28 February 2012

Review: Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom

Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom
Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom by Brendan Halpin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A really high-quality read. Lucas is crushing hardcore on Tessa, and devises a really dramatic, romantic way to ask her to prom. It falls flat, however, because Tessa likes girls and not boys. Lucas feels betrayed, and Tessa and him fall out a bit, and the story follows Tessa's attempts to go to the prom (facing significant scorn from the local community) and Lucas dealing with being the other guy/jerk.

There's not a lot to say about it except that it's a great story that isn't bogged down by its fairly clear message - a rarity. Definitely a good read overall.

View all my reviews

27 February 2012

Review: The Conundrum

The Conundrum
The Conundrum by David Owen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book really is a conundrum. The conundrum, according to the book, is how technological advances and sustainable living practices are doing little to help the environment that said advances/practices are trying to save. A lot of it is based off of some compelling historical theoretical data, a lot of it based on simply how we've gotten used to living overall.

The conundrum, for me at least, is that the focus is overwhelmingly on the answer to this question and how to deal with it while completely missing the boat as to why people prefer, say, suburbs to cities, or why being able to do more with a similar amount of energy may not, in fact, be a bad thing. It's very singularly focused, which is its right, but I would have preferred some actual solutions instead of laments about the reality of humanity and its desire to consume and live freely.

This isn't to say the book is worthless, far from it. While there are some minor historical/factual quibbles I could poke at, the book offers a lot of different perspectives on life in general, and I did learn some new things about consumption practices and sustainability ideas that I didn't know before. I didn't find the case here completely compelling, and without any credible or probable execution ideas to work with, it's more a 250 page exercise in thought, but the book is not a waste of time by any means.

View all my reviews

Review: Faking Faith

Faking Faith
Faking Faith by Josie Bloss
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


The concept behind this book is great - a girl gets caught up in a sexting scandal at school, and falls into the online world of homeschooled evangelical teenagers to the point of actually starting a blog of her own, faking her way in the evangelical world as "Faith." She becomes friendly with another girl and actually goes to visit her and live among those she has merely been pretending to be.

Like I said, great concept. Sadly, the execution is less than stellar. It handles a difficult, often foreign group of people very poorly - more as satirical curiosities than actual human beings. It has its moments of respectfulness and interest, but it's far overshadowed by what I felt was more of a "hey, look at this freak show" element, as if it was fairly known that the antagonists of the story would never get ahold of it in the real world.

There are a lot of books that handle religion - and moving away from/questioning religion - very well, and tons that do this much better. There are ways to satirize belief and belief systems in respectful manners. This book doesn't do either of them well, and to its overall detriment.

View all my reviews

24 February 2012

Review: The False Prince

The False Prince
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5, honestly.

This is a great, great YA fantasy/historical fiction novel regarding a master conspiracy to steal the throne in a kingdom. The scheme is great, and the three children being used are all great in their own ways.

There's not a lot I can say without giving it away, except that the book dances between the different characters and concepts and ideas beautifully, offering a scheme that looks to be in danger regularly. It's really, really great!

The one flaw is that the endgame does feel somewhat telegraphed at certain points. If this were an adult novel, it would be a lot more problematic, but in this context, it isn't bad. With that said, this is also a series, and I don't know where that will head next.

Anyway, definitely recommended. A fun read overall.

View all my reviews

Review: The Loser List #2: Revenge of the Loser

The Loser List #2: Revenge of the Loser
The Loser List #2: Revenge of the Loser by H.N. Kowitt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So I found myself somewhat endeared to the first Loser List book. I thought it was a decent Wimpy Kid-esque contemporary YA book that mostly succeeded in what it was trying to do. Unfortunately, the second book in the series isn't nearly as good.

The conceit in this one is that our loser protagonist is now threatened by a new cool kid in school. The kid is an over-the-top environmentalist type, helps out all over the place, is a good artist, knows famous people, etc. So, of course, he must be destroyed.

It just really doesn't make a lot of sense. There's no real motive for doing this that fits in with what's already established, and the book lacks the humor and good nature that the first one had, and just feels...lacking. Very unfortunate.

View all my reviews

Review: Zombies Calling

Zombies CallingZombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been keeping up with Friends With Boys online, and I saw that she had an earlier book. With zombies! So, naturally, I was in.

The book follows some university students who see their entire campus become zombified. The lead girl in this is obsessed with zombie films, so she knows all the tricks to survive, of course, but things still end up being a little dicey.

The book is short, and there's not much to say other than it's enjoyable, and is a nice reminder that zombie fiction doesn't always have to be gruesome and terrible, but instead can be fun, and this definitely is. The artwork is also good, but the trade I picked up felt a bit cramped, but that's a minor complaint. Worth 30 minutes or so of your time.

View all my reviews

14 February 2012

Review: Cold Magic

Cold Magic
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I may have hyped this one up in my head a bit too much. I'm giving this a 3 because the first 200 or so pages are a bit of a slog, the middle portion is genuinely great, and then the ending leaves quite a bit to be desired, even knowing it's the first book in a trilogy.

The book involves a girl who is essentially contracted out for an arranged marriage. There are, of course, a number of twists that come along that blow the entire situation up, and we get to follow the aftermath.

When this book is rolling, it's really rolling. When it's dragging, however, it's very painful. The universe (an alternate planet earth with magic and dirigibles!) is well-done, and a lot of the history and characterization of the different groups in play are truly fascinating. Perhaps if it were a little differently written, I might have liked it more? Perhaps if it met the expectations many set for me on this, I would been head over heels for it? I don't really know. I'll probably seek out the sequel at some point when I get some distance from this one, but it's not an OMG I MUST READ THIS IMMEDIATELY situation.

If you like some smart fantasy, you could definitely do worse. Just keep your expectations in check.

View all my reviews

09 February 2012

My Hacked XBox Live Adventure

Getting hacked is no fun, folks. What's worse is having just a miserable experience trying to fix the problem, especially with a company with as many resources as Microsoft does.

A little background: about a month ago on a Saturday morning, I randomly got some "you have purchased some Microsoft points" emails from XBox Live and from Paypal, since my accounts were linked. This was similar to the FIFA hack that's been ongoing(!) since October(!!), so I immediately changed all my passwords and got down to business with getting things righted again. I figured it would take a few days, and hey, I was going away for a few days anyway. They were fairly quick with their investigation, and got back to me rather quickly that, yeah, I had "unauthorized access," that the points would be removed, and I would be refunded "within 1 to 2 billing cycles." No definition of what a billing cycle is, and Paypal is, you know, one button. But okay, patience, young Padawan, etc.

This is where things kind of went downhill.

Review: Da Vinci's Ghost

Da Vinci's Ghost: The Untold Story of the World's Most Famous Drawing
Da Vinci's Ghost: The Untold Story of the World's Most Famous Drawing by Toby Lester
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Random thoughts on Da Vinci's Ghost, a book about the creation of the Vitruvian Man, the iconic image created by Leonardo da Vinci and replicated on pretty much everything :

* I don't know nearly enough about Leonardo da Vinci. I know basics, but felt somewhat lost with a lot of what was going on here.

* With that said, this is surprisingly informative and appears to be well-researched for a book that reads as if it has a general audience in mind, so that was good.

Really, I'm always happy to have some of my knowledge gaps exposed, and this filled one of them quite well. I got a lot out of this, even if it was slow goings from time to time, and I do want to spend more time w/da Vinci now, if only to get a broader outlook. Still, definitely worth your time if you're looking for something short about something you might not have thought too much about.

View all my reviews

07 February 2012

Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Random thoughts on We Need to Talk About Kevin:

* This book took forever to get going. There is SO MUCH leadup to the parts that anyone truly cares about that I very nearly threw in the towel early and often. I don't need a book to necessarily dive in right away, but I'd like to get to some semblance of the point before I hit a third of the way through.

* My chief issue with this book, however, is how unrealistic so much of it felt compared to the super-real-feeling character of Kevin. Not that I have much of any background in psychology or personality disorders, Kevin felt like a true psychopath in every sense of the word, and I could definitely picture where he was going. Comparing him with those around him, though - the father in particular - and they looked like absolute unrealistic caricatures of human beings as opposed to realistic, believable people. It really hampered my enjoyment of this overall.

* With all that said, once the story actually gets to the story, the book became rather riveting. The road to where the plot ends up is engaging, and it hits a lot of the right notes. I hate how long it took to get there, but that's that.

Overall, this is one of those books that I think might actually work better as a movie. The story moves along as a series of letters in the book, and probably would have benefited from a more sober characterization with a more linear structure overall. Closer to a 3.5 overall.

View all my reviews

02 February 2012

Review: Big Nate: In a Class By Himself

Big Nate: In a Class by Himself
Big Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's a subgenre of children's books I derisively call the "cash grabs." They're your celebrity books, your knockoffs, your derivative stuff. I know Big Nate has been a daily comic for some time, so it's not so much a "cash grab" type book like so many Wimpy Kid clones, but the chapter books...well, they sure feel like it.

This is the first chapter book installment of Big Nate. Nate's a bit disorganized, a bit of a troublemaker, a bit of a clown. This book follows him through one school day as he does something no one else has done before him. It's a pretty standard story, no real twists or surprises, nothing too scandalous.

I think that might be what bothers me the most. Where Wimpy Kid felt new and fresh, this feels like a bit of a retread, and one that stays well within the margins to boot. It's serviceable, and I can see quite clearly why it's as popular as it is, but it doesn't give me that good feeling inside about it. Maybe the comic is more subversive? Maybe this really is a cash grab and my cynicism isn't really doing what it's supposed to.

There are two more out with one more getting published shortly. These are very quick reads, so I'll probably at least give the next one a shot and see if it finds its own legs. Considering the hype, though, this was a disappointment.

View all my reviews

01 February 2012

Review: Bond Girl

Bond Girl
Bond Girl by Erin Duffy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Embarassingly, I had gotten some interest in this thinking, based solely on title and buzz, that this was sort of a reverse Bond book. Sort of like a chick-lit-spy-thriller.

It's not.

A better comparison, as made more or less everywhere else at this point, is The Devil Wears Prada on Wall Street. It's really not a great comparison - Prada was better, and it simply boils the idea down to "female protagonist in male-dominated field novel," which really tells us more about those who are making the comparison than the book itself.

With that said, the book follows a woman fresh out of school taking a job at a busy brokerage firm on Wall Street. There, she has a typical cast of characters, all pretty clear stereotypes, hits the predictable sexism, has a relationship, perseveres through it all, and reaches a fairly expected climax and ending. There's nothing groundbreaking here.

What it does do is tell a quick-paced, fun story. There are a number of fine moments, the lead character is frustratingly endearing, and, while the book is not unique, it does succeed quite well in what it set out to be and do, and there's something great about that, at least to me. I can handle derivative if it's good derivative.

So if you're into this thing, don't ignore it. If you're typically offended/annoyed by the existence of books like this, skip it. Chances are, you'll like it about as much as you think you will.

View all my reviews