30 June 2015

Review: Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Yeah, this is more like it.

Delilah Dirk is a woman who is kind of a pirate and kind of Robin Hood but mostly just notoriously awesome as she steals from the rich and busts out of jail and swings her sword around and wows those around her along the way. This is basically her story and the story of a man entranced by who she is and what she does without it being a crazy romantic trope.

In other words, yeah, cool!

It appealed to me because it was a fun, action-packed adventure that did a lot of fun things with a classic type of story. Others who are concerned with gender representation and strong female characters will find plenty to love here as well, as Delilah is independent and awesome in all the right ways and the story isn't sexualized or filled with romance in the least. And it's rare for a book of late to straddle that line without going fully in either direction, and Tony Cliff somehow figured it out.

The next volume simply cannot come soon enough. I absolutely loved this, and it comes highly recommended. A well-done read.

Review: Trollhunters

Closer to a 2.5.

I enjoy Guillermo Del Toro. I thought the first bits of The Strain were solid, I've enjoyed many of his movies, and so a foray into children's books really seemed like it should have been down my alley. Why, then, didn't this work for me?

The idea behind the story is a kid who is dragged into a multigenerational conflict regarding underground trolls and prophecies and such. The kid is quickly trained to be part of the war and start working to end the conflict.

This book is tough because it can't really decide who its geared toward from an age level standpoint, and can't decide whether it's creepy or campy in the meantime. Del Toro is an expert in both, which might be part of the problem in any regard, but that expectation only further muddies the water. Worse, it's hard to buy the antagonists as a true threat at any real time, which is a pretty big problem considering the impacts we expect them to have and how they're affected others in the story.

It's just a hot mess in a lot of ways. I can see a lot of appeal, and it's not terrible, it's just something I expected a lot more from than what I ended up getting. Kids would benefit from a campy monster book at this age level, or a creepy one, or even one that walks the line in a successful way. Trollhunters, sadly, is none of those things.

20 June 2015

Review: End of Discussion

I mean, this one's obvious, right? If you've spent any time on the internet lately, you know the types. They shut down discussion before it starts, they're trying to keep things from being discussed at all, and it's getting to the point where college policies, government rules, and so on are being dictated by a sort of heckler's veto. End of Discussion is a book that sort of charts that recent rise and provides some examples along the way. The book is far from perfect, but it is necessary. The problem, as is with a lot of books in this sort of subgenre, is that there's no way the people who need to read this will see it. The result, instead, is a sort of preaching to the choir as opposed to being a vehicle for the necessary change in this area before it's perhaps too late. As a political conservative, though, it's interesting to see a lot of these stories compiled into one place. I just wish I knew how to get this into the hands of the people who need to read it.

16 June 2015

Review: Every Last Word

So there are books we call "sick lit," and books that tend to be just traditional "finding your place" books. Sometimes they meet and work, but sometimes, like with Every Last Word, they just don't.

Sam has OCD, and it sort of defines her life a bit. She has her friends, who are more of a clique, but a girl leads her to a more artsy group of teens, and she quickly starts to learn about what matters to her and how it can help her with her mental problems.

It's a very straightforward story, and the OCD is front and center in the descriptions, but not so much the story. The plot, instead, is more of a traditional "finding new friends" story with some mental illness aspects to try and help it stand out. What resulted, for me, was a book that I did finish, but really struggled with. It's just almost too straightforward, with the various twists in the plot (especially concerning Caroline, her friend who steers her in the new direction) being telegraphed from miles and miles away.

I think we're seeing a lot of this due to A Fault in Our Stars. Yes, we need more books that look honestly at illness. No, this one really isn't it.

13 June 2015

Review: The Affinites

I've been a fan of Robert Charles Wilson for a while now, and I can't say I've read anything I've disliked from him... until now. The Affinities is a rare miss, ultimately filled with a lot of ideas and some fairly rough execution.

The point of the book appears to be to sort of play with the whole dystopian trope we've seen of late, especially in YA literature. In this one, social media analytics, in part, help with the classification and understanding of humanities, to the point where a number of Affinities exist to separate some of the top members of society out there. These Affinities become the most important things in society, and, as is typical, they begin getting more and more power.

The book feels ham-fisted in a similar way to The Circle, except that I think Wilson understands what he's getting at here and it just doesn't work. At least with The Circle, it was a luddite-style misunderstanding of technology, this just feels like it's trying on an idea that doesn't work. Are we supposed to root for the top Affinity? Is there a reason to like anyone? What's the point?

I don't know. This just didn't work for me as much as I wanted it to, and I ultimately found it to be just a frustrating read. So many good books from this author, I would point to many others before this one.

Review: The Fold

I struggle a bit to describe what this book is. While part of it is the way this book shifts, the best description I can have is to think about what Stargate might be with a different take on the physics behind it.

The story is about a group of government scientists working on a top secret discovery. Mike, who is in a position to investigate the project, learns that they've developed a door of sorts that can bridge long distances, and, even better, it appears to be completely safe. It almost sounds too good to be true, and yet...

This book is a pretty simple premise and has the extra benefit of throwing a lot of fun curveballs along the way. The premise itself will tell you whether you have an interest, and there aren't really strong hard sci-fi elements to trip you up in the dimensional physics of the whole concept. If I have a complaint, it's just how the shift in the narrative toward the end feels a little out of place from the rest of the book, but that's ultimately a personal preference and not really a condemnation of the book even though it doesn't completely work. With that said, though, this was a really fun read on a whole and I pretty much enjoyed the ride throughout.

Definitely recommended for a fun science fiction ride.

Review: The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak

Closer to a 3.5.

On one hand, I don't think I realized how much a Nick and Norah for convention culture was needed. On the other, I just wish this was a little better as a result.

The root of the story is about Ana's brother ditching quiz bowl to go to a nearby sci-fi convention. Ana and Zak go on the hunt for him and it ends up being a fairly crazy, ridiculous adventure at the con through the rest of the night. It's the sci-fi nerd teaming up with the quiz bowl nerd and it's sort of a fish out of water scenario times two that ends up hitting upon a lot of general tropes while also successfully navigating some crazy waters.

I just... I don't know. I'm not so much critical that it's a book that went in a few different directions that it didn't like, and I did enjoy how well it normalized a lot of the "weird" con stuff, but I guess I more wish it took one tack and ran with it in a strong way as opposed to playing a few games (is it about quiz bowl? About cons? About fandom? About the mystery?) and not killing it at all of them.

Overall? A good, but not great, read. I'll definitely seek out more from this author, though.

09 June 2015

Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave

I think I understand why authors want to tackle difficult ideas and concepts for a middle grade audience. I don't get some of the choices that are being made, though. Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave is closer along the lines of Sara Pennypacker's Summer of the Gypsy Moths, complete with a questionable narrative and truly unfortunate plot to go with it. The story is about a pair of siblings trying to survive in what is effectively the middle of nowhere because their father abandons them at a gas station.


I don't even know what to say about this in any real detail. Does this happen? Sure, I'm positive it's not just concocted out of nowhere. Does that mean this book really meets the needs of the intended audience? Do the complexities of the decision being made (complete, by the way, with an utter lack of understanding of those complexities, creating a black and white situation out of emotional necessity as opposed to something more nuanced) offer anything? I don't know.

Skip this one. It's too juvenile for those looking for sophistication or even YA-level narratives, and it's too complicated for most middle grade readers anyway.

07 June 2015

Review: Royal Wedding

Closer to a 4.5, but as if I wasn't going to love this.

I was skeptical of the middle grade play with Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, and trying to age up an existing series is strange in and of itself. This book pretty much just takes place five years after the entirety of the initial YA series and covers exactly what the title entails. Like all the Princess Diaries books, it's fairly straightforward and dives right back in.

The book is basically a warm blanket with a bit of an adult twist. It's decidedly PG-13 and is ultimately less scandalous than the YA the series introduced so many readers to, but the really interesting part for me was how it wove itself into the middle school timeline so well. The middle grade book actually happens in the same timeframe as this book does, and it means that, for an adult reader, the middle grade book almost feels like a tiny bonus feature. It was a neat little thing Cabot did that made me appreciate both books more as a result.

At the end of the day, you'll know if you're going to like this before you even pick it up. If you liked the original books at all, this doesn't feel like a needless add-on, and the fact that it's actually pretty great doesn't hurt, either.

02 June 2015

Review: Book Scavenger

Far be it from me to criticize a book that embraces and celebrates the love of reading, but I'm not entirely sure this one is it (and i say this while, at the time of this writing, having not yet read Mr Lemoncello's Library). A book that sort of presents itself as the Willy Wonka of books about books, it's not quite light-hearted or fun enough to hold that mantle, nor whimsical enough to allow for the comparisons.

The book is about some kids obsessed with Book Scavenging, a game about finding and reading books developed by a man who is also a bookseller and publisher. He's got a new game coming, but he's mugged before it can be revealed (yes, people are mugged over books in this world). The kids suspect a bigger problem and begin doing their own investigations into finding out what the new game is and maybe what happened.

The story is a little darker than you'd think. Kids chased by bumbling muggers without the comedic relief element is problem enough, but the idea behind this is more suited to a book about puzzles and solving mysteries, yet the book doesn't provide enough of either for the reader, instead going into more non-fictional histories of books and authors. In a sense, even if it wasn't the intent, this is how Common Core-aligned middle grade books fail our kids (forcing information in over narrative), and while the end result of the book is a nice little surprise, the trajectory to get there is not the most appealing.

It will definitely find an audience. We absolutely need more books that normalize and celebrate literature and literacy for kids. I just ultimately don't know if this is it.