25 April 2014

Review: Page by Paige

Page by Paige
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5.

I participated in NaNoWriMo last November, and completed the thing somehow. 57k words when it was all said and done.

Now the manuscript sits in a tab, waiting to actually be rewritten and looked over, never mind be shopped to agents. Part of that is personal issues, to be sure, but part of it is also, definitely, a crisis of confidence of sorts where I figure people don't care, that it's not any good, and on and on and on.

Page by Paige is, largely, a book about exactly that. A story about a teenage girl who moves from the rural south to New York City, she is also a very good artist but is pretty much frozen in her own insecurities. With the help of an old list from her grandmother and her new friends from school, she slowly finds a way to break out of her shell and be more herself.

The book itself has a great story that also has some gorgeous artwork. The artsy side of the narrative is both fun and frustrating, and that this is probably geared toward teenagers makes me wonder about that calculation, but, on a whole, this was a really excellent, inspiring read, and one that, if you're an artist or know one, should be read.

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24 April 2014

Review: Lockstep

Lockstep by Karl Schroeder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had picked this up thinking it was a foray into YA sci-fi in a way that was sorely lacking. Having never read a Karl Schroeder book before, I was happy to find a good (albeit sometimes draggy) science fiction tale even if it's not really young adult.

The story is really about Toby, who wakes up 14000 years after being put in a frozen state. He quickly learns that his family pioneered a form of interstellar travel/cooperation called the Lockstep, which involved timing states of sleep/suspended animation and using robots to do the standard work along the way. The interesting point is a bit of a curveball that I don't want to give away, but it sets the stage for what quickly becomes a fairly epic story.

The book itself is good. It's hard sci-fi written in a pretty accessible way, and it has a lot of fun concepts. I loved the idea of the Lockstep and really enjoyed a lot of the science that went into this.

The story itself could be a little tighter, and I wonder if part of that is because it might have had young adult intentions (and the marketing at least suggests as such) and just fails to balance itself completely on that line.

Overall, a good science fiction read, my favorite in a while. Worth a look.

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21 April 2014

Review: Something Real

Something Real
Something Real by Heather Demetrios

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every so often, a book is recommended to you by a lot of people all in one swoop. I was surprised that it was this specific book, but if a number of people who know me from different areas of life all tell me to read something, okay, I'll give it a shot.

Something Real is a different premise. It tells us the story of Chloe, who is better known as Bonnie Baker, one of the children of the old reality series Baker's Dozen. She has successfully avoided the spotlight following an incident that ended up getting the show pulled, but her mother (now remarried and continuing to cash in on her family's fame) has signed them up to be on television again, which is really not a great thing for Chloe's life or sanity.

There's a lot to love about the book. A lot of reviews talk about privacy or surveillance, and it might be a reason for the author to have written it, but the story itself seems, to me, to be more about how we handle things that are out of our control, how we gain control from seemingly impossible situations, coping with family trauma and depression, and so on. There are a lot of layers, enough to mask the minor flaws and sometimes annoying choices made by the author (such as using a trademark sign on the children's show names through the entire book, as if we wouldn't get the picture right away). It's refreshing to read a young adult book that handles multiple issues in a non-condescending way without showing an overt agenda in the process.

Overall, highly recommended for everyone across the board. It's a modern tale but one that has a lot of parallels in a lot of different aspects. Definitely a great read.

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18 April 2014

Review: Honor's Knight

Honor's Knight
Honor's Knight by Rachel Bach

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You may recall that I was underwhelmed by the first book in this series, Fortune's Pawn. Honor's Knight is much, much better even while somewhat magnifying the flaws of the first book.

Honor's Knight effectively takes place directly after the big reveal of the previous book. Devi has a much more significant problem on her hands, and the book is really just allowing the characters to play in the universe we have set up now. A lot of cool ideas, a lot of good reveals, and some truly awesome scenes go along with a story that feels a lot tighter and streamlined even if it leans more on some traditional tropes than previously.

There isn't the sort of agenda-driven stuff I felt was all over the place with the first book, and the episodic structure has calmed down somewhat (although there were still moments of clear "point a -> point b -> point c" throughout that were far too noticeable to ignore). The point of a lot of that in the first book, though, clearly was an attempt at establishing a setting so we can now focus on more of the plot this time. Had this story been one full book as opposed to three, perhaps my tolerance of a lot of the choices made might have been higher. More importantly, though, it's a compelling, fun ride in this one, and sets up what should be an excellent conclusion when the final book comes out.

Overall, I've gone from wavering a bit on this series to finding it worth recommending. I'm hoping, at this point, that the final book holds up the type of quality Honor's Knight does.

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16 April 2014

Review: The Word Exchange

The Word Exchange
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

When it comes to what's new and hot and awesome in dystopian fiction as of late, it usually centers around fascistic governments or a world recovering from a major war or disaster, or simply becoming some sort of post-apocalyptic survival story. Rarely is it one that, instead of attacking people directly, it chooses instead to attack language. Thus Alena Graedon's The Word Exchange.

There are a good deal of books that have been published over the years that deal with language and the written word as a major point, whether it be fantasy like Blake Charlton's Spellwrite trilogy, or the somewhat fantastic/paranoid like The Raw Shark Texts. In The Word Exchange, it's a computer virus that turns real, it's people getting sick (sort of like The Flame Alphabet from a few years ago) from the technology designed to help them communicate. It's technology turning on us.

The story is based around a gadget called The Meme. It's like a smartphone equipped with Google Now except it can do so much more, and one of those things is helping with word replacement. Don't know a word being used? It will explain it to you. Have a word at the tip of your tongue? The Meme can help. Not surprisingly, the world becomes significantly reliant on these things, and then language slowly starts falling apart. Nonsense words become recommended, language radically shifts, and people are slowly losing their ability to sleep, write, and basically communicate at all. Part of the story is one man's descent into language madness, and the other half is someone who has, to this point, avoided what they're calling the "word flu" and is working to try and fix the problem.

The book, as noted, is somewhat derivative in the sense that books about language being manipulated or gone bad is not a unique trope. It is, however, rare enough to end up feeling like a unique read. The technological aspects are cautionary and interesting without suffering from the sort of gadget fear that some books tend to engage in. While there is a message in here, it's not so overpowering as if you cannot enjoy the book without agreeing with the underlying premise or buying into the mentality. It's not realistic, but that's okay - it is a pretty fun, well-paced science fiction tale.

Where the book does fail a bit is that it may not follow through with the expectations you have. You only get an inkling of the type of verbal meltdown being experienced, and I was always wanting more from it. More examples, more evidence, more story from outside of the two main characters. The world built for this story was so interesting and vast that it felt unfortunate that the story of society wasn't being told more.

Overall, though, a small price to pay for an excellent read on a whole. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy language, enjoy different dystopian fiction, or are looking for something different to fill the bookshelf.

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15 April 2014

Review: The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey

The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey
The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey by Fred Nadis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I guess it's not too strange that, while I tend to dislike biographies, the ones I'm most drawn to are ones about outsiders, about those on the fringes, and/or those who aren't afraid to upend the standard conventions of the time. I can't remember when I first heard of Ray Palmer, science fiction publishing forefather, or of The Man From Mars which tells his tale, but it's a solid workmanlike reading about a man who deserves more acclaim than he got.

The book is very straightforward, taking us from Ray Palmer's childhood throughout his professional activity, from publishing weird tales and pulpy science fiction to his social polemics. The story does a decent job covering them, and is not afraid to present many of the personalities as they were in terms of the more paranoid types that Palmer appealed to and drew in.

If I have one complaint, it's that it almost feels as if Nadis has taken the more real-world conspiratorial beliefs toward the end of Palmer's life (he was especially fond of many right-conspiracy theories as he got on in years) and applied that same sort of paranoia to his earlier life. Palmer, at his core, seemed to be a Babbian showman in a sense, and was willing and able to go along with any claim or belief in order to get more stories and sell more periodicals. Without being able to significantly examine the cited works, it almost feels as if Nadis, at times, actually came to believe a lot of what he was publishing in these fictional magazines. If Palmer truly did, the book doesn't do a great job showing that shift in belief. If Palmer didn't, as I suspect, Nadis has done Palmer's legacy at least one disservice in not making that expressly clear.

Regardless of my complaints, this is a really solid, worthwhile history of a man deserving of a lot of attention. A mandatory read for people interested in the history of science fiction, of sci-fi publication, or of the odd forgotten types of popular culture history.

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01 April 2014

Review: Proven Guilty

Proven Guilty
Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Proven Guilty might be the first time I've felt a misstep of sorts with the series.

I need to preface this: Proven Guilty is not a bad book. It's still better than most of the urban fantasy I've read up to this point, and having now invested considerable time and energy into the series and characters, there's plenty here to like.

The issue with this book, I suppose, is just that it felt like it was floundering up until the last 100 pages, that sort of justified the first 300. I get the feeling that Butcher was knee-deep in convention culture by the time he started writing this book, because a lot of it takes place at a convention, and that's where the meat of the plot sits. Instead of it being a fun supernatural story, it spends a lot of time being a procedural novel with a supernatural bent. Less about Harry, less about him dealing with what he's done to himself, more about trying to solve the mystery of a supernatural murder.

I don't think that's what these books are.

The good news was that the last parts of the books redeemed it a lot. We see some of the classic Dredsen fallibility, some excursions into other universes, and a pretty great ending that sets up a nice wrinkle for future books. I didn't see that coming, but it made the book feel both important as well as transitional. I guess one has to expect some sort of slowing of the plot a bit when it comes to what is a 15+ book series up to this point, but considering how solid the more recent books were, I guess my expectations have risen with the quality.

Definitely not bad, just far from excellent. Considering how this one ended, I'm pretty excited to see where we're going from here.

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