29 June 2014

Review: Turn Coat

Turn Coat
Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With book eleven, I feel like I'm sort of mired in the same midpoint I was with The Wheel of Time toward the middle, where not a ton is happening and it's getting frustrating. It's not to say it's outright bad like some of the middle Wheel of Time stuff, but I hesitate to call this book in particular good.

We're knee deep in the White Council conspiracy, there's some sort of supernatural being they're calling a "skinwalker" that's doing a good deal of damage, we're still mentoring Molly, and Thomas is still wavering a bit because he's a vampire and that's what they do. That's essentially what's going on with Harry Dresden right now, and that's why this book is a little frustrating. After a great run of book after book of action and plot development and payoffs, I feel as if the story stalls out a bit here. It's not to say we have no movement, as there's a lot that goes on with the Council and Thomas and Molly, and the end of the book in particular is paced extremely fast, but the books have created a bit of an expectation of things happening and there wasn't much of a payoff for this one.

This may be just a basic problem with multi-volume books in general. I don't doubt, by this point in publication, that Jim Butcher has some sort of endgame in mind - I've read one thing that claimed it would end at 20, and another that there's enough story ideas to bring it into the "lower 20s." It's just interesting to read these books where there is no apparent or necessary end in sight. What more, this book appears to be really well received in comparison to others, and I definitely had a different impression of it.

Overall, I'm far from throwing in the towel on this series. It's still pretty high quality even if there have been missteps. I am hoping, however, for a more cohesive, more exciting read in the next one. We'll see.

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28 June 2014

Review: Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let's get one thing out of the way first: I loved this book. Why, then, has it taken me almost a week to write a coherent review? Mostly because some of it was just frustrating? I don't know.

Long and short is that this is a nearish-future tale where Earth and Mars are colonized, but we still really can't leave the solar system. There's interplanetary politics, some advanced science/technology that exists, and there's also some strange happenings overall involving some conspiracies and such. There's also a more traditional mystery story that takes place, and these two ideas converge on each other to really get an impressive story out there.

I liked basically everything about this. It's not quite a space opera, but it has that feel and it's been a long time since I've read anything like it that hooked me in this well. The book is really readable, it's not taking too many chances and not bogging itself down in minutiae like many long science fiction books do. This works really well in that regard.

If I have a negative, it's that the book feels really surface level, and the last 10% or so of the book really accelerates things in a way that didn't feel very true to the rest of the book. The frustration comes in with a story that's great but is not memorable on the detail level, partially because it feels like things simply happen as opposed to having any real reason or the characters having significant agency. It's a weird case, but one that didn't take away from my enjoyment. It's just really different, and, looking back, perhaps a little frustrating.

Overall, I can't wait to pick up the second book in this series. I'd love to think this holds up long term over the multiple books, but we'll see.

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13 June 2014

Review: The Girl With All The Gifts

The Girl With All The Gifts
The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maybe it's just me, but the whole zombie thing is really wearing me out. I'm still reading (not watching) The Walking Dead, but the idea if the World War Z movie or another zombie book or comic is frankly tiring. Thus, when it became evident early that The Girl With All The Gifts was in the same universe as so much zombie fiction right now, I probably would have thrown my hands up in frustration if the book wasn't so good.

The basic setting is not the most original thing in the world, with the United Kingdom in a post-apocalyptic state after the "hungries" have effectively taken over. Yes, they're zombies, I just don't think the word is ever used. The story starts out in a holding area of some sort, however, with a bunch of children in a school. They're constantly restrained because they want to bite and lash out, but still capable of learning and thought and such, and they even have future plans, all of which really upsets one of their teachers. The real secret comes later, and it upends both everyone's understanding of the crisis and raises some overall questions about humanity as well.

The book comes with a very simple premise, and the first quarter of the book ends up being some of the best I've read recently. The reveals are spaced out perfectly, the setting is not too detailed without feeling like anything is left out, and the overall trajectory of the story is great. It's extremely well-written with very few flaws, except for maybe the shift in overall plot if you were expecting the beginning to be like the end. I have no complaints.

What's also interesting is that the author is a pen name for comics author Mike Carey, best known as of late for the amazing Unwritten. While Unwritten (along with some of his Fantastic Four efforts) comes across as convoluted at times, this book is rock solid in terms of where it's going and what it's doing. A great read.

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Review: We Were Liars

We Were Liars
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had actually forgotten that E Lockhart was the same author as The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, which I love. With that said, it's...easy to categorize her recent output as being focused on the trials and tribulations of the economically privileged, and, while that might at least be part of her intent, it really misses the broader point of what she accomplishes. Disreputable History was more of a focus on friendships and fabrications at a boarding school, not so much the super rich and their secret societies. We Were Liars is not so much about how They live, but how We live, and the way families lie to each other when they don't have to as well as when they do.

The story takes place on a small semi-private island off the coast of Massachusetts, where four children have grown up over the course of a number of summers. In summer 17, years after one girl's accident, the four are finally back together and nothing is really the same, and no one is willing to admit why.

This book works well because it's honest, and brutally so. As an adult reader, I saw a lot of dynamics portrayed in this book in my own life, and that's not a happy thought now or before. The curveball, of sorts, might be a little far-fetched, but it makes sense within the context of the story being provided, and the little hints and glimpses into the lives of the people who all come to this island every summer feel real and end up being continually heartbreaking.

Another solid read all around, really. If you've waffled on this a bit, don't. It's one of the better reads of the year.

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12 June 2014

Review: Starbird Murphy and the World Outside

Starbird Murphy and the World Outside
Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't remember it at this point, but I distinctly remember reading a YA or middle grade book about a cult a number of years ago. Was it good? I'm not sure, but it wasn't good enough for me to remember the title, apparently.

Anyway, Starbird Murphy and the World Outside is about a cult. Specifically, a more hippie-ish spiritual communal cult that Starbird has grown up in. She receives her "calling," and it is to help run the Free Family's restaurant in Seattle. This means venturing off the group's farm for the first time, enrolling in a public school, and so on.

This book is really brilliant in a lot of ways. I started out side-eyeing it a bit because, as an adult reader, it was obvious almost from the very start that the Free Family was a bonafide cult and not some sort of futurist organization created solely for the book. The slow burn of the group's reveal ends up being a significant plus for the book as a whole, as it allows us a better chance to understand Starbird, what she knows, and how she ultimately has to interact with the world that she has been shielded from the whole time.

By the time everything comes together, I was entirely invested and couldn't put the book down even if I wanted to. It's a really solid way to end it, it's sophisticated without being condescending, and it ends up being a great way to do the "coming of age" story as well as handling the cult topic in a mature, reasonable way without introducing (too much) danger into the system. That many cults are not Heaven's Gate, "drink the Kool Aid" type organizations often get lost in the shuffle, and the way everything pans out with this specific story is an absolute plus.

Highly, highly recommended. Definitely one of the better books I've read in the young adult field as of late, and could be a contender for one of the best YA books of the year period.

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05 June 2014

Review: A Really Awesome Mess

A Really Awesome Mess
A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Truly closer to a 3.5.

I like Brendan Halpin's collaborations, and I don't think I've read anything of Trish Cook up to this point. The competing male/female narrative structure for YA generally seems to work for me, and this is no different, being sort of a young adult It's Kind of a Funny Story meets Orange is the New Black-type story of kids who meet in a reform boarding school.

The story itself is compelling enough with the reasons the kids are in there, the interaction between each other and the staff and so forth. The problems, though, from the reliability of the kids as narrators as well as the questionable utility and worth of the center they're at hurts the story a bit. We're stuck solely from one point of view, and it's really difficult to figure out what's positive and negative. Accepting an unreliable narrator is one thing, but not knowing for sure whether that's the angle being pursued is another, and I can't say it with confidence. There's also a really, really bizarre sequence in the second half that just defies believability in many ways, but I won't give it away in case you disagree.

Overall, worth reading. It's not "sick lit" per se, and it doesn't glamorize bad behavior, but it does come with its share of problems overall.

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02 June 2014

Review: Small Favor

Small Favor
Small Favor by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The sixteenth book came out this past week, and it's really weird hearing some chatter here and there while reading this one. Even weirder is how this started out as possibly my favorite and unfortunately dragged a little until it picked up at the end. They can't all be crazy winners.

I've said this a few times about this series at this point, but it's worth repeating - Jim Butcher's strength as a writer comes from keeping a lot of old storylines in his back pocket and in keeping his characters in danger. Yes, at this point, I am fully on board with the fact that Harry Dresden is very much a bend-but-don't-break character, but it means we have a lot of extras along the way, from Murphy on down, that are in danger instead. It's an interesting way to tell a story, and one I'm fully on board with in terms of how unique it is.

Putting aside that, this book again wastes no time in diving in. Harry battles gruffs, gets caught up in supernatural politics, and is thrown right in the middle of a centuries-long affair regarding artifacts and remnants and so forth. If you're diving into the series in book ten, none of this makes sense, but for the sake of a midseries tale, we're doing okay.

Where it drags is in the latter half. So much great preparation comes into play where we essentially skid to a narrative stop within the progression. I think it's more that I've gotten used to the bang-bang prose that a portion of the story that seems a little broad makes me impatient, but there we have it. The typical final battle was awesome and typical, with the added bonus of this book essentially leading us into the next as opposed to keeping things kind of tidy.

Overall, not my favorite, but far from my least favorite as well. It's flawed, but solid. Still loving this series, though, overall, and I'm looking forward to the next one even still.

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