30 November 2014

Review: The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits

The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits
The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits by Jim Geraghty

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Satire can be tricky. It's one thing for satire to lampoon existing issues, another for it to be just existing in itself.

What happens when a satire is too realistic and not biting enough? That's where The Weed Agency comes in, telling a tale of a government agency as it grows and changes to adapt in order to not perish. It's a very straightforward, often journalistic approach, that ends in present day with things as one might expect.

The book has a conservative point of view, which is fine. The tale is realistic enough to a fault, mixing in the satirical (the environmental agency putting in a website that doesn't work, the agency being an inspiration to Al Gore) with the real (Gore, people like Newt Gingrich) to craft a fairly short tale designed to remind us all about the ever-growing, often unnecessary federal government.

So why rated so low? Really, it's just too one-note. There's no real dynamic here, the joke is given away pretty early and ultimately often, and would have benefited from some growth. The concept behind it is ultimately that the truth is ridiculous enough, but I just don't feel like it worked.

I like Jim Geraghty's writing at National Review, which might have impacted my expectations a bit. As a novel, though, it's just okay, filled with a lot of unrealized potential. Closer to a 2.5.

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26 November 2014

Review: Skin Game

Skin Game
Skin Game by Jim Butcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So we've reached the latest volume of the series, and I have to say that, after seeing how it was going in the last volume, I thought this was quite the step backwards.

The basics of the story are still the same, as Harry is still the Winter Knight under Mab, but the difference here is that we're essentially getting Dresden's Eleven, as we are now in the midst of a pretty significant heist story.

Wait, what?

I'm usually fine with the way these individual books toy with existing tropes and conventions, but I found that this specific type of story just didn't work so well with me. I felt like there was a little more fanservice than usual combined with some left field-style scenes (most notably with Hades and Cerberus) that didn't really work for me. It's weird.

The problem with my whole viewpoint on this, though, is that Jim Butcher's strength in this area is also his weakness. He's great at balancing out the urban fantasy with the encapsulated tales that toy with these different ideas and genres, and when it doesn't work, it really feels wrong and weird. I just want more from it, I guess, and, especially with how excited I was for this volume, it might just hit me wrong even more.

Of course, now I get to wait a year plus for the next volume. After reading one a month for the last year plus, that wait is going to feel crazy. Maybe it's time for the Codex Alera?

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23 November 2014

Review: Conversion

Conversion by Katherine Howe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5 only because the ending irritated me so much.

A few years ago, 18 girls (and one boy) in Le Roy, New York, came down with a similar affliction that was, at one point, blamed on an autoimmune issue and later on Lyme Disease, and they all eventually recovered and we all moved on from the strange mystery. Conversion, Katherine Howe's first young adult novel, plays with this idea a little bit while including a parallel tale centered around the Salem Witch Trials, where students at an all-girls school in Danvers, MA (not far from Salem) begin coming down with various maladies and the national press starts becoming curious and getting involved.

The book itself ends up being a pretty pleasant slow burn, where the mysteries of what is occurring are doled out in measured reveals, and there are plenty of little red herrings sprinkled about that make you think you understand what is happening, only to be brought down a path you didn't expect. Every time I thought I had it figured out, something else came along to have me doubt it, and that was great. It's really high-quality storytelling throughout most of this book.

And then we came to the end, and this will be spoiler central. For the record, I wouldn't let the ending stop anyone from reading this, as it's quite good, but I found it to be a bit of a letdown.

The hardest thing to do is end something. I get that. With a book like this, that has introduced a lot of complexities and thrown a lot of questions at the readers, the desire for answers is fairly immediate. While there are always reasons to leave questions open-ended and/or open to interpretation, it's another thing to outright give an ending that implies what you believe to be true about the story but doesn't outright give you the sort of closure you've earned for the investment. Yes, it's highly likely that the competing narratives were related and the Salem setting is very real, but, while the environmental angle was disproven, nothing else was in your face and clear about it. I get that the point was to leave it open to interpretation, but I am very much against that sort of open reveal in a book like this, especially ones that deal with a lot of other important issues that could have been solved with some decent closure.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I really think it's one of the better young adult books of the year. I also think it has a conclusion that is bound to irritate a lot of people, so don't beware, just be wary.

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22 November 2014

Review: Fool's Assassin

Fool's Assassin
Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been holding out on reviewing this one for a while in part because of time constraints, and in part because I really wanted to kind of enjoy my memory of this book so much. I have been holding out reading Robin Hobb for some time now, and after really devouring this book, I honestly don't know why I waited so long.

The first book in a planned trilogy, the plot involves a magical tracker-type who is a bit out of practice. He and his wife live in the woods, his kids are part of the nobility, and the couple are just enjoying their old age.

At least until his much too old wife gets pregnant.

This is a big deal due to the rules of the magic of the story as well as the weird situation of the pregnancy, and when the child is born we learn even more about what's happening, putting into play a variety of political, social, and magical mysteries that need to be unraveled.

The first 100 pages or so of this are kind of slow in the establishing of the tale. I get, after finishing it, why the slow burn happens, but it does take away from the overall narrative enough to keep me from considering this one a true favorite. With that said, the last 500 or so pages more than make up for it and create a really compelling, interesting, and original fantasy read even as it exists within established tropes and concepts. It may relate to Hobb's other books as well, but there's nothing in this book that points obviously to anything else and appears to stand alone well as a trilogy, so I wouldn't be scared off by that, either.

This is a year where there have been some truly excellent genre books released, from the second book in Sanderson's series to The Slow Regard of Silent Things to Area X to Maplecroft to The Goblin Emperor and beyond. Fool's Assassin shouldn't get lost in the shuffle, as it almost did for me, it's really one of the best reads of the year.

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11 November 2014

Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things

The Slow Regard of Silent Things
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So this is a weird one.

I love The Kingkiller Chronicles, first and foremost. The wait has been difficult, but I don't want to be that guy who's like "less talking more writing," and goodness knows I have enough books to get me through the lean time. Still, a somewhat-in-universe novella from one of my favorite authors? Sign me up.

Rothfuss has explained countless times that this is a different book and not for everyone. He's right. It's a short tale, basically no dialogue to speak of, about a girl who isn't what we'd call normal. It actually reminds me in tone of a lot of those sweet middle grade stories I love so much, and that's great.

The story is really well-written, and has its moments, but my issue is less about what it isn't and more that I personally struggled to fully engage with it. It's so short and so specific that I just wanted to be more immersed in it.

On the other hand, I finished it and immediately wanted to read it again. It's that good and that subtle.

So overall? Yeah, I liked it. I wanted to love it. I might be completely wrong about it. That's the sign of something solid, right?

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05 November 2014

Review: The Silence of Six

The Silence of Six
The Silence of Six by E.C. Myers

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Cory Doctorow, in a lot of ways, has the market cornered on sort of technopunk/cybersecurity issues tales, so seeing someone else enter the space and give things a shot is welcome no matter what. That EC Myers, who wrote the solid Fair Coin series, the one who made the jump is even better. That the book is actually a really solid, suspenseful tale? Further icing on the cake.

The story starts with a hack into a political debate and an on-screen video chat suicide. With a question about "the silence of six" and a reactionary government in place, a former hacker teen is dragged back into the culture to try and solve the issue as to why his friend offed himself and what the government is hiding.

There's going to be unavoidable comparisons to Doctorow's Little Brother, and they're fairly well deserved on a whole, as they are, at its basis, about the era of privacy in a world where it's disappearing fast. Where Doctorow's books invariably devolve into advocacy, however, Myers keeps it simple by presenting the sorts of apps and programs and activities a privacy-minded person would use as simple plot points rather than paranoia. It works well as it allows the story to remain just that even when more savvy readers might know where things are headed.

The downside? The pace is almost too breakneck for its own good at times, meaning the slower points feel really draggy in comparison. There's the occasional issue of the government agents both being far too competent and bumbling all at once, and I can't say the ending felt all that realistic, but in what is a book that celebrates paranoia a bit, it works in the setting.

Overall, if you're looking for lighter fare that hits upon a lot of notes we don't see too often in YA or otherwise, this one is worth a look. Certainly one of the better reads in the genre as of late.

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01 November 2014

Review: Cold Days

Cold Days
Cold Days by Jim Butcher

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Cold Days may have already supplanted the previous book as my new favorite in the series, even with its questionable ending.

Cold Days takes place not long after the resurrection of Dresden by Mab, who has been a thorn in Harry's side since the beginning. Harry's the Winter Knight now, and along with that responsibility comes a bit of a reputation to go with it, combined with questionable alliances and difficult magic. Harry's been tasked for one specific job, and if we've learned much from the last few books, it doesn't really go smoothly.

I continued to love the direction this opted to take, a slightly darker affair where things are muddled yet not totally unclear, either. I like that Harry is a complicated hero even moreso now - there's still the desire to do the right thing even as he knows/believes/feels he's done the wrong, and yet it still stands with his interactions with Bob and Toot and Molly and Karrin. A specific scene with Molly really stuck out at me as a strong one of the right/wrong dichotomy, and, if it weren't for the very end, the scene where Harry meets up with Thomas for the first time since returning may have been one of the most powerful in the series so far.

I get the choices with the Summer/Winter Lady shifts, and I don't love it, to be completely honest. I want to withhold judgement a bit if only because I don't know where it's going to go, but it felt like a bit of a hail mary of sorts in terms of how to advance things further. Plus, that the shift was effectively the end of the story up to this point created a bit of a situation where the end was a whimper more than a bang. This is probably my choice over what was a good or bad idea.

That I'm just about caught up means we're getting to the point of long delays between books, but I'm looking forward to being able to read fan theories and such at this stage as well. This series just keeps getting better and better, though, so that's definitely worth something.

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Review: Anatomy of a Misfit

Anatomy of a Misfit
Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

What on earth did I just read?

I picked this one up solely because it was the "Big Library Read" on the digital library catalog, so why not grab something a little extra, especially if its recommended enough to be something offered to anyone who wants it. I've since found that it's one of the hotter reads of the year, got a starred review from Publisher's Weekly, and is pretty well-regarded.

And I have no idea why.

This story follows two teens in Nebraska. There's a hot boy, a mean girl clique, and an eventual love triangle that goes a little haywire along the way. Meanwhile, we get some b-plots about theft, racism runaways, bullying, sex, and even some incoherent, barely-justified violence, all to an end where our terrible, horrible, no good very bad protagonist (who is actually the hero of the story by default of being only marginally better than the borderline evil people she's forced to be associated with) is lauded for hijacking a specific event to get verbal revenge.

Man, what?

I wanted this to be satire, or at least satirical, where then I could simply say it missed the mark. As this is apparently intended to be taken somewhat seriously, complete with a note that says it's based on the author's ninth grade year, I am either woefully out of touch with what goes on in the world or maybe, just maybe, this is a little off-center.

Either way, I can't find a single thing redeeming about this that I would be comfortable recommending. It's not obviously tongue-in-cheek enough to work in that direction, and there are no lessons to be learned from the actions of those in the story. It's just a miserable failure that I somehow convinced myself to read all the way through. I don't know why this exists or why it's gotten the accolades it has. I strongly recommend avoiding it at all costs.

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