29 March 2016

Review: What You Always Wanted

What You Always Wanted What You Always Wanted by Kristin Rae
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

I'm always surprised that YA books don't push the theater/performing arts nerd angles more. We've seen a few published over the last 18 months, but, having been a theater and chorus geek myself, it's fertile ground for a lot of the sorts of love triangles and situations in play with groups like those. What You Always Wanted mines that cavern a bit and mostly works as a fluffy teen romance that is reminiscent of those times, but lacks the weight it could have had.

In this tale, Maddie is obsessed with old movie stars and is now in a new school. She's carpooling with one of the stars of the baseball team, but that's not usually the guy she goes for. At least it isn't until she learns about his secret performing past, which changes the entire game and makes her wonder if she can change him.

That key plot point is where the story kind of falls apart for me. It's a fun airy romance and then takes the sort of turn where you feel like it's okay to try and mold someone into the type of person you want them to be as opposed to accepting good people for what they are. It's not a great message in a genre (teen romance) light on substance, and that concerned me.

With that said, looking past that one flaw, it's a fun and fast read. It's unlikely to change anyone's life, but that's not really the point, either. It's candy for the teen performer set, and that's extremely valid in and of itself. Recommended for kids looking for characters that represent their interests, for sure.

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20 March 2016

Review: Dragons vs. Drones

Dragons vs. Drones Dragons vs. Drones by Wesley King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As someone who does love b-movies and absurd premises, Dragons vs. Drones sounds like a fun, absurd idea in theory. In execution, though, it's a little too serious and overdone to truly reach a successful place for me.

Marcus is the child of a CIA agent, and he's spent much of his childhood trying to find the man who has been branded a traitor. He is somehow zapped to an alternate dimension where dragons are real and Earth-based drones are hunting those dragons down in what is actually an interdimensional war.

This is a bad movie premise, and it's just an okay story that would truly work better if it played up the absurdity of it all. Instead, it tries to play straight and just ends up being okay. It fails to really make any sort of impact in any direction and, with a massive cliffhanger at the end, offers no payoff to speak of.

I want to see this book done by the guys who do Sharknado instead. That might be something where we could accept what was going on instead of the half-baked craziness we ended up with. Not great, just a pass.

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Review: The Rule of Mirrors

The Rule of Mirrors The Rule of Mirrors by Caragh M. O'Brien
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a classic case of a good story going completely off the rails. In The Vault of Dreamers, we had a conspiratorial-type tale that involved a reality television show and teenagers being manipulated in their sleep. The Rule of Mirrors swings the curtain back, and just throws it all in disarray.

Our heroine from the first book? She's in two different bodies now. One of them is pregnant. Both need to find a way to merge together and fix the situation before it's too late.

I'm more than okay with strange, but this whole thing just got weird for a reason I can't figure out and there will be a third book that I can't even begin to figure out where it will start or end.

Overall, I can't say much about it because it's just a puzzling read with some real puzzling choices being made. Considering how much I enjoyed the first book, I'm just disappointed at the direction here and think it's a significant miss.

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Review: Version Control

Version Control Version Control by Dexter Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, time travel books, how I love you.

This book basically follows a couple. One is a scientist, working on a time travel device, the other his spouse. In this futuristic America, the president's hologram can address citizens directly, cars are self-driving, and so on. So there are a lot of complications to go along with this story, and a lot of questions regarding the nature of time travel and such that are discussed.

I kind of loved how this book played with the idea. Early on, the seeds of doubt as to what's going on are sewn, and once we get into the idea of what time travel means in this story (both from a frank scientific standpoint that I had never considered before and thus has ultimately made me personally doubt the ability to actually have time travel occur in a way I didn't before) and how it would impact society if it worked, it throws the entire narrative into disarray, and I kind of love it. It's such a different, unique take, and with characters I enjoyed reading about and a few curveballs along the way, this is probably one of my favorite books that plays with time travel in some time, and definitely my favorite "nontraditional" take on the genre.

Overall, if you like science fiction, read this anyway. If you're really into time travel stories, this one should get as close to the top of your radar as possible. Just a great read on a whole.

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08 March 2016

Review: Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls

Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls by Raymond Arroyo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I, for whatever reason, didn't care much for Percy Jackson. As an adult, I get why I didn't like it, but I also understand why the kids are so excited about the series. A lot of people have tried to do something similar and it hasn't always work, but Will Wilder is the closest I've seen anything come in terms making it happen, and it ends up being an interesting read with some curious choices.

In the story, Will is a kid in a small town with a history. Will is also a little irresponsible, breaking someone's shoulder during some horseplay. There's a relic of St. Paul in the local church, and a local man approaches him to get it for him, as it has healing properties and could help his hurt friend, but it ends up reawakening a multigenerational war in the process as he pursues the relic.

It's kind of a crazy story, and perhaps most noteworthy is the use of the Christian imagery to get the plot going. It's not crazy overt, it's not a stealth religious book proselytizing, but there are some bible stories mixed in along the way and I can see how that can turn off some readers. Beyond that point, though, it turns out that the book balances humor, action, and adventure in a really interesting and accessible way. This could end up being a pretty great series, especially if it tones down the religiousness a bit.

Overall, a good read! One to be wary of, perhaps, depending on your sensitivity to religious material, but I surprisingly enjoyed it.

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06 March 2016

Review: The Siren

The Siren The Siren by Kiera Cass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kiera Cass is best known for The Selection, which is a brilliant YA series across the board. The Siren i her now-traditionally-released self-published debut, and it's pretty solid.

Kahlen is a siren, sentenced by the sea to sing and lure sailors to their inevitable oceanic doom. She the meets a boy, and falls for him, but cannot speak to him lest he hears her voice and the worst thing occurs. Thus the conflict inherent in the story.

It's a pretty straightforward read, and it's a lot lighter fare both in structure and tone compared to The Selection. It takes few chances and works out about as you'd expect it to at the end of the day, and that results in a perfectly pleasant experience.

Fans of Cass will love this. If you're not into her stuff, this might not quite do it for you, though, and that's also fine. The story is an imperfect specimen, but still a quick, quality palate cleanser. Closer to a 3.5 on a whole.

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02 March 2016

Review: Arkwright

Arkwright Arkwright by Allen Steele
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a way, Arkwright is Seveneves on easy mode. A multi-generational science fiction exploration novel, instead of being reliant on super hard science, it's a love letter to science fiction itself to fuel the plot along and make an enjoyable read.

The story is about an author, Arkwright, who is right in line with the golden age of his time generations ago. With his royalties and investments, he starts a secretive fund to eventually launch an interstellar spaceship to a planet believed to be able to sustain life. The story follows his progeny over the generations working toward this goal, the problems that persist in such a feat, and, ultimately, the end result.

This book works in the sense that it's a really pretty, low-stakes investment with an enjoyable outcome. If you're looking for the sort of "against all odds" action and problem-solving that Seveneves provided, you're not going to get it here - this book is more optimistic and is more about the people involved than the science to get there. If you're not okay with a lot of handwaving away of problems and situations, this book might be frustrating as a result, but it's not what the book is for. Instead, it's an appreciation for the Big Thinking science fiction used to provide and an appreciation for those willing to make things work even with no immediate benefit, like those in space industries today who will not live to see the fruits of their effort.

As a read, it was great. I loved my experience with the book. As a science fiction read, I prefer the harder stuff, but that's okay, too. This book was just too fun not to put down, and is a worthy read on its own. A great read overall.

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01 March 2016

Review: In Real Life

In Real Life In Real Life by Jessica Love
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There's a running meme about the television show Seinfeld that theorizes that the show would be basically uninteresting if they had cell phones, since most of the conflicts could have been resolved with them. In Real Life is kind of like that, except Seinfeld existed when cell phones weren't ubiquitous and In Real Life is a present day story where things like Google are real.

Hannah and Nick have been friends for ages, with phone conversations and online chats and such. They've also never met in real life. So Hannah decides to crash a concert for Nick's band in Vegas and she learns that there are things she doesn't know about Nick along the way.

The description sounds more like a cautionary tale than it really is. There's no real danger in the plot here, and Nick and Hannah do know each other, just not as well as they thought. Having basically experienced a lot of my teen years through online friendships, and having met many of my closest friends via the internet, this story isn't strange at all. What's strange is that the major plot point hinges on something that, with literally 5 seconds of Googling, would have been solved. It defies belief that Hannah would not have explored this specific plot point (which I'm not going to spoil here) pretty quickly, and it just throws the rest of the story into question. It all ends in a very tidy way, and that's all well and good, but this is such a blatant, avoidable flaw that I'm surprised that either a) no one caught it or b) it was seen and allowed to continue onward (especially since I can think of a half dozen ways to mitigate it without disrupting the plot).

Overall, just a major miss. I'd love to see a book like this that handles the topic of online/non-"real-life" friendship in a better, healthier way.

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