25 June 2013

Review: Promise of Blood

Promise of Blood
Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5, I really enjoyed this barring one pretty significant flaw.

Consider a nation in peril where the king falls victim of a coup of "The Privileged," the gods are intervening in their own way, and you have a group of mages, Powder Mages who can effectively channel the power of gunpowder by consuming it and becoming expert tacticians in the process?

Yeah, I'm in.

This is the best book I've seen ape Brandon Sanderson since Sanderson became a top name in fantasy. It's a relatively unique premise on a whole, with a historically-recognizable setting and a fun concept. If you haven't read Sanderson, the idea of consuming something to get extra powers such as the premise of Mistborn sounds new and different, and McClellan does a great job of differentiating the two concepts enough to not seem like a copycat.

The one major flaw? It is very hard, in my opinion, to tell the good guys apart. Tomas fails to set himself apart until the last third of the book in particular, and many of the other Mages (even some of the Privileged themselves) tend to blend with each other. Not the biggest problem, but one that keeps it from being up there with the modern classics, for sure.

I'm very excited for the next installment. As a history and fantasy nerd, the book absolutely hits upon a lot of my common interests, and it's definitely a worthy new entry.

View all my reviews

24 June 2013

Review: The Wishing Spell

The Wishing Spell
The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Probably closer to 3.5.

It's tough when you have a book that's well regarded by someone who is not known for books. In this case, it's Chris Colfer from Glee who gives a new twist on fairy tales that is perhaps a little overambitious but mostly works.

The story is of a pair of twins who are given a book by their grandmother, The Land of Stories. They fall into the book, which transports them to a place where all the classic fairy tale characters actually exist post-story. If the twins can collect all the ingredients of a "Wishing Spell," they can go home.

The book is fun, for the most part, perhaps moreso if you're significantly interested or well-versed in fairy tales. As continuations of the stories, it can be fun to see how some of the characters have fared in this universe, and that works well. If the book has a glaring flaw, it's that it is very long, both for this age group and as a story overall. So much of it feels like simply an excuse to include certain characters at the expense of a leaner story with more movement.

Overall, a solid debut. Would ultimately read more in this series, and more from Colfer overall.

View all my reviews

23 June 2013

Review: Deadbeat - Makes You Stronger

Deadbeat - Makes You Stronger
Deadbeat - Makes You Stronger by Guy Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Probably closer to a 3.5.

Having read a good number of books from Titan Books for a website I write for lately (along with a good number on my own), I've found that Titan does one type of book exceptionally well, and that's the classic-style pulp novel, whether it be a fantasy title or even the crime novels they've been putting out over the last decade. Deadbeat is a new series by screenplay writer and author Guy Adams, and fits that mold perfectly, with a sharp story and interesting premise, while not taking itself too seriously.

The premise on this is a simple one: two guys own a jazz nightclub, and they witness someone stealing a coffin from a nearby churchyard, and they learn that the person in the coffin is still breathing. Even though the two men, Max and Tom, aren't really qualified, they decide to go and investigate anyway. As you can imagine, this doesn't go entirely as planned.

The book works on a few levels: the two main characters are both pretty likable, and the book itself is pretty funny as a result. As an urban fantasy of sorts, it works, but it almost works as a crime novel with fantasy elements even better (right down Titan's alley). There are also a few unexpected curveballs throughout the book that I didn't see coming and don't want to spoil here. It definitely makes the book very different than what I had initially expected.

This isn't to say the book is without flaws, however. The timeline/chronology of the book does get muddled from time to time, especially when it comes down to some of the bigger reveals. It got a little confusing at that point. Also, with the book being a bit of a mashup between genres, it doesn't quite commit to one or the other, which is often okay for a debut novel, but, knowing a follow-up is imminent, might be a little problematic going forward given what's been established.

Overall, a solid read and an interesting start for a new series.

View all my reviews

22 June 2013

Review: The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution

The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution
The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution by Marcia Coyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good book about four major cases that define the current Roberts Court in the United States Supreme Court. It could have been closer to four stars if it were not so entrenched in partisan, often already-discredited, liberal thinking on the legal matters.

The book effectively picks up on the history and judicial results of four cases: a voting rights act case early in Roberts's tenure, DC v. Heller, Citizens United, and last summer's health care reform cases. In each one, Coyle discusses the history of how the cases came to be, takes some time with the lower court trajectories in various detail, through the oral arguments and into the actual decisions. A lot of this is very interesting inside baseball stuff for court-watchers who would otherwise not read legal magazines or journals, and that in particular ends up being very valuable.

Where the book flops is in its historical accounts, especially in regards to the arguments made by Roberts in regards to Brown v. Board of Education and with the historical record surrounding the second amendment's guarantee of an individual right. While some of the partisanship in the book can be forgiven as such, the allegiance to these points of view when even cursory research corrects them is a significant flaw that detracts from the book on a whole.

Still, an interesting read that probably shouldn't be ignored for those interested in the Court, but maybe not something taken as gospel.

View all my reviews

19 June 2013

Review: Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood

Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood
Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood by Drew Magary

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked Magary's The Postmortal, and being a new dad myself, I figured a funny parenting memoir would be just the thing. A very quick read, segmented out in bite-sized chunks of honesty and craziness, it's not anything that's going to change the canon of parenting memoirs, for sure, but if you like Magary's writing or feel like one of those people who can relate, it's worth an afternoon of your time.

View all my reviews

17 June 2013

Review: Under the Dome

Under the Dome
Under the Dome by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is now the first non-mystery, non-non-fiction book I've read by Stephen King, and I think I get it now.

First, the book itself. It's a meaty 1070 pages that spends really no time outside of its basic plot, slapping a mysterious dome over a town in Maine within the first few pages, and spending the rest of the time with a giant population within town (for a book) coping with the mystery and coping (or, really, not coping) with each other. It's science fiction at a pretty fast clip, with a lot of weird twists and turns as well as a final 100 pages that I didn't see coming at all.

The book is far from perfect, but that's okay. King, as appears to be his standard from my understanding of his writing, really revels in bringing out the worst in the people of the town, and does so relatively quickly. In a situation that was only somewhat helpless, with a small and quiet town in Maine (as opposed to, say, a densely populated city or a town with a history of problems), the trajectory of the plot was a little over the top and left a lot to be desired in that regard. The sheer number of characters, as well, is very frustrating to keep track of, and not in a Game of Thrones way. The minor subplots that were introduced were also never truly resolved - a lot like the real world, for sure, but it doesn't lend itself to the most reasonable narrative.

With all that said, I absolutely tore through this book. The larger chapters are the perfect size, the plot move along so quickly that nothing feels like it's dragging even with over 1000 pages to get through, and, as I noted before, the quick shifts in narrative as well as story make for a fun read as well as a fast one. I do tend to read very quickly, but a book has to really flow well for me to do nearly 1100 pages over four days.

I read this before the show started out, and I'm really curious as to how this ever got greenlit as a series, never mind on a network. Definitely worth your time if you haven't read it yet, and this is definitely going to get more Stephen King on my list.

View all my reviews

Review: The Testing

The Testing
The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If there is any justice in the world, this will become bigger than The Hunger Games.

I thought I was sick of the whole dystopian thing until I had an opportunity to read The Testing, which takes place in a post-war American society where the remaining teens are tossed into a "testing" to see if they're deserving of a college education, a career, basically a life.

What is set up as a fairly straightforward, standard dystopian teen book becomes something incredibly packed with a lot of action and a lot of mystery. We spend just enough time on worldbuilding as to get the feel for the society, and then the rest on an interesting progress through the actual Testing, where you never quite figure out who is good and who is bad.

I absolutely devoured this in an afternoon when I read it. I know I liked it more than Insurgent, and I think I liked it a lot more than The Hunger Games, the two books this story becomes the closest on. If you have any interest in this genre at all, read this book now. It's really the frontrunner for teen book of the year, and leaves me with a lot of hope and anticipation for the rest of the series.

View all my reviews

13 June 2013

Review: The Elite

The Elite
The Elite by Kiera Cass

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's always a good sign when you know you've got about 30 pages to go and things won't be resolved, and you'e super-frustrated that the next book isn't coming anytime soon.

I loved The Selection perhaps a bit too much. A fun Hunger Games-meets-Bachelor mashup, it was really fast paced with fun characters that twisted everything a bit. I purposely tried to read it close to the release of The Elite, which takes place nearly immediately following The Selection, and continues along with the same plot. It's the same love triangle, same contest, and the stakes get a lot higher very quickly.

It's really a perfectly-crafted series so far. There's a good amount of action, plenty of internal politics, and continues to act as a good worldbuilding exercise with just enough of a reveal from point to point to keep some things a mystery while getting other ideas in the open.

Is it as good as The Selection? Not exactly, but only because it's a middle book and it's rare for middle books to eclipse what comes before and after. All I know is that The One isn't due out for 11 more months and I don't really want to wait.

View all my reviews

05 June 2013

Review: Homeland

Homeland by Cory Doctorow

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I spent a decent amount of time as a Little Brother evangelist, which was a book that took some ideas, applied them to the near future, and...mostly succeeded. The slight failings here and there were minimal compared to how well the book generally worked, and the basic narrative.

Homeland is the next step in the book series. Instead of being an issue-oriented future fiction, it instead reads as an ideological (both political/social and for free internet-type stuff) narrative that is more stunted and held back by trying to shoehorn in all the stuff Doctorow wants to publicize as opposed to a possible future. Where Little Brother may have been just as heavy-handed with the cluebat, it just felt much more overbearing for this book,

Given that I tend to agree with Doctorow more often than not on issues of internet freedom and social stuff, that even felt the need to say "oh, get on with it already" is telling. The most egregious may be early on, when our lead character, while at Burning Man (sigh) slips into a tent where members of the Electronic Freedom Foundation (double sigh) are playing a game, and in walks Wil Wheaton (triple sigh with a dose of "really?"). It's unnecessary-name dropping combined with the worst kinds of promotion.

It's a free read from Doctorow's website (as is Little Brother and basically everything else he writes), but I'd suggest skipping this one entirely in favor of something a little more fun and a little less preachy. Closer to a 2.5.

View all my reviews

03 June 2013

Review: Joyland

Joyland by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read some of the titles in the Titan Books "Hard Case Crime" series so far, and it's been a fun ride through a genre I'm unfamiliar with. The pulpy goodness combined with the retro art makes for a different experience for a reader who's done the bulk of his reading on more modern hardcovers. So when I got my hands on the newest installment in the series, Joyland, I was really rather surprised that they were able to land Stephen King (although I later learned he did The Colorado Kid, which I'll have to get to soon). I'm ultimately glad I checked it out for a lot of reasons.

First, it should be known that I have very limited context with King as a writer. I read On Writing earlier this year, and outside of being familiar with the film/television versions of a lot of his work, I had never actually read any of his fiction. My mother, when I was growing up, was a huge Stephen King fan, and I still have memories of her reading It and having to slam the book shut and put it down because she was so scared. More recently for me, I've gotten into more horror and "weird" fiction, the latter of which is not a space I generally place King, but the former being almost entirely due to Joe Hill, King's son. So my appetite for expanding my genres has been somewhat successful.

Joyland does have its horror/creepy moments, but it is not so much a horror book as much as a summery murder mystery. Taking place in a North Carolina carnival in the early 1970s, it follows a college student, Devon, who takes up a job with the carnies for the summer. He learns the carnival way, befriends a lot of the characters and families at the fair, and also learns of a grisly murder that occurred at the carnival in the past. Devon, along with his new girlfriend and a disabled boy he befriends along the way, get to the bottom of the murder as well as continue to grow up and grow old.

One surprising thing for me, at least, was how much the murder/mystery/horror took a backseat to the broader story of a kid, to use the cliche that's been put out there to describe the book, "coming of age." The ending in particular is very suspenseful and well crafted, but the book really shines less as a murder mystery (you barely hear about it until well over 100 pages have passed) and more as a period piece in a mostly forgotten era. The plot and setting are both extremely credible, and King even says in the endnotes that he did some research into making sure the correct lingo and slang was used with the carny folk. I could even relate to the main character - in a few scenes, Dev talks about having to dress up in a mascot costume, and how punishingly hot it was. I did the same thing at an old bookstore job, and it nailed the feeling perfectly. More to the point, at under 300 pages, it doesn't have a lot of room to meander, and that just helps the plot that much more. Especially in these attempts to try and revisit old tropes, the good often comes part and parcel with the bad, and King avoids that quite well.

I have a lot of good to say, but it's not 100% positive. That the book sells a murder mystery but isn't one is period-appropriate, but not really what anyone would expect or is looking for today. And while the book is written in 2012 and is presumably narrated around the same time, some weird modern nods (such as one reference to Hogwarts from Harry Potter) end up feeling out of place. I can also imagine a reader looking for classic scary King and getting something different. For a reader like myself with little to go on, I didn't mind at all. If my mother were able to pick this up and read it, though?

All things considered, a great read,. Glad Igrabbed it, looking forward to more King soon.

View all my reviews