiguous scenario or a direct one, it takes its time getting to where it's heading and does so at the overall detriment of the narrative.

This was okay. Not great, but not bad, either. Fairly readable, but not one I would ultimately recommend. Closer to a 2.5.

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10 July 2016

Review: Compass South

Compass South Compass South by Hope Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hope Larson knows what she's doing, and the result is another solid, albeit flawed, graphic novel. This one a swashbuckling pirate adventure with two kids on different ships, I found it to be a fast page-turning adventure story that is worth reading for anyone who likes graphic novels for the younger set.

The downsides here are that the story itself feels fairly thin, especially in comparison to a lot of her other work, and that the art style here lends itself to a more of an anime feel than a traditional read, and that didn't really work for me on a whole with the tone and story.

I hesitate to call this a miss (and it's probably closer to a 3.5 overall for me), but this is just good, not great graphic novel from someone who we're used to getting closer on the side of great. Still works well for the age group and is worth paying attention to, though.

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09 July 2016

Review: In the Dust of This Planet

In the Dust of This Planet In the Dust of This Planet by Eugene Thacker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I learned of this book from an episode of Radiolab where the cover for this title was featured on a jacket worn by Jay-Z. Weirdly enough, the topic matter (philosophy and horror writing) was something I've been enjoying as of late, and with a nod from Thomas Ligotti, I got my hands on a copy of this.

It's a little dense, and maybe a little out there, but especially in the times we're in currently, it's interesting to read about horror writing in a more existential plane. Much like how we can trace Lovecraft's work to his existential wranglings, the idea posed here is that this horror renaissance of sorts (especially with the more nihilistic looks given by Ligotti and the like) is a reflection of a world we're struggling with ourselves.

As someone who reads horror and the weird more for the different concepts and ideas than the standard tropes that come along with fantasy and science fiction these days, I don't know if I relate 100% with the premise, but I appreciate the take on it nonetheless.

If you're into cultural criticism and horror/weird fiction, this is something you should seek out if you can find a copy. There are two other books in this series that I hope to pick up eventually, as Thacker does present some good ideas to think about here.

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Review: The Dark Forest

The Dark Forest The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked The Three-Body Problem even though I wasn't totally connected with it. I love a first contact story, and there were some cultural touchstones I had missed that probably kept me from loving it, but I still wanted to dive into the sequel and see where it was going.

The Dark Forest may now be one of my favorite science fiction books of all time.

Taking place shortly after the first book, we immediately get an idea as to what's happening with the impending invasion (with one of the coldest final statements to humanity in the first few pages I've read), and then a long tale about how the world reacts. The way it's set up and progresses is a very unique response to a very unique situation set up in the first book (I'm trying not to give too much away, but imagine humanity fighting against omniscience), and the way it results is equally riveting and maddening.

I also have to say that I thought the translation in the first book was fine, but what we see with the translation this time feels a lot more natural and fits the themes and the story better. I found this to be a much more enjoyable read prose-wise than Three Body, for what it's worth. The Cultural Revolution parallels are also a little less central to the plot, meaning that the gateways to the story aren't as difficult. This ultimately ends up being a much more accessible read with a traditional trope turned on its head a bit.

I truly loved reading this. I can't wait for the English translation of the final book this fall because I have no idea what's coming next, and that's awesome. If it's even close to as good as this was, this might end up being an all-time series.

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08 July 2016

Review: But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past

But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is like the best drunken bar conversation you've ever had.

You know exactly what I mean by that, because we've all had it. On our third (or eighth) beer, we start waxing philosophical about books or movies or what we ate for dinner, and it feels profound in the moment even though it's not at all. And those conversations are the best! Why? They get you thinking outside the box a little bit, and every so often you get that pearl of wisdom that you hang onto.

Chuck Klosterman has always been great at putting forth really solid, thought-provoking discussions and arguments about the culture around us. But What If We're Wrong, though, feels like a step further, where it becomes more a discussion about the place of culture and how we're responding to it, and it feels both ridiculous and deep, essential and arbitrary, and ultimately, a book I didn't feel like I wanted to put down at any point. And only Klosterman could really pull this off, as well, because there's just so much here that requires us to accept his authority as what it is.

I can't overstate how much I loved this. Maybe I'm putting too much meaning into it, but every time I finished a section or chapter, I felt like I got a better appreciation for the topic whether I agreed or not. And nonfiction should be like that. It should make us think a little more, especially when the topic is one of modern and present culture, and especially when the common consensus in so many circles is how disposable it is. I call this a must read for everyone, but we can say that about a lot of Klosterman's work. Ultimately, though, this is a really timely read that's worth the investment. Hopefully, you won't think I'm wrong...

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Review: nameless: a novel

nameless: a novel nameless: a novel by Matthew Rossi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ultimately closer to a 4.5.

Matthew Rossi, if you know his writing, is best known for his work on World of Warcraft information. For me, it was his weird essays on alternative histories and cultures (Bottled Demon being my favorite, but his three previous reads were all great). He had hinted on Twitter about the novel he was working on, and it got released and I finally got to read it.

And how do I sum it up? It's like a mainstream weird horror novel... and then Santa Claus shows up in a major battle.

I'm kind of glad I approached this from having read Bottled Demon and the like, because the conceits behind the good versus evil mindsets here are absolutely established in this sort of skewed look at genre the way Rossi has taken a skewed look at history and noteworthy events in his previous books. The pacing allows for the story to move along, and the number of true curveballs that Rossi throws from both main characters and major events alike means that the book is a page-turner in a different sense. It's not so much that you want to know what happens next (because you do), but because you end up wondering what craziness is happening next.

In that it doesn't really fit in well with the current weird and is perhaps a little too reliant on those curveballs is the one negative, but it's far from anything resembling a dealbreaker for how solid this book truly is. It has something for fans of horror, of the current weird fiction trend, of urban fantasy, and of slight absurdism. In the end, you really can't go wrong on this one.

There is apparently a sequel planned, and the best praise I can think of for this book comes from that fact. The ability of this book to surprise me over and over again is what will get me coming back to what's been established here as soon as possible. It's just a lot of fun in a genre that is often lacking it, and that's worth the time to take part.

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05 July 2016

Review: The Crown

The Crown The Crown by Kiera Cass
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Truly closer to a 2.5.

I have been a major evangelist for this series since I found out about it, and while I think everyone was of the understanding that the trilogy didn't need any extra sequels, there was no reason to believe that they'd be anything more than superfluous baggage. With how poorly this final volume turned out, though...

The final two books are about the princess daughter of our heroine from the first trilogy. Running a Selection of her own, she's narrowed it down to the final few suitors, and we get to see some of the political machinations that Princess Eadlyn is facing down.

The problems with this book are so, so many. For one, the actual Selection process takes a back seat to a lot of weird political posturing. There's an outside party trying to spin public opinion toward his attempt at claiming an engagement with Eadlyn that is unrealistic on its own, and we essentially fast-forward the whole Selection simply because of a somewhat convenient plot point that almost appears to exist because of the lack of ideas to make it work. The ending is also telegraphed from a mile away, there's a lot of forced agenda throughout (especially in a series that balanced the princess fantasy with a strong female character who forged her own path in a believable fashion), and it just feels like a mess. Considering how unnecessary these last two books were, it's hard not to wonder whether there weren't a lot of ideas left at all.

I'm still a really big fan of the first trilogy. The last couple books don't take away from the main story at all, but this just wasn't a good idea to start, and it appears that the final book kind of proves that. Just not enough here to defend.

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Review: Learning to Swear in America

Learning to Swear in America Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are certain types of stories that will always hook me in, almost no matter what. Stories where an asteroid is hurtling toward earth for an extinction-level event is certainly one of them, and Learning to Swear in American is a YA title that handles the concept in a fun and different way. With shades of The Martian as well as a basic fish-out-of-water/teen struggle story following a Russian teenager who figures out what's going on with the asteroid and how to stop it, this ends up being a really enjoyable story on a whole with a fun lead character, a slightly-realistic-but-still-out-there premise, and a lot of interesting little tidbits on the side.

The science focus is a fun plus, as is the relationships and the Americanization of the teen in many ways. There are so many subtle things that happen in this book that I loved as an adult reader, and there's enough for everyone in the intended audience that this ends up being one of the better YA books out this year. Plus, look at that cover!

Highly recommended. Really a fun read from start to finish.

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Review: Autumn's Wish

Autumn's Wish Autumn's Wish by Bella Thorne
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

The Autumn series has been fairly up-and-down over its three books. The first was sweet, second kind of rough, but this third and final installment might be the best of the bunch.

In this book, it's senior year and we're looking ahead to college. Autumn is given another gift from her father, a watch that allows her to jump into the future and see where the path takes her. As she jumps back and forth, watching as her actions change the futures she's seeing, she has to figure out what's going on and what kind of future she wants before it's too late.

I'm a sucker for time travel tales, so it's no surprise this one resonated with me, but, outside of some perhaps unnecessary ramping up of the activities of the kids, this ends up being a pretty solid cap to a decent YA series. There's not a ton to say as the series continues into a more traditional YA story, but I like the family orientation here, I love how much Autumn cares about her friends, and I like the semi-consistency of the time changes in the story. Pretty well done on a whole.

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28 June 2016

Review: The World from Up Here

The World from Up Here The World from Up Here by Cecilia Galante
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like when books can surprise you. While The World From Up Here rightfully gets praise for its handling of a character with Asperger's, the impressive feat is how it dances with the stories we all tell and the way ideas and concepts spread regardless of evidence, both in our own families and in our town.

In the story, a girl has to stay with her cousin for a time when her mother is hospitalized. Her cousin is a little flighty and fearless, and the town has a big story about a witch who lives up on the hill. The cousin decides, for a class project, that she wants to interview the witch, and our protagonist is quickly forced to work outside of her comfort zone and get some things together.

It's a decent book, although I have a lot of reservations in play here. I found the cousin to be more than a little unrealistic in the context of this story - a Manic Pixie Dream Girl works in a John Green book, not a family story like this one. The benefit of how the story is structured is that the last act really keeps you guessing, especially about the witch. The ultimate problem, though, is that this tries to be a little heavier than it ends up being. It's a Rules-style story without the Rules-style weight, and that's why this stumbles a bit.

Overall, this book can and should find an audience, and I hope it does. I just wish it did a few things better.

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