28 August 2013

Review: The Thrilling Adventure Hour

The Thrilling Adventure Hour
The Thrilling Adventure Hour by Ben Acker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Thrilling Adventure Hour is a live, scripted podcast that has a bunch of comedy stars and actors doing a more modern take on old-style radio. Last year, they launched a Kickstarter to do a graphic novel, among other things, and this collection is the end result. It's probably my favorite podcast, so diving right in made a lot of sense for me.

The good? The stories stay true to what we already expect from the minds behind Thrilling Adventure Hour. Some of the stories (like the "Moonshine Holler" short) are lifted straight from the podcast, others seemed new to me. It's fun to see a lot of the characters as they're envisioned, as opposed to knowing the actors who are portraying them on the podcast. The art is fun and incredibly colorful as well. As a fan, I really have no complaints.

The bad is that, while this can act as an entrypoint for new people, I can't imagine this drawing in a new audience. It's almost too good a portrayal in that regard where many of the jokes and catchphrases work because you hear it in your head, not because it necessarily works on its own. I want everyone to read the graphic novel, but they kind of have to listen to the podcast first for this to make a lot of sense.

Either way, I'm happy, and that's enough for me. Very glad this turned out well, and hopefully this won't be the last time we see a print version of the show.

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20 August 2013

Review: The Passage

The Passage
The Passage by Justin Cronin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So one of my favorite things is Lost. For the most part, Lost threw a lot of weird conspiracies and curveballs and plotlines at you, and kept you guessing while (until the last season, maybe) keeping the pedal to the floor in terms of reveals and activities. Television studios have spent years and millions of dollars trying to find "the next Lost," never quite getting there, when I personally think that the "next Lost" already exists in book form, and it's The Passage.

The Passage is effectively a book that's about 1/3rd "prequel" and 2/3rds story, where the first third exists mostly to set up the universe that exists for the rest of the story. In a sense, the first part is more compelling than the second if only because things move at a faster clip and we get a lot of answers to go along with the pile of interesting characters. The second part is very different, and has a much different feel to it, but essentially exists to justify the first part and to keep us locked in place after we're reined in. It's a government conspiracy, it's a sci-fi epic, it's a bit of a horror thriller, it's a survival book...it's a lot of things, and it somehow keeps all those balls in the air in spite of its complexity.

I don't want to give away the core part because, frankly, had I know the basic point, I would have never picked the book up. In terms of the specific subgenre it sits in, I can't think of a better modern novel that covers it, nor can I think of anything that comes close. That's how strong this is, and I'm kicking myself that the years and years of people demanding I read this book were unsuccessful, because I absolutely loved it.

The Twelve came out somewhat recently, and I'll be looking into that sooner rather than later. If you have interest in a good, modern story that will keep you off guard and just devour you, pick this one up. So, so glad I did.

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18 August 2013

Review: The Map of the Sky

The Map of the Sky
The Map of the Sky by FĂ©lix J. Palma

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A few years back, I won a copy of The Map of Time through Goodreads, a time travel book that was more an homage to HG Wells than anything else. What started as a strange tribute to The Time Machine ended up being a really compelling story regarding fringe science, quackery, and misdirection that I absolutely loved. When I saw that The Map of the Sky was announced, I quickly preordered it and then basically forgot to read it for a year. Having some time on a plane, I finally gave it a shot, and I'm frankly kicking myself that I didn't just read it right away.

This essentially takes place in the same universe as The Map of Time, a few years later. In this case, the book we're acknowledging is War of the Worlds, the classic alien invasion tale. We spend a lot more time with HG Wells as his story inspires love, impacts Edgar Allen Poe, and throws the entire world into disarray.

I can't speak more highly about this book on a whole. The translation is expertly done, as the tone and the lyricism of the book certainly comes across in English. Once again, as with Time, the story is a great homage with a lot of fun twists and turns along the way, and if you have any love of War of the Worlds (which I do), the nods to the story and the reaction, as well as how the rest of this story goes, is sure to excite you.

I can't say this was better than The Map of Time, as it was different in a lot of ways. But given how great both books are, having to wait much longer for the final volume in this trilogy (which one has to assume will either be about The Invisible Man or The Island of Doctor Moreau) is going to be tough.

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Review: Shakespeare v. Lovecraft

Thanks to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, there has been no dearth of mashup novelizations as of late. While transferring characters from one universe to another has gone on for ages, as has retellings of classic tales, it's only when Quirk started its little cottage industry did things really start to ramp up. As for me, some of them I really love, and some I don't. Two of my favorite things in the world are William Shakespeare and HP Lovecraft, so when I saw that there was a mashup novella that applied the Cthulhu Mythos with the works/characters of Shakespeare, I had to ultimately dive in and give it a shot. The end result? Well...

17 August 2013

Review: The Returned

The Returned
The Returned by Jason Mott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5.
There's often a danger in science fiction where there will be a significantly solid concept that just flops in execution. This happens more in film and television than books (see how questionable Under the Dome has been on television, or the countless sci-fi flops on the big screen), but there are still plenty of books I've read, or tried to read, that seem to have a great idea that simply doesn't work over a novel length. Sometimes it's the prose, sometimes it's just that the idea is fully formed solely as an idea.

The Returned, in a sense, is the opposite of Tom Perotta's The Leftovers. Instead of a situation where there's a rapture and people randomly disappear, we encounter a world in which the dead, many of which have been gone for a long time, are coming back. Children, adults, all in different places, often nowhere near where they died.

A great concept, but the good news is that the execution is just as good.

The book works because it's a good story that's done in a literary-enough way without being too overbearing. It's accessible while still not abandoning its rots in the sort of science-fictiony landscape that it exists in. I compare it to The Leftovers because it feels a lot like that book in terms of how the plot is presented as well as how the characters and the world within the story reacts to what's happening. We have a few families we follow, and the "main" family, as they were, remain compelling as well as unpredictable, much like the world the they live in.

Mostly, though, I enjoyed the story because of its readability and its ability to give some background to various Returned people without overwhelming the story with too many characters or too much craziness. It's direct and it doesn't waste any time, and I have to respect that.

If I have a criticism, it's partially that the way the book ended felt more than a little out of step with the rest of the book, and that the promise of more character-based interaction at a pace similar to the prequel shorts that were released did not arrive in this book. The appetizers posted are great, and did more to get me excited for the book than any others of their type so far, but the book is different in tone and structure. In both cases, however, this is based more on my personal preferences than actual flaws in the text. It's a good read.

If you're not one for genre fiction, this won't turn you off. If you are one for genre fiction, you'll enjoy this story as a simple and strange tale that I hope gets a lot of great attention and a broad readership. Highly recommended.

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12 August 2013

Review: No Return

No Return
No Return by Zachary Jernigan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've more than occasionally struggled with the type of book Night Shade puts out (or, I guess I should say, put out), in that they tend to be very well-written, but with higher concepts than I prefer combined with descriptive, often flowery writing that appeals to a number of fantasy readers, but isn't always what I'm looking for.

On one hand, Zachary Jernigan's debut was getting a lot of good press and some solid reviews from bloggers I like and trust. On the other, it was another Night Shade title that came out right before things combusted. The book finally ended up in my library system, so I gave it a shot, and it was well worth the wait.

The concept is pretty high and bends the fantasy genre fairly significantly. We have a world where there's a god that many people fight over, mercenary warrior types, alchemist astronaut magicians, the whole deal. There are battles to be waged, discoveries to be made, and so on. It's very detailed and there's a lot going on for such a short book.

Why No Return works better for me on a whole than other books like it is because Jernigan hit the balance between plot and world building perfectly. There's a good deal of sex in the book, but none of it seems gratuitous and it all seems purposeful to fill the character roles that the world that's created here demands.

In a way, I kind of wish there was less plot so I could just enjoy what was going on in the setting itself. This is not to take away from the story, which has two competing plotlines that are both equally interesting. I loved the idea of mages in space, I thought the warrior battles were interesting and fun to read as well. The plot is, overall, the only place where things do get dragged down a bit, only because the language and descriptions are so detailed that it ends up with a "get on with it" quality from time to time. It wasn't nearly enough of an issue for me to throw in the towel and say "enough," but I can imagine it being a turnoff to many who may prefer the "grimdark"-style or a more straightforward narrative.

Otherwise, a great debut by an author I can't wait to read more of, in a setting I hope he doesn't leave behind. Definitely recommended for fantasy fans looking for something a little different.

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Review: The Flash, Vol. 1: Move Forward

The Flash, Vol. 1: Move Forward
The Flash, Vol. 1: Move Forward by Francis Manapul

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't quite figure out how I forgot to check out the New 52 version of The Flash, especially given that The Flash himself is, in universe, a key reason why the New 52 exists in the first place. Outside of Flashpoint, I really have no real background for the character, so I flew in somewhat blind on this one, and ended up being impressed for a few reasons.

First is the story. We get a little background and then dive right in with a few different storylines intersecting, and we're wasting no time in getting into a situation where we learn about the consequences of Flash's power. It's a strange piece, and an interesting turn that I didn't expect as it's not something that tends to come up in other books. I really enjoyed how they handled the whole thing.

I generally find the artwork to be secondary, but the way the art is done in Move Forward is very impressive. It's much more artistic than most comics, and feels like an independent comic in a lot of ways that I didn't expect. A lot of interesting choices made that I really thought were significant and solid.

I don't know if I can call myself a fan of The Flash yet, but I know this is one series I'll be keeping up with in the short term, at least. Very solid, highly recommended.

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10 August 2013

Review: Left Drowning

Left Drowning
Left Drowning by Jessica Park

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

So I've slowly worked my way through Jessica Park's independent stuff this year, and Left Drowning is her newest release. Aiming for a more "new adult" genre target this time, in a lot of ways it's perfect, and in a lot of ways I think the book is a piece of evidence against the way independent publishing can sometimes direct book content.

The story is interesting enough, where it follows a girl, Blythe, in her senior year of college. She's more than a little withdrawn due to a family tragedy, but she eventually meets Chris, who has similar problems. The two broken people end up bonding, and it becomes more of a story about how two people who are so broken yet are so well matched can (or should) end up with each other.

In terms of writing, editorial, etc, the book is as good, if not better, than Flat-Out Love, which I did enjoy. The story moves along at a fairly perfect pace, and Park doesn't waste a lot of time with things that don't matter - if the plot doesn't need to spend a significant amount of time between two scenes, it just skips it. I definitely liked that.

My one real complaint, and this is less a style problem than a personal preference, is that this book is very mature. Perhaps this is where New Adult is going, perhaps I just don't read enough non-genre adult literature to begin with, perhaps it's something else, but there is a lot of sex in this book. We're not talking Fifty Shades erotica, but the sex is significant, plentiful, and descriptive. I'm not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but it felt very gratuitous. This is where my concern about independent publishing being directed a certain way comes into play - when Park published Flat-Out Matt, the much of the more mature content was created specifically due to fan request. I don't have any issue with people writing what they want to write, or writing to fulfill fan requests (especially for companion pieces that aren't necessary for enjoyment of the main text), but it's hard not to see that trend and question whether the more "adult" content is there less because it needs to be and more because fans want it to be. I understand the danger in trying to read the mind of an author and assign motives based solely on blog posts and fictional writing, but the book really didn't need it to be successful, and it just felt unnecessary.

If you're not bothered at all by that previous paragraph, you should grab this book. If you are bothered by that content, you should still grab that book and just skip those parts that are significant in nature. Overall, I did enjoy reading this book quite a bit, my major complaints are more because of my own preferences than the overall quality of the book itself.

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07 August 2013

Review: Monster on the Hill

Monster on the Hill
Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rob Harrell is behind Adam@Home, a syndicated comic strip I'm basically unfamiliar with. When I got this book and looked at the cover, my assumption was that it would be a fantasy comic that probably had a lot of heart and didn't do too much for me.

Wow, was I wrong.

Monster on the Hill portrays a society in old England (or is it Olde England?) where the small towns are terrorized by monsters. Terrorized is the wrong word, however, as most of the towns love having a monster wreak havoc upon them, as it's a great tourist attraction. Then there's Stoker-on-Avon, who has a monster, but he doesn't really do much. He hasn't attacked in decades, and the local economy is basically in shambles because people would much rather go to the towns where monsters actually attack. So the townspeople send out one of the local scientists to seek out the monster, figure out his problem, and perhaps get some attacking going again.

It's a surprisingly high concept for a book geared toward kids, and while it's fun for all ages, a lot of what's going on might be lost on kids not fully aware of classic dragon tales and such. That isn't a criticism of this book, however, which is hilarious in its setup and execution, with a lot of fun, random nods to basic stories and classic tropes. It has a message, of course, but it's not in your face, it doesn't beat you over the head. It's just there and it's pretty awesome along with anything else.

This is absolutely a book more people should read. I do hope it doesn't get lost in the shuffle, as it's one of my favorite things I've read this year. Highly recommended.

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05 August 2013

Review: Tampa

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ever read a book that left you really uncomfortable, not just because of the subject matter, but because you finished the book and didn't hate it? Welcome to Tampa.

The story is about a woman who teaches middle school and is also sexually attracted to young teenage boys. She gets a job in a school, identifies a target, and, in often graphic detail, we get the tale of their affair.

The book is compared to Lolita in a few places, which both inappropriately elevates this book as well as misunderstands the point. This is deeply topical in many regards, and the way it finishes is both unpredictable and entirely expected. That might be the worst part for me.

I can't recommend this because of the subject matter, but I still think it's relevant enough to be read by people who are looking for something a little more thought-provoking in its overall depravity. I'm not upset that I read this, as upsetting as the topic matter and book was, but it doesn't mean I was at all comfortable at the end of the day. Proceed with caution.

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04 August 2013

Review: The Humans

The Humans
The Humans by Matt Haig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is really an interesting book. A mathematician has possibly solved the hypothesis, which discusses prime numbers and the infinite nature of the prime number patterns. The alien race that has already solved it comes down to protect the secret by having one of the aliens take the place of the mathematician. The goal is to eliminate the people who may know the truth, but the alien is finding humanity to be more interesting than originally thought.

The idea behind the book comes across as sort of a action book, or even something funny. While it has moments of levity, the book is actually really philosophical in nature, beyond the math theorems. A basic theme of the book is about what it is to be human, about how an alien society might actually view what we are and how we act. It's very introspective in nature, and it works extremely well. Too often, books like this get bogged down in their own thought processes, concerned more about philosophical arguments than plot. To its credit, this story certainly puts the observational aspects front and center, but not at the expense of a fairly riveting story with an unexpected conclusion.

Definitely glad I read this. I hadn't read anything from Matt Haig, but I will definitely be looking for more from him. For this specific book, though, it's the best genre fiction has to offer in terms of finding interesting, compelling themes that are applicable to real life, what many look for from science fiction to start. Highly recommended.

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02 August 2013

Review: The Screaming Staircase

The Screaming Staircase
The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

It's typically very hard for me to struggle with a middle grade novel, especially one by a well-respected, well-known author. The Bartimaeus Trilogy is a series I'm familiar with and own, but haven't read, and when I saw an opportunity to get in on the ground floor with Jonathan Stroud's new series, I figured I'd jump at it.

The idea of the book itself is very sound: paranormal activity is cropping up throughout London, and only children have the ability to see/sense it. Two kids, Anthony and Lucy, decide to open up a paranormal investigative agency, and fall into a much deeper mystery as a result. It's a fun idea.

The tone of the book itself is very British in nature, and feels a lot like a Lemony Snicket book as well in how the narrative flows. To the book's credit, it doesn't waste time talking down to its audience or mincing words - instead, it's a very straightforward attempt at a paranormal detective title.

The problem with the book, I suppose, might just be that the story has a great setup while lacking that extra something to hold my attention. It's not too kiddish (which can happen with a middle grade title), it's not too advanced, it just feels very rote. I struggled mightily to find some sort of appeal to kids beyond the basic subject matter. Snicket had it in The Series of Unfortunate Events because he kept his tongue firmly in cheek and we were all in on the joke, but this lacks the same impact.

I do hope this book does well and it finds an audience. I would love nothing more than to be completely wrong about this title. Unfortunately, I couldn't get through more than roughly 2/3rds of it before simply feeling like it wasn't worth much more of my time.

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01 August 2013

Review: College Girl

College Girl
College Girl by Patricia Weitz

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Hey ladies! Did you know that you can be a strong, independent woman as long as you don't have a man in your life, because the minute those boys come around, your academic life will be in shambles and your self-esteem will go to zero, all because of sex!?

Hey, guys! Did you know that you're probably just going to wreck the lives of all the women you encounter, all because you have one thing on your mind, and that thing probably involves what's between your legs?!

Welcome to the world of College Girl, a pandering, surface-level mess of a narrative about a straight A student who, in her senior year of college, finally gets involved in the world of sex and socialization. The boy is, of course completely wrong for her, the situation of course sends her into a depressive spiral, and no one around her seems to understand because she's so withdrawn and introverted.

The book is compared a lot to Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, a book I was somewhat underwhelmed by but still found memorable in retrospect. This is like a book that was commissioned to be "like Prep," and comes across as a knockoff from start to finish. Limited characterization, stock characters, no obvious statement to be made by the end...just unfortunate.

Skip this.

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