23 May 2014

Review: Why Orwell Matters

Why Orwell Matters
Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this back when it came out. I was sort of getting into Orwell for the first time as an adult, I was really into Christopher Hitchens, and, well, why not?

This is biographical in a sense, but more from the political and social points of view rather than his own story. Granted, Orwell's story very much speaks to his actions as a writer, but this short piece is more about Orwell's thoughts and such.

Hitchens is always good at drawing out the conclusions necessary when it comes to a topic, whether you agree with him or not. In the decade plus since this was written, combined with losing Hitchens entirely and the continued attempts of certain ideologies to claim Orwell as their own, this book feels both dated (as it includes nothing of the last decade, nor would it be expected to) and current (given that Orwell's ideas and themes have carried for generations at this point).

Really, anyone with an interest in Orwell should give this a read based on that point alone. There's plenty to like here on a whole, even if the sum of its parts might feel lacking from time to time.

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13 May 2014

Review: Since You've Been Gone

Since You've Been Gone
Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's a bit of an interesting trope in some contemporary young adult novels where the protagonist is given a list of some sort to accomplish, or to help bring out the best in someone, or just complete some basic tasks for the sake of character development. Since You've Been Gone is one of those books, for sure, but ultimately does it better than any other ones I've read up to this point.

The story is of Emily, who has a best friend, Sloane. Sloane has up and disappeared, and the only remaining record of her leaving is a mailed letter with a list of different things to do over the summer, including kissing a stranger, hugging a Jamie, and skinny dipping. Emily is extremely introverted, so this entire list is well outside of her comfort zone, but as this might be the only way for her to find her best friend, she begins working on the list.

It's a longish-book, for sure, but it doesn't really take away from anything. Very little feels drawn-out or unnecessary, and it escapes from the gratuitous nature of the events of many stories like it. Emily is a believable character in many regards, as are the people she meets along the way. The adults in the book are a pretty significant flaw, however, and Emily's parents in particular come up with a random scheme midway through that does derail things for a moment, and for no real significant reason either. That's probably what keeps this book from being near perfect, but it's more a strange aside than a story-ruining exercise.

I know Morgan Matson's previous book was well-received, and I think this one, with its really solid cover and fun story, should be a hit as well. Definitely enjoyed this quite a bit, highly recommended.

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11 May 2014

Review: Authority

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is fast becoming one of my favorite stories period, never mind stories in the weird genre.

I talked before about how great Annihilation was, and I'm not going to say Authority is better, because it's hard to compare the two. I found Authority to be engaging not only because of how it built on the mysteries first presented in Annihilation, but also about how it made the overall banality of normal drudgery equally weird and creepy. Authority takes place almost entirely within the confines of whatever offices or home bases the Area X project is centered out of, dealing with debriefing interviews and mystery solving projects and what have you. The madness comes into play as we delve deeper and see exactly how far some of the worst aspects of the power plays reach.

It's great because it's a shift in how the story is told. It's less matter-of-fact and detailed about the area and instead lets experiences take center stage. A lot of the bizarre things happen when we start getting a greater understanding of how deep everything runs, and it becomes clear very quickly how much the trust in what we know and see melts away.

I feel like I have to dance around a lot of what goes on here because, as a middle book, it creates as many new questions as it answers and thus makes it difficult to really go into detail as to what is going on without a lot of giveaways. This series is successful because of how deft the reveals are along the way, and how the story just sucks you in and forces you to accept what's going on in front of you, throwing enough minor curveballs along the way as to get you to not trust your own perception, much like everyone else in the book. It's been a long time since I've read something that's even come close to that before this series came along.

Long and short, this book, while different, has pushed this series out of "must read if you like weird fiction/horror" and into "everyone should just read this because it's a unique and addictive experience." Waiting until September for the final installment of this story is just terrible.

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07 May 2014

Review: Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself
Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself by Bob Pflugfelder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes being an adult reader of middle grade books creates a pretty significant conundrum. The best way I can do this is detail my overall thoughts on this.

I liked that this was, at its core, a fun enough story involving science and adventure and mystery.

I also liked that the science involved was germane to the story and not just shoehorned in for the sake of science content. But...

I didn't love the fact that the science content almost felt like a Common Core play. Is it organic? Sure. This is where the "adult" reader comes into play, where a kid reading this would never be aware of it.

I questioned the need to even hint at a supernatural element with the girl, especially when the resolution lent itself to a more scientific solution that never arose.

I hate that I can't think of an eccentric scientific uncle without assuming it's Rick from Rick and Morty in my head.

Overall, a solid read and a fun little book in spite of my personal issues. I can see this having tremendous boy appeal, which is a great plus.

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06 May 2014

Review: The One

The One
The One by Kiera Cass

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The only thing worse than the second book syndrome that far too many dystopian YA books have had over the last few years have been the petering out at the end. Mockingjay is the worst offender, lifting us sky-high until it eventually abandoned the initial pretenses in favor of whatever it was, but far too often the satisfying ending is not one that comes around very often in these multi-book series efforts.

Thankfully, The One is not that book.

We take up basically immediately following the end of The Elite, where there are only a handful of girls remaining and the rebel stakes are higher. The king is getting restless, the girls anxious, and America and Maxon and Aspen's love triangle is ever deeper.

Oh Em Gee.

I poke fun, but I *love* this series, and this book was really no different than the others. Things move very rapidly, nothing seems telegraphed, and everything is as it's supposed to be at the end. America is an excellent heroine, and there are subtle, yet important, lessons throughout.

I'm glad this series exists, and I'm ultimately sad it's over.

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05 May 2014

Review: White Night

White Night
White Night by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now officially past the publication halfway point, and while I'm not sure whether this was my favorite entry in the series so far, it has given me a much broader appreciation for what Jim Butcher is accomplishing.

First and foremost, I appreciate that Butcher, time and time again, wastes no time jumping into the overall plot. Within the first few pages, we're right in the thick of it with some good action and a quick reminder as to where we're at. Yes, White Night like the book before it is absolutely another supernatural murder mystery (now with more serial killing), but we are getting somewhere with this in part as a result of the prior books as opposed to what felt like a diversion in the previous entry.

We get a lot of the old faves, from Harry's brother to a healthy helping of Murphy, and some of the most compelling scenes, for me, were with Harry's new ward, Molly. Both an annoying young girl and a precocious individual, she brought a lot of extras to the story both from a plot standpoint and as a way to fill in gaps in the story and setting organically as opposed to how the traditional stories went about it with Harry's random asides.

Also great? Butcher knows how to write the last quarter of a book. Without giving anything away, the final act of this book felt a lot bigger, broader, and badder than anything that's come before it, and while we've been conditioned at this point to know that Harry will somehow pull it off, that sense of danger has simply been transferred to his friends and collaborators now. It's a deft change of pace.

There really hasn't been a bad book in the series yet, but I really feel like the story is hitting its stride in a significant way. We've got a broad cast of characters that are being used for specific reasons, being introduced as meaningful and then having roles to play in harm's way, and there's no feeling of dangling plotlines or missing information as things come in and out of Dresden's world fairly regularly. There are a few things from the early books that I'm waiting on a payoff for, and I don't doubt I'll get them. That's good writing. Is the series along the lines of more epic fare? Of course not, but it also (and perhaps most importantly) isn't trying to be. It's a great sale with a lot behind it.

I am outright forcing myself to pace the reading of these a bit rather than dive right in on the next book. That's how good things have gotten. Ah well, months go by rather quickly, I suppose...

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