31 October 2012

Review: Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin

Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin
Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin by Geoff Johns

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'll just come right out and say it - this is a total Avenger-ization of the Justice League, and I'd accuse it of being an outright ripoff of the films had these individual issues not come out a year before. With that said - awesome.

So I have little-to-no experience with the Justice League in general. I like Wonder Woman, and I know of...some of the others. That's it. So this reintroduces the Justice League members in this rebooted universe, and pretty much acts as a vehicle for that result - the return of Darkseid is really secondary. Anyway, we get the following:

* Green Lantern, who's snarky and witty in ways I didn't really gather from the Darkest Night trade from a while back, and clearly fills a Tony Stark role here.

* Batman, who is Batman.

* Superman, who is really angsty and misunderstood, which I didn't expect and actually makes me want to rush out and get the New 52 versions soon.

* Aquaman, who's highlight is getting a giant shark to eat an alien. Sigh.

* Wonder Woman, who goes full Thor in this one, with the Frozen Caveman Lawyer mannerisms and kind of fun and goofy all at once. Needless to say, I really liked this Wonder Woman.

* The Flash, who I believe is at fault for all of this and is more or less reduced to a "nyah nyah I'm fast" thing, which...I dunno. I don't get the Flash.

* Cyborg, who I had never heard of prior to this.

I mean, it's kind of fun and goofy, which is a nice change from the gritty stuff that's been the hallmark of so much of the superhero stuff I'm reading lately. That doesn't mean I dislike the other stuff, but more that I can embrace the camp. It's fun!

I love that the New 52 exists to kind of give this new gateway. I'm really enjoying this aspect of it.

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30 October 2012

Review: Winter's Heart

Winter's Heart
Winter's Heart by Robert Jordan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Let's get the good out of the way first - the prologue of this? The best 50 pages I've read from Robert Jordan so far, hands down. It was interesting, it actually advanced the story, it took some risks...it was perfect, and I was really, really excited - after two months away from this story, I was psyched to see that things were moving along still, etc.

That was the high point of the book.

Every problem I've had with this series is magnified to ridiculous levels. I swear, if anything of value happened at any point in this book, I may have missed it. There was a quick scene with Mat fighting some golems, and the last 50 pages, as usual, showed some significant upside, but wow is this disappointingly terrible.

I honestly don't know what to say anymore without beating a dead horse. Literally 500 pages could have been excised from this book. If I wasn't so close to the Sanderson ones, and wasn't reading these for a separate blog project, I'd have thrown in the towel.

How does this happen?

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29 October 2012

Review: Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy
Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really can't help it - I'm drawn in by books with great covers, and this might be my favorite YA cover ever. Girl in a flowing dress with a frickin' crossbow?!? How can you not look at this book and say "yeah, this is gonna be awesome," right?

This book was awesome. I loved this so much, it's become an instant classic for me with so much detail and drama and action and a great, different magic system...just a rock solid piece of fantasy literature.

The concept is great. A girl escapes an arranged marriage and is brought into a convent where she is trained to be an assassin. She's given magical powers by the god of death, and is sent to assassinate a member of the high court. It becomes a cat-and-mouse game of violence and treachery, with magic always in the background.

I had one minor quibble, which came at the end and makes sense in the context of the story but felt a little unnecessary, especially for an otherwise great young adult book. It wasn't nearly enough to make me dislike the book, and the sequel simply cannot come out fast enough for me. If you like fantasy, if you like old-style settings, if you like unique magic systems, this is really worth reading. If you don't, read it anyway, because you're just depriving yourself of some great stuff.

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24 October 2012

Review: Office Girl

Office Girl
Office Girl by Joe Meno

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Remember a few years ago, when everyone was getting all crazy about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope? Here's the latest entry in that genre, Office Girl - and it's great!

Jack is a strange 20 something with the requisite strange hobby - tape recording found sounds, essentially. Odile, a college dropout, likes vandalism street art and sex. When they meet at their office (where they both sell Musak systems), they go on happy twentysomething adventures and try to change their world in that happy twentysomething way.

This is effectively Garden State in print, in a lot of ways. A lot of Deep Meanings about life, and it's so hipster it hurts in a lot of ways. And yet, as a tiny little hardcover novel, it's extremely engaging. The characters are actually fairly fun, the messages not too brickbatty, and, while it doesn't throw you any surprises, it's a great read. This one was easily polished off on a two hour plane ride and it was the perfect piece of literary candy.

If you're looking for something a little lighter, you could do a lot worse. This book won't change the world, it probably won't change you, but it's really the perfect diversion, and that's a success in itself.

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Review: The Fox Inheritance

The Fox Inheritance
The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is where I'd spend lines and lines lamenting the fact that it feels like every third young adult book is a dystopian novel, but I'll spare you because I actually really likes The Adoration of Jenna Fox as a strange, different dystopian-style novel with a cool sci-fi hook embedded in it.

The Fox Inheritance is the Matrix Reloaded of young adult books.

So where Adoration sits there all nice and pleasant in its sci-fi mystery/horror, Inheritance takes place way, way in the future. The US is pretty much a mess, and two teens are central to the story - they, like Jenna, have been downloaded onto hard drives, reformed into android-type bodies, and then had their consciousnesses uploaded. They know Jenna is still alive, and they have to find her.

The concept is better than the execution for two reasons: one, the first book, while dark in themes, was light in presentation. This is just dark dark dark all the way through. There's little optimism and less daylight to seep through. This leads us to the second point, which is where the book is just not what you'd expect after reading the first book. This is a dark adventure book instead. That's not a bad thing, but it's different, and that didn't entirely work for me. It's like how Matrix Reloaded was not the cyberpunky action movie that the first one was, but rather the dank, pessimistic side to the story.

I'll probably grab the third one when it comes out, but I'm not sure where to go from here. I suppose we'll see.

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23 October 2012

Review: The Woman Who Died A Lot

The Woman Who Died A Lot
The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I honestly can't remember at this point why I had originally picked up The Eyre Affair, but all I know is that it very quickly became a favorite book of mine, and every entry into the Thursday Next universe has been mostly fun.

After what I felt was a bit of a misstep in One Of Our Thursdays is Missing, The Woman Who Died a Lot brings things back around in a good way. We have references to the world galore, a lot of old characters back and involved, a few fun curveballs, pretty much everything I've come to expect from Fforde.

The flaws are few - it takes a little longer to get rolling than most of his books, and the shift into Thursday's new role is...a little much for me, but this doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment of the book and the story. With the knowledge that we have yet another one coming soon? Even better.

I'm glad I found this series and that I'm still reading them - especially interesting as a reader who generally dislikes mysteries (and that's where Thursday Next is rooted). I'm not sure where we'll go from here, but that's always kind of been the fun of it all, right?

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22 October 2012

Review: Something Strange and Deadly

Something Strange and Deadly
Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Zombie Steampunk Adventure! Throw in some sparkly vampires and we might be winning young adult bingo!

In yet another YA book where concept leaps well ahead of execution, we have Something Strange and Deadly, where Eleanor has to balance between the life her mother (and society) expects of her against trying to save her brother who may or may not have been turned by "the Dead," who are rising in Philadelphia and are causing all sorts of problems.

The book has a ton going for it - I love the Victorian setting, the steampunk elements are clear but subtle, and it's truly a zombie book for the ladies. The problem is that there are so many great parts to the book, and yet the whole just felt lacking. It's not quite the problem we get with so many steampunk/Victorian books where the plot acts as a vehicle to serve the setting, but it's honestly a strange mix (zombie and steampunk) that has some fantasy/sci-fi thrown in for good measure that things just...don't add up.

This is a good book. It's not a great book, even if it had flashes. I'll likely seek out the sequel, it's just a book with some problems.

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19 October 2012

Review: Wonder Woman: The complete History

Wonder Woman: The complete History
Wonder Woman: The complete History by Les Daniels

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is sort of a coffee table book-style treatment of the history of Wonder Woman, both as a character and of the people who created her. In some ways, it's great - in others, kind of lacking.

The book is great in the respect that it has a lot of photos of memorabilia, of different Wonder Woman publications and such that probably wouldn't see the light of day unless you were a heavy collector. It also tosses some older comics into the context of the times, which is kind of neat - especially for a superhero like Wonder Woman who has gone through so many incarnations.

The interesting parts for me were the parts discussing how Moulton created Wonder Woman, and how much of a foil for much of his studies and ideology regarding feminism and sexuality Wonder Woman truly was. I'd love to read a much larger take on that someday, but starting there and then discussing the context of the Lynda Carter show and the pressures that future writers faced, it was very interesting.

The downside is in two places. For one, it's much less about the Wonder Woman story and more about the story of how the Wonder Woman story came to be. Those hoping for a history of the actual saga are going to be missing something. The other downside is that it effectively ends right around the Crisis on Infinite Earths even though the book was written in the mid-2000s. There's plenty of opportunity to expand, especially during the Rucka era, that would have been beneficial.

Regardless, a good entry-level piece about one of the more iconic heroes out there. Worth a look if you're interested in this sort of thing.

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18 October 2012

Review: The Emperor's Soul

The Emperor's Soul
The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After being somewhat disappointed in Legion, I was surprised to see my copy of The Emperor's Soul show up at my doorstep early. I think it's due out in a few weeks, but I decided to read it right away, and I'm very glad I did.

It takes place in the Elantris-verse and pops us right into the middle of a story, where a Forger (someone who uses magic to make forgeries and change aspects of people and items via their souls) is captured and enlisted to essentially fix the soul of the Emperor. What is typically a two year process? She has 100 days.

The book is riveting from the get-go, it's in a universe that resembles Elantris but uses another unique magic system - no one is better at creating original magics the way Sanderson is - to get the job done. It's really a great, great story that is short, but doesn't feel short. Nothing is wasted, nothing is lost.

A beautiful, wonderful read. Everyone who likes good fantasy should seek this one out.

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16 October 2012

Review: The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to love this book.

I wanted to enjoy it because I figured the bad reviews might be focused more on how this isn't really Harry Potter and it's her first adult book and etc etc. The inner contrarian in me was excited to find a gem within a book that everyone is reading and no one is especially excited about.

To be charitably blunt, this book isn't very good.

The book follows a group of people following the passing of one of the members of town government. The book spends 500 pages with them coping with the death, with each other, and with the casual vacancy within their town's board. That's...essentially it. Some things happen to people, they supposedly grow and change, and...yeah. That's it.

Here's the chief problem with this book, something I've defined in my head as the Perotta Paradox. Named after Tom Perotta, it's about how a book has a great concept, drops you right in the middle of it, and then proceeds to go absolutely nowhere for nearly all the book before ending somewhere in the middle of these people's lives with no good resolution. Tom Perotta is excellent at this - I've read nearly all his books and only two of them have truly escaped this problem in a significant way.

Rowling's problem, in this book, is that it takes 350 pages for the what - in this case, the death - to translate into something that creates a conflict worth caring about (without giving it away, the message board). The 350 pages preceding this point, in a better book, should establish why we should care about these characters, and this is ultimately where the book fails. I tried so hard to find that hook because, hey, after Harry Potter, JK Rowling deserves the benefit of the doubt, right? Unfortunately, that payoff never really comes about, instead we're forced into bad sex and bad accents and too much cursing and too many people you ultimately read to escape from, not read more about.

It's especially difficult because you know there's a good storyteller capable of solid, nuanced, complex stories in there. This book tries to do that over a single volume, but falls flat most of the time. It's unfortunate and disappointing, and I really, really hope that the next chapter for Rowling is better.

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15 October 2012

Review: Dragonswood

Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've read a good deal of fantasy books over the years, and a flaw in a lot of the stuff I grew up on is how it all begins to bleed together. It's not to say that you're read one sword and sorcery novel, and thus you've read them all, but rather that there needs to be more there to set things apart.

Everything I've heard about Janet Lee Carey's Dragon's Keep is good to great. Dragonswood is billed as a companion of sorts, which means I've already dove into this series in the wrong order. The good news is that you really wouldn't know there's another book in this universe. The bad news is that you might not remember it anyway.

Tess is seeing visions, and is forced to flee her village. She runs intoa warden who begins protecting her somewhat, and then all the details about fey children and perhaps unspoken changeling stories begin.

The book resolves itself rather nicely, all things considered. It's not poorly written by any means, it's just...there. It was a perfectly viable, good read that I enjoyed while reading it and then more or less forgot about directly afterward. Perhaps knowing Dragon's Keep might have helped, or perhaps I just need to be the age where interchangeable fantasies don't bother me as much. Either way, this didn't quite hit the mark.

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14 October 2012

Review: Also Known as Rowan Pohi

Also Known as Rowan Pohi
Also Known as Rowan Pohi by Ralph Fletcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now for a surprisingly fun one! This is, in a sense, the story of George P. Burdell for a YA audience, but it ends up being a story that's a lot more fun than it should be; telling a story about identity, accepting oneself for who you are, and more.

Rowan Pohi is the name of a kid who wants to go to an elite prep school. The issue is that the kid doesn't exist - Bobby and his friends made him up completely, and submitted his application. It then turns out that Rowan gets into the prestigious academy, and Bobby decides to go behind the backs of his friends and enroll at Whitestone as Rowan. It gives him a new lease on life, but also requires a lot of lying and finagling to make work.

The book is short, paced perfectly. It's funny (from silly stuff like the friend named "Big Poobs" to the antics Bobby gets into in an attempt to keep his double life), and a lot comes about that ends up being both instructive and inspirational. For a small book, it packs a pretty hefty punch, and it's hard not to be smiling through most of it.

It's certainly not inspiring or empowering the way a Stargirl might be, but it's a book that has a lot of heart and a lot going for it without trying too hard and without relying on after school special tropes, which is ultimately a rare quality these days. It's a quick and fun read that people might walk away with a little something extra at the end of the day. Highly recommended.

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Review: The Storm Makers

The Storm Makers
The Storm Makers by Jennifer E. Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jennifer E. Smith is an author I know because of her awesome YA book The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Her doing a weather-based fantasy for middle readers? Count me in, I thought! Unfortunately, the book didn't meet my expectations.

The concept is great - we learn that there are people capable of controlling the weather, and one of our two child protagonists is one of them, and may be one of the strongest yet. What results is a power struggle between the Storm Makers of who will run the show and how the powers they wield will be used.

This has some passing similarity to Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner, which came out a few months after this and takes a more scientific approach in its futuristic, weather-controlling story. As a result, it ends up being a better, more consistent, and more suspenseful book. The Storm Makers feels like has less at stake, is more fantastical, and might be a little overlong on its own, never mind in comparison to Eye.

It fits a niche well enough, but it's not the best in its class, or even overall. It's worth a read for this specific genre if you're into it, but it's hardly what I'd consider essential.

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Review: Blackbirds

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Angry Robot continues to print some of the more interesting fantasy/sci-fi out there, and Blackbirds is right there with some of the better ones I've read of late.

The story follows Miriam, who has the power to see how someone will die if she touches them. She can't really change how it happens, but she knows. Then she touches someone who, in his last words, says her name. So now Miriam needs to try and fix the problem that she has apparently created for this guy.

Miriam is a great, fun character. She's brash and angry, she can fend for herself and then some. The concept is not absolutely new, but it is interesting and is handled in a really good way. Wendig as an author may rely a little more on profanity and brutality than I would have preferred, but it generally works in the book as well.

The sequel just came out, and I'm a little impatient in getting to it, but I will. It will be interesting to see how the world Wendig set up matches well with the way the first story ended, but this is a pretty awesome way to start things out.

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Review: Jessica Rules the Dark Side

Jessica Rules the Dark Side
Jessica Rules the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A book that I surprisingly really enjoyed (and shamefully so) was Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, which took the whole vampire in love/vampire princess thing and spun it on its head a little bit.

Jessica Rules the Dark Side is the sequel, and, truly, all it does is make the case that the book really should have ended after the first one.

Jessica is now married to her vampire prince and they live in the castle in Europe. There is then a murder(!) and Lucius may be implicated. Jessica now needs to assert a leadership role as princess to find the killer and hopefully clear her husband's name.

The issue with this book was the amount of time I sat there saying "really?" The first book was fun and cute because it at least gave the appearance of being self-aware, that it was a book that understood the tropes it was working with and reacted accordingly. Rules, however, moves itself very quickly into formulaic supernatural mystery territory and really doesn't get out. It, thankfully, spends some time with the mythology of the vampire families, but it's not enough to drag it out of the doldrums somewhat.

I'm not sure I'll pick up any other books in the series at this point. I'm not convinced that the story has anywhere to go, and that's unfortunate.

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Review: Horns

Horns by Joe Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I guess I like horror novels now.

Horns is something I read because I loved the concept: a man, after a drunken night out, is apparently literally becoming Satan, horns and all. He's going to solve some unsolved stuff in his life now, and since he can read the worst thoughts of people's minds (or at least prompt them to confess at length with minimal prompting), he may just have the ability to do it.

I'm a huge fan of Locke and Key, the nearly-completed comic series by the same author. I also learned after the fact that Joe Hill is Stephen King's son, which apparently means that twisted, unique ideas are genetic. This is great conceptually, fun to read, and was just the right length.

It's also going to be a movie with Daniel Radcliffe as the lead horned being, which is fascinating. Needless to say, Joe Hill's stuff is immediately hitting my radar as must read now, and this is as good a place as any to start.

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Review: Cold Cereal

Cold Cereal
Cold Cereal by Adam Rex

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I consider myself a fan of Adam Rex in two ways: one, I definitely enjoyed The True Meaning of Smekday, and two, his ideas are always interesting even if his execution feels a little off the mark. Cold Cereal is more the latter.

Cold Cereal is centered around an evil corporate conglomerate attempting to take over the world through cereal. They enslave fey creatures to use as mascots (and worse), and they have grand plans in mind. Two kids, however, are able to see what's going on, and begin trying to stop it.

The book has a lot of positive qualities I enjoyed as an adult. The rabbit, Harvey, is mostly invisible (a nod to the movie of the same name). There's a good deal of Masonic/Illuminati conspiracy involved, and the book spends a good deal of time with different feywild mythologies and Arthurian fables.

As an adult reader, this was great from time to time. As a kid's book, though, it really feels like it's way too out there. The mythology bogs the narrative down, the in-jokes make no sense to the readers this is geared toward, and it ultimately just falls flat. I can't see most kids picking this up and enjoying it, which is really my #1 problem with it at this point. An unfortunate pass.

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Review: Summer of the Gypsy Moths

Summer of the Gypsy Moths
Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

There seems to be a trend occurring in children's and young adult literature lately, and it's one I'm more than a little disturbed by - parents/guardians dying, and the kids trying to hide it.

Summer of the Gypsy Moths is the latest in a seemingly weird string of these books being published recently. Stella lives with her great aunt on Cape Cod, and her aunt has a foster child as well, Angel. The aunt dies, so the kids go to great lengths to hide this fact during their summer to keep themselves from having to be put back in foster care or anything worse.

I'm just going to be honest - I don't understand why this is a good trend. If there's this spate of kids hiding the deaths of their loved ones (and doing so successfully), shouldn't this be one of the bigger news items available right now? I'm confused as to why this is becoming such a trope, and I'm doubly confused that it's Sara Pennypacker (who wrote the Clementine books among others) who is on board. Just strange.

Skip this one. Skip it as fast as you can.

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Review: The Last Princess

The Last Princess
The Last Princess by Galaxy Craze

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a more just world, this would be getting a lot of press as the next Hunger Games, because it's that good. Brutal totalitarian government in a dystopia, check. Girl who kicks serious butt, check. Definitely worth checking out for those reasons alone.

The details make it even more fun - Eliza is a princess in the British Royal family, and the family is destroyed by this revolutionary force following the world essentially falling apart. Eliza somehow escapes, and her only chance at getting things back to normal is to blend in with the enemy and fight it from the inside.

The book is seriously brutal in a lot of ways - much like The Hunger Games, it doesn't sugarcoat the battles, the blood, the death. The payoff, however, is great. There's clear progression for Eliza, and there's a firm sense of justice throughout, which worked well for me.

I don't honestly want to say too much, because I really feel like people should just grab this book and dive right in. I firmly hope this is a new series that catches a lot of readers, because it's rock-solid. I can't wait for the next one.

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13 October 2012

Review: Fenway Fever

Fenway Fever
Fenway Fever by John H. Ritter

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

We really need to talk about the tragedy that is this book.

First and foremost, I get that authors cannot, either for legal or moral reasons, use the real names of current baseball players. I'm fine with that. But to just start trying to ape past players (Billee Orbit for Bill "Spaceman" Lee, a player nicknamed "Beer Can" instead of "Oil Can") is a whole other area for me.

Plus, major, major editorial problems. Runs the gamut from baseball rules gone awry to calling someone the "Worcester Rooster" as he's from Worcester, Massachusetts - a city pronounced "Whiss-ter" and not rhyming at all. It's sloppy.

I was fairly disappointed in this, truth be told. I had low expectations to start and it didn't even meet those. So many good sports books, I'd hate for this to be the one to be picked up with how many flaws there were.

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10 October 2012

Review: Legion

Legion by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors, in part because he does big, epic tomes that don't feel too long and involve great, epic ideas that are often thought provoking and are always unique and different.

Legion is no different in the regard that it has a big, epic concept that, if it were real, would shake the foundations of humanity itself, and it relies on an interesting narrative hook (a person with hallucinations that take the form of distinct, fully formed personalities) to get us exploring it. It has some great philosophical diversions wrapped up in a neat, readable package.

My chief complaint is that it's only a novella. At under 90 pages, the idea comes, is executed, and then moves along extremely quickly. By the time you've settled into the story, it's nearly gone. I accept that authors often have a certain amount to say and nothing more, but given that Sanderson has rarely wasted a word even in his 700+ page novels, a tease like this almost feels unfair. It's hard to knock a book for not being enough when most books suffer from being too much, but my one problem with the book is that I just wanted more.

Definitely check this one out. The ebook version is super-cheap, and it's a good, relaxing, fun evening read with some provocative concepts.

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Review: The Year We Disappeared: A Father - Daughter Memoir

The Year We Disappeared: A Father - Daughter Memoir
The Year We Disappeared: A Father - Daughter Memoir by Cylin Busby

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Closer to a 2.5, this is the memoir of a family of a police officer who was shot at point blank range with a shotgun, his recovery, and the constant protection the family needed to be under while the crime was investigated. Half the story is written from the point of view of the officer's daughter, the other half from the point of view of the officer in question.

I'm not generally one for true crime or memoirs of victims of crimes - there usually has to be some sort of interesting hook or oddity to keep me interested, and the hook of corrupt police officers is ultimately unsurprising and uninteresting to me as a subject. The book isn't a total loss by any stretch, though - the tribulations of John as he recovers from the crime is well-documented and fairly matter-of-fact in its graphic descriptions, while Cylin's story as a young girl watching her world violently twist around her feels authentically written, which can be difficult. I just ultimately had a lot of trouble getting interested, and the resolution, as it were, being delegated to a quick note at the end didn't especially help matters.

It's definitely worth reading if this is your type of book. There just isn't a ton to set it apart compared to a lot of the other memoirs that exist out there.

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08 October 2012

Review: The Fire Chronicle

The Fire Chronicle
The Fire Chronicle by John Stephens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Putting aside Harry Potter, the landscape of children's fantasy is...strange. You have your classics (Redwall, various magical series from Lloyd Alexander, Fablehaven, etc), plenty of modern attempts to replicate Harry Potter or Tolkien (Eragon, anyone?). The modern stuff in particular repeatedly leaves me cold, though. Especially when you're looking for fantasy books with appeal to all genders, since most of the middle grade fiction that's not about sports or various wimpy/nerdy children is geared, intentionally or otherwise, toward girls, you really end up wanting something to fill that gap.

The Books of Beginning are absolutely some of the best middle grade fantasy written in the last decade, and not nearly enough people know it.

The Emerald Atlas is a book I got to read an advance of a few years ago, and it blew my mind. A fully-formed setting, a book that didn't mind borrowing from existing tropes while finding its own voice, kids who a) acted like kids and b) were allowed to grow into their own during the course of the book. Actions had consequences for everyone involved, and it wasn't a standard heroic journey arc for me. It felt epic for an adult, and I can only imagine what it was like for a kid looking for that same epic quality.

The Fire Chronicle is the long-overdue sequel. It takes place a little while after Atlas, but ultimately wastes no time. The Atlas itself is used and misused to expected and unexpected consequences, we see the story progress to the next viable part, and we again see the kids act and grow as one would expect. The voices are genuine, the story unique while being respectfully derivative, and the plot again takes chances you don't normally see in children's literature. A massive breath of fresh air.

I have no idea how The Emerald Atlas did, but I know it was buzzed about constantly prior to publication and then I basically never heard about it again. I'm really hoping The Fire Chronicle renews interest in the series, because this is one I'm looking forward to sharing with my future spawn and with people who love fantasy, because it's really a hidden gem across the board.

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