18 June 2016

Review: Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let's put everything else aside for one moment - this series is amazing.

"Bitch Planet" is a prison planet in some sort of dystopian future run by a corrupt collection of politicians, and the planet is an all-women's facility, complete with the sort of collective abuse and degradation one would expect. There is a sport competition of sorts, the guards and those in charge want to use it to break some of the women, but they're not having it.

There's a definitive The Longest Yard-meets-Orange is the New Black with a dash of 1960s-70s exploitation film thing here that just works. Granted, Kelly Sue DeConnick is kind of awesome at this sort of thing, but the full package just works from top to bottom. It's a heavy read at times, but it's also a lot of fun along the way, too.

There's also a lesson here for other writers, especially in this era where there's a lot of socio-political pandering in fiction. DeConnick clearly went into this looking for a certain message about feminism, intersectionality, etc, etc. Those looking for the message will find it, but those who really prefer to leave that sort of thing out of their comics won't find that Bitch Planet beats you over the head with messaging in particular. The characters and story stand on their own, which is really important, and there's something here for everyone.

One of the best recent comic reads I've taken in. Can't wait for the next volume.

View all my reviews

17 June 2016

Review: The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld

The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld by Jamie Bartlett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you've been on the internet since the early 1990s, you've seen some things.

And yet, the internet itself has expanded out far beyond that since then, and the seedy underbelly gets some press but not a lot of the detail you'd expect. The Dark Net attempts to fix that by giving some short pieces and details from known things like the deep web and 4chan to lesser-known situations involving the GNAA and camgirls. The end result is a good read with some magazine-article-sized chunks of information throughout.

In a way, it only scratches the surface, both as a detailed read and of all the things that you might know of that the book doesn't cover. As I often feel with these more mainstream takes, I wish this had more detail, but that's a small complaint for what was a good read on a whole. Especially good for those who haven't been as ingrained in the culture.

View all my reviews

12 June 2016

Review: Calamity

Calamity Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With the finale of this series, Brandon Sanderson seals up what's been a pretty great series about superpowers gone rogue. While Calamity ties up a lot of the loose ends nicely, it does falter a bit by taking a while to get to the point before racing toward a conclusion.

What I found interesting was some of the tropes Sanderson chose to work with in the final portions of this book. Without giving anything away (and the books have been derivative, but not in a bad way), the way to the conclusion here was surprising in its lack of real risk, especially given the way the series has been handled so far. A subverted trope un-subverted, in a sense.

Either way, though, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better modern science fiction tale for YA these days, and Brandon Sanderson is an absolute master in nearly everything he does anyway, so this series was still very solid on a whole. If anything, it might have benefited from another volume to expand on what was here in this book.

View all my reviews

08 June 2016

Review: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part of why I've enjoyed everything I've read from Erik Larson up to now is that he dives deep into topics that I have a lot of interest in. With Dead Wake, this was his first foray into a topic I didn't care as much about, the sinking of the Lusitania.

There are a lot of interesting geopolitical notes about the sinking of the Lusitania that take a backseat to the lives of the people on the ship as well as many of the U-Boat/submarine operators who were serving in the Atlantic at the time. This serves as a narrative where you spend a lot of time waiting for that eventual shoe to drop, as everyone knows what's coming right away. This isn't a bad way to do it, but it ends up feeling less like a history story (a la The Devil in the White City) and more a social history. The balance struck here isn't the same as the balance in his other books, so that's probably the one downer.

Still, Larson is a master at what he does. If this ends up being the worst thing he ever publishes, it's still better than most everything else like it out there. I wouldn't not recommend it, it's just that the story has a different feel to it than his other works.

View all my reviews

Review: Modern Romance

Modern Romance Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5.

I'm an Aziz fan, so I'm probably going to like what he's up to anyway. Hearing about what this book was about to start, I knew it wasn't a humor book as much as a book on dating from a humorist, so there's that. Also, having been out of the dating pool for 12+ years now, it's not a topic that's remotely relevant to me, but I also love stories about data and modern... everything. So then there's this, where Ansari actually spent a lot of time talking to those who are dating, plenty of data scientists, people who run services and apps, and gives a pretty basic, top-down overview as to what it's like to date today.

I can't say whether it's representative or anything, but it's an impressive take and Ansari offers such a good conversational tone as well as a good level of humor to make this worth the time. It maybe fails from not being detailed enough, and he even cops to it early in detailing his focus, but it's mostly a nitpick. This is a good read for fans of his as well as those who like pop sociology books.

I waited a while to pick this one up, and I kind of hate myself for waiting so long. Give it a read.

View all my reviews

Review: The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sometimes books aren't for me, and this book, positioned as a fun urban fantasy-ish tale of mystical librarians was extremely reminiscent of the Deborah Harkness books in terms of overall feel, but with a much lighter touch. For me, the lack of real meat ended my enjoyment of this before it started, and nothing grabbed be through its entire duration.

Those looking for something a little less significant, this might be for you. Otherwise, though, there's just not enough here to like to spend any significant time with.

View all my reviews

07 June 2016

Review: The Fireman

The Fireman The Fireman by Joe Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I will preface this by saying that I don't feel that I "got" this book.

On the basic level, this is a strange, post-apocalyptic thing with the Joe Hill touch. People have a disease that eventually makes them combust, and one man is able to control it. The story is somewhat about him, but also about the other people surrounding him, and people sort of figuring out how to exist in the world they're in.

I don't know if there's another message here, or if there's just the sort of inventive way of dealing with existing horror/fantasy tropes that Hill does so well. It's a very well-written page turner, for sure, and there are a lot of little nods throughout that are nice to see, but I can't help comparing it to NOS4A2 (given the similar size/scope) or even Heart-Shaped Box, both of which just seem to work better across the board.

I guess I was just looking for a little more meat, a little something different than what I got. It's a solid read, and if you're into horror or Hill at all, this is basically a must-read, but knowing what he's done before and what he's really capable of on a whole, this just seems like a misfire on a whole. If you want to try Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box probably has to come first, but this is probably just a book that shouldn't be at the top of your priority list.

View all my reviews

01 June 2016

Review: Anomaly

Anomaly Anomaly by Skip Brittenham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've generally had a struggle, for whatever reason, with science fiction graphic novels. Something about the format mixed with the topic rarely seems to click, but I read something from Skip Brittenham not too long ago and saw this graphic novel available, and I had to check it out.

The story is basically about an interplanetary expedition to bring a planet into a confederation, but the system malfunctions and space flight issues keep the team stranded on this planet. The team is quickly attacked and enslaved, and the story is about them dealing with this new situation and how they get out.

There isn't a ton of new ground from a story perspective here. However it is a well-executed attempt with engaging characters and a few cool surprises along the way. The artwork is essentially 3-D renders that are painted, so some might find the visuals a little off-putting, but I thought it worked great for what was being presented. Also, there are apparently some augmented reality options that I didn't explore, but if you read this and are into that sort of thing, it's an added bonus.

Overall, though, on the basic level of a cool science fiction graphic novel (in an impossibly large format, I should add), I certainly enjoyed this. Worth a look if you can get your hands on a copy.

View all my reviews

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