31 January 2013

Review: She and I: A Fugue

She and I: A Fugue
She and I: A Fugue by Michael R. Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Michael R Brown is someone I know in a few ways, having known him for a number of years over various internet forums regarding some shared interests. As our relationship, as it were, is internet based, which is largely the framework for this memoir of the rise and fall of a relationship that begins online near the turn of the century.

The book is probably closer to a 3.5, but one I'm glad to have read overall. We get some insight into Brown's activity alongside the Objectivist movement, and later an interesting account of how online relationships often were forced to work in the early 2000s when things were quite different. The book mostly covers Brown's relationship with one girl from start to end, and it is a fairly quick read on a whole.

The one downside for me is the one downside for other reviewers, but less problematic for me on a whole. Brown writes the book in a very unique style that lends itself to a staccato narrative as opposed to the type of flow you might expect. This is clearly by design, as the changes in the way the book moves is very clear throughout. It didn't always work for me, but it worked pretty well overall, I thought.

Either way, a book I have been meaning to read for years now, I'm glad I finally got around to it. It's worth the time for some interesting perspectives into different relationships and ideologies in a time that feels so far away in many regards.

View all my reviews

29 January 2013

Review: American Savior: A Novel of Divine Politics

American Savior: A Novel of Divine Politics
American Savior: A Novel of Divine Politics by Roland Merullo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There's a meme among much of the political left that the liberal viewpoint is devoid of ideology and is inherently pragmatic. There's also the meme that Jesus Christ, were he alive today, would be a liberal.

American Savior, perhaps inadvertently, is the literary result of those memes.

The idea is simple, in this case: Jesus has returned, and he wants to run for president. He gets together a small group of reporters and their families to make the run, and the book follows the campaign through election day.

The book is mostly well-written. The annoying "we're going to name people who are famous without actually naming them, so here's a guy who has a first name that sounds like 'Wolf' and the last name 'Spitzer'" is throughout. The concept of Jesus is kind of weird, and the main character is frustratingly annoying. It's just a weird book.

And, at the end of the day, it just feels like a stealth ideological attempt to co-opt a religious figure. The rest of the ideology hinted at in the book is pretty standard stereotyping as is, and Jesus keeps talking about how he's a different way of thinking while pretty much adopting left wing viewpoints. It's not really groundbreaking and mostly frustrating, especially if you have any political knowledge.

Skip this one if you ever have the opportunity. It's not really worth the energy.

View all my reviews

27 January 2013

Review: Great North Road

Great North Road
Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a good reminder that I really need to get back into reading more non-dystopian science fiction.

Peter F. Hamilton is responsible for what may be my favorite science fiction books, Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained. Two great novels about a faraway star and an evil alien existence, it was completely engrossing. I've been meaning to read more of his stuff ever since, and I've just put it off. Finally, Great North Road comes out, and I make sure I scoop it up. I'm glad I did.

At its root, it's a futuristic murder mystery. A family of clones has an almost oligarchic hold on Earth, and one of the clones has been brutally murdered in a way that's similar to a previous set of murders involving that family twenty years earlier. The hitch? The person who was convicted of those murders is still in jail.

Beyond this mystery that needs to be solved is the fact that the family of clones has some splits within themselves, making solving the crime difficult. There's a planet around Sirius that is a major supplier of the oil Earth now uses, and some investigation needs to occur there as well. Needless to say, there are a lot of threads to deal with, a lot of politics to navigate, and there's a murderer on the loose that has done an excellent job of covering their tracks.

The book is fairly brilliant overall. The world, as crafted, feels completely realistic, the technology interesting and unique-feeling while being fairly standard tropes (most notably the use of stargates to traverse wide lengths instantaneously), and, as someone who typically dislikes murder mysteries, a great take on the genre.

If I have any complaints, it may be the somewhat obvious political tones of some of the end scenes, which felt somewhat unnecessary to justify the point of why things happened the way they did. For most readers, I doubt it would even register, but it felt a little too on the nose for me. With that said, it's hardly something that takes away from the book itself, which, at nearly 950 pages, felt like it could have kept going for some time and I would have been just as happy. Highly, highly recommended.

View all my reviews

24 January 2013

Review: Everbound

Everbound by Brodi Ashton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5.

I was a fan of Everneath, which was (yet another) paranormal romance, but this one wrapped up in different mythologies. Everbound stays in that same framework.

It takes place not too long after Everneath. The tables are turned this time - it's Nikki that is now the one thing that is keeping Jack, who is trapped, from fading away. Finally, Nikki's had enough and is able to go back to the Everneath with Cole. The story becomes a fairly action-packed march through the Everneath to try and rescue Jack with Cole in tow.

The book has a decidedly different feel, being a much more traditional fantasy than the well-done genre-fest that the first book was. I can certainly see where some people might be thrown off by the shift, but as for me, it definitely more closely resembled something I wanted from the beginning.

Especially where a lot of these post-Twilight/Hunger Games YA series are falling flat in their sequels, it's excellent to see one holding up on its own. I'm definitely impatiently waiting for the finale.

View all my reviews

21 January 2013

Review: Cinders & Sapphires

Cinders & Sapphires
Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Probably closer to a 3.5 overall.

This is pretty much an attempt to start a trend in YA literature, and it mostly succeeds in that task. Given the popularity of Downton Abbey as well as the success of the Luxe series earlier, it was only a matter of time before we saw a book try to capitalize directly on the trends, and Cinders and Sapphires mostly delivers.

The book is solid overall. It's a quick, breezy read that's trapped in its own setting on purpose and mostly works. Having read it before watching any Downton, the similarities are there except that Cinders goes out of its way to try and upend the setting a bit and reflect more modern ideas. It's kind of distracting but not ruinous.

The book stuck with me as something I kept thinking about and enjoying long after it finished. I gave it to my wife and she really, really liked it, so I think a lot of the enjoyment will come from where you're approaching it and how much the setting matters for you. It's a good read in any regard.

View all my reviews

Review: One for the Murphys

One for the Murphys
One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Complete. Emotional. Destruction.

Carley is a foster child coming out of a pretty bad situation with her mother and stepfather. She's placed in the home of the Murphys, who are a well-oiled machine of love and kindness, and the story progresses with Carley's resistance, her resilience, her slow acceptance, and beyond. It's a beautiful book that's important without being preachy, and strikes a near perfect balance.

I have my issues with the book, many of which are outlined here, but I also didn't view this read as a factualish account, but more a story about love and kindness rather than about the foster system itself. As someone who really wants to be a foster parent in the future, this warmed me in a lot of ways, and warned me as well. No one expects it to be easy, I'm sure.

Still, regardless, this is a really beautiful book. It's going to tug at your emotions a lot, and it might do the same for the right kid picking it up, too. This is this year's Pie for me in a lot of respects - it's a great read with a great lesson and a great takeaway, and one everyone should give a good look at.

View all my reviews

17 January 2013

Review: Soulless

Soulless by Gail Carriger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Soulless has been recommended to me more often than most books over the last year, and the concept of a Victorian soulless vampire hunting comedy of manners (of a sort) scratches many, many itches for me. Even better? It mostly succeeds.

The story is quick and painless - Alexia kills a vampire in self-defense, and her soulless nature causes a bit of a controversy among the social circles in play in London at the time. She's called upon to investigate, meets werewolves, and so on. It's a lean, simple story that works, it's a fun read, and it balances the line between concept and execution perfectly.

With that said, two glaring problems: one, the book constantly jumps between referring to our heroine as "Alexia" and "Miss Tarabotti," which took me forever to get used to. It was incredibly jarring (even if tonally appropriate), and did plenty to suck me out of the narrative. The other is the surprising amount of romance tropes within the book. It's not to say that the elements were bad or poorly done, but for a book that doesn't position itself as a romance novel, and yet dedicates entire chapters to bodice-ripping romantic elements, it was also surprising. I especially wonder how later books in the series will handle that aspect, given the way this book ended.

I really, really enjoyed this, and will be seeking out the next books sooner rather than later. Definitely recommended for anyone looking for some fun to go along with their genre stuff.

View all my reviews

14 January 2013

Review: Ack-Ack Macaque

Ack-Ack Macaque
Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every so often, a book comes along that just the cover and title are enough to at least take a flyer on it. In the case of Ack-Ack Macaque, our cover shows our fearless hero, a monkey, smoking a cigar in a bomber jacket while shooting a pistol.

Yeah, I was in.

The good/bad news is that the cover, and the concept, don't tell the whole story. The book is actually a futuristic concept with a lot of questions about artificial intelligence and the idea of brain/personality swapping. Ack-Ack Macaque is actually a super-famous MMO character as well as a monkey in the real world, and, well, once he figures that out...

The book is sci-fi at its pulpy best. I could spend some time criticizing some aspects of the plot, but I'm not entirely sure there's a point to it - after all, at the end of the day? You're getting a book where a monkey wants to kick some Nazi tail and has to settle for the real world society he's stuck in instead.

A solid, quick read. If you're looking for something fun, superficial, and different, you can't do much better than this one.

View all my reviews

11 January 2013

Review: How to Be a Woman

How to Be a Woman
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had never heard of Caitlin Moran prior to this book, How to Be a Woman, coming out. I know she is...a little notorious, but I decided to not look into why at all (and still haven't, up to this point) to be able to read this with an open mind.

It's difficult reading this as it is as a a) man who b) definitely agrees with the basic feminist mindset of equality between the genders c) even if there's a lot of political and sociological disagreement with that same group d) not to mention the different "waves" of feminism as well as the internet social justice advocates. I suspect that is at least part of the Moran backlash, but it was welcoming and refreshing to see a book that deals, at least in part, with feminism and feminist ideals that embraces the ideas without looking to necessarily alienate a segment of the population along the way.

The book is part feminism and ideals (whether or not they're mainstream or whatever) and part autobiographical regarding Moran's own experiences throughout life and the application of them. She's engaging enough where these stories make sense, she's funny enough where the perhaps more uncomfortable stories have some humor and heart to them, and, in writing about touchy subjects, she's informative without being condescending and opinionated without being a crusader.

Definitely recommended for pretty much everyone. I picked it up on a Kindle Daily Deal sale and would have felt as if it was a good value at full price. Excellent read.

View all my reviews

04 January 2013

Review: The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Probably closer to a 3.5 overall, but since it gives me a warm comparison to Susan Beth Pfeiffer's Life As We Knew It, I'll offer extra points.

The premise is fairly simple - Earth's rotation is slowing, a little bit more each day, and no one knows why. The story primarily follows an eleven year old girl as she grows up in this new world that is weird and divided and unpredictable. Her family is falling apart, her neighborhood, and ever so slowly, her world.

The book feels really delicate, almost certainly by design. Its flaw is also its benefit in that the story has no real arc to speak of as much as a more simple narrative - similar to a Tom Perotta story in a sense. While the book is a quick, enjoyable read, you never really get immersed in it since it's more of a spectator narrative than an engrossing one. With that said, though, as you read this book in the darkness of night, you do end up stealing some glances out the window in fear that the sun might never come up again...

Worth a look if you're looking to dip your toe into the sci-fi waters but don't want to deal with the standard tropes. As a coming-of-age narrative, it's not bad but not essential either. A solid read in any regard.

View all my reviews

02 January 2013

Review: The Underwater Welder

The Underwater Welder
The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm fairly certain that Jeff Lemire, thanks to Sweet Tooth and Essex County, never mind his work on Animal Man, is nearing/firmly within must read territory for me after reading The Underwater Welder. While the story and writing and such itself is probably just a four for me, the impact it hit me with was significant.

The story is of an underwater welder going to work on a rig and leaving his very pregnant wife behind. Below water, he finds a pocketwatch - one that reminds him significantly about his past and one that takes him so far out of focus that he nearly drowns under water. He becomes fixated on figuring out what the pocketwatch is and the story continues to go beyond a simple monomaniacal story into something a lot more.

It's a lot about family, about responsibility, about being who you are and meeting (or not meeting) expectations, whether yourself or whether it's the people who you have expectations of. It's a much deeper book than I ever anticipated, and that's often the beauty of Lemire's work anyway.

Just a brilliant read.

View all my reviews