11 April 2017

Review: Avengers of the Moon

Avengers of the Moon Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5

I think I was 60-70% in when I saw like “wow, this is really pulpy” only to learn after the fact that this is, in fact, a homage/reboot to a pulp classic from generations ago. A modernization of the Captain Future tales of old, this evokes all those same ideas and themes without feeling too old, but I feel as if you really need to have a bit of a context for what this is a tribute to in order to fully appreciate it for what it is.

Beyond that major roadblock, this is a really fun romp. The stakes aren’t too high, and it still works in spite of it being so different from the current crop of science fiction writing out there. Allan Steele has always excelled at being different, and this is true for Avengers of the Moon, too. Worth a look.

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04 April 2017

Review: Winter Tide

Winter Tide Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know there continues to be a bit of a Lovecraftian renaissance happening in terms of some of the fantasy books coming out. Winter Tide takes a historical fiction bent to the proceedings and gives a good, but far from great, attempt at expanding out the Mythos.

The story takes place a while after the eradication of the people and place of Innsmouth. The government effectively destroyed Innsmouth following an attack, and only two people have survived. Now there's concerns that information from Miskatonic University is falling into the wrong hands, and it's now up to the few survivors of the Innsmouth situation to solve the problem.

There's a clear post-internment attitude to this, which is a nice twist for the Mythos itself as well as a cool take on the story. There's a lot of time spent on the research and in the libraries, and that might be the book's downfall - it takes a lot of time in this area, and for questionable benefit. I spent a good deal of time hoping they'd get on with it to the point where the ending of the story was both fulfilling while also being frustrating in its climax.

I have not read "The Litany of Earth," a short story that has some of the same characters, so I may have missed some key points along the way, but overall, I liked but didn't love this story. There have not been any lack of Lovecraft-style tales of late, so I wouldn't bump this to the top of the list, but I would say that it's worth a look for a different style of story. I feel like I might want to read a story like this that focuses more on research aspects, but perhaps without some of the baggage that comes with this sort of tale.

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Review: Waking Gods

Waking Gods Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was supremely impressed by Sleeping Giants, which was a great documentary-style science fiction book about finding the pieces to a giant robot littered across the planet. If Giants was about discovery, Waking Gods is about consequences, and that's what ultimately makes the sequel work. We get to delve even more into the worldwide response to the robots but, more importantly, we get a much more detailed idea as to what the robots might mean.

It's hard to discuss this book without completely spoiling what goes on, but there are more than enough shocking moments throughout that make this into another winning tale and ends in a way that makes me really look forward to what's coming next. As long as the style of the story doesn't take you out of it, this is a series worth watching.

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10 March 2017

Review: Seven Days of You

Seven Days of You Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The best way I can describe this is Lost in Translation for the teen set. A book that celebrates the opportunity to live and study abroad, along with everything else that goes along with it, it’s both quiet and fun, exciting yet subdued.

Why, then, am I not enthused by this book?

I couldn’t tell you 100% of the reasoning why. A lot of it is that this book doesn’t feel like it has a ton in the way of stakes going for it. There was little reason for me to root for a particular outcome, and everything felt rather mapped out from the start for me. The adventures (and I use the term here in context) felt fairly subdued on a whole, and, honestly, there wasn’t a ton here for me to invest the emotional energy.

Truly, there’s perhaps an argument to be made that this is more about setting and such for the audience rather than the deep story. But I compare it to Lost in Translation in that the story is one that I remember very little about while continuing to have very strong and vivid visuals. The result is a book that, in a way, felt like a vacation I’d like to go on, just not necessarily with the people involved. A good read, but far from mind-blowing.

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Review: Agents of Dreamland

Agents of Dreamland Agents of Dreamland by CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A collection of shortish chapters in a novella that’s supposed to evoke a Lovecraftian feel, but it really just didn’t do the trick for me. I didn’t go in with much of any expectations, and I just found a lot of this to be a little lacking on a whole, and then it was over. Reading an advance of it, by the time I neared the end I was actively afraid that I had picked up a sample of the book instead of a full novel.

Overall, I just felt really disappointed by the whole thing. I’m usually into everything Lovecraft, but this missed the mark.

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06 February 2017

Review: Shadowbahn

Shadowbahn Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I never like throwing in the towel on advance books, but Shadowbahn, in spite of its interesting premise where the Twin Towers reappear in the Badlands, just didn't work. Part of it is my fault - I thought the author was the same guy who does the Malazan books, but this simply means that the experimental tale told here is even less relevant to my interests on a whole. It's a weird book - not a difficult one - but one that just wasn't what I wanted or looked for.

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04 February 2017

Review: Hex

Hex Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not generally one for witch stories. I don't know if I just feel like the genre is played out, or if I don't get the impression that there's much new to be said, but they've never really grabbed me even though I'm reading more horror than I ever have before. Hex, though, changed my mind a bit. A modern way of dealing with a long-standing trope, it hits all the right beats for a classic story while being totally unique.

Hex takes place in a smallish town. The town is basically under significant lockdown due to a witch that has been haunting the town for hundreds of years. There's a military outpost nearby due to the haunting, the town itself has cameras everywhere to track its movement and location, there are rules about outsiders, about coming and going, and so on. The witch herself has her mouth and eyes sewn shut for reasons lost to the modern world, but no one really dares to test whether it's necessary. Kids prank the witch, sometimes they just put a drape over her when she's in the way, but it's the big elephant in the room. Of course, some teens have had enough, and what they do disrupts the entire town and the tenuous existence that they exist in.

In many ways, this reminded me of Wayward Pines in a sense, in that there are a lot of minor story points revealed along the way that help explain some of the weirdness. But, while it has its elements that remind me of certain things, what's great about this book is how utterly unique it is. This is a story that can't exist in any other time, and can't exist without the international discussions about the internet, about modern surveillance, and without the sorts of stories horror books tell about humanity in and of itself. There's never a dull moment here, and it just makes for an amazing read.

This is an interesting read, too, because the original story is in a different language and has a different ending specific to that area. I don't know what that ending is, but man, if it's half as good as the English language one, I hope it gets translated. For now, though, if you like weird stories at all, you need to shoot this to the top of your list. One of my favorite recent reads.

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17 January 2017

Review: Martians Abroad

Martians Abroad Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Martians Abroad is a great story about kids being sent off to a boarding school and the sort of intrigue that goes on within their walls according to the relevant tropes. What's surprising is that this book is not marketed as YA while doing so.

The story follows two kids, one of which desires to be an interplanetary pilot. Being from Mars, this adds a collection of extra difficulties, both from the Martian educational system not being well-respected to Mars kids themselves having to adjust to Earth culture (never mind gravity). While Charles is perfectly willing to go along with whatever, his twin sister Polly is not so interested in simply going along with things, and we get to watch as her strong will both helps and hurts her along.

In terms of a straightforward boarding school story, this works really well. The science fictional elements are obvious, but spend a lot of time being secondary in favor of solid characterization and an interesting story with a lot of wrinkles. It reads as YA, though, and this might be a turn-off for some readers (including fans of Carrie Alexander), although it wasn't for me. In a time where Tor has marketed some adult stuff as YA recently, the marketing of this as "adult" is especially puzzling, but that's just one of the weird publishing downsides to this. If you're open to reading this sort of thing, you should absolutely get on board, as this was a fun ride.


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08 January 2017

Review: Heartless

Heartless Heartless by Matthew Rossi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Matt Rossi continues to make some interesting and compelling fiction, and Heartless, the second book in the Nameless series, takes a different tack that works really well for the series. Where Heartless felt like more of a focus on a traditional-style fantasy informed by video game narratives and interesting fantasy/horror tropes, Heartless succeeds in flipping the script around. It leads with some cool action and then moves into a narrative that is more about people coping with the world they're now in, complete with our heroes involved in romantic trysts and real-world scenarios while everything else around them is insane.

It's a way to handle a story that I can't say I've read before, and the result is a story with a different style of investment compared to other epics or urban fantasy tales. If you're looking for a lot more action similar to the first book, this might be a jolt to the system, but the character base here, and the way our heroes interact with each other? That's where the quality comes into play.

This isn't to say the book is perfect. The way the book handles its action sequences this time around does not have the same feel as the first book, and the dialogue sequences on occasion feel more informed by the setup in games than in real life, but these are more nitpicky issues than true dealbreakers for the story. At the end of the day, this book was a solid and enjoyable read. My only regret is that I didn't get to it sooner.

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07 January 2017

Review: At The Cemetery Gates: Year One

At The Cemetery Gates: Year One At The Cemetery Gates: Year One by John Brhel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this closer to Halloween (I'm...a little behind), and this collection of short tales by Brhel and Sullivan evoke a lot of solid nostalgia. Much like their collection Marvelry's Curiosity Shop, Cemetery Gates is absolutely a love letter to campfire tales and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark alike.

Plenty of short tales throughout this play up classic horror tropes, from situations in cars to familiar assailants, but what makes this work is the pacing, which provides a very specific tone while still tossing in some surprises and not taking too long. The result is a number of bite-sized horror treats that strike an equal balance between fun and creepy.

What's worth noting beyond the basic enjoyable nature of these stories is the way Brhel and Sullivan are improving as storytellers from their earlier work. Even if this wasn't a solid read, I'm definitely looking forward to whatever it is that comes next.

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Review: Love and First Sight

Love and First Sight Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was pretty excited to see Josh Sunquist diving into YA fiction. Sundquist's We Should Hang Out Sometime was a great, relatable memoir, and seeing a book that might have some of his signature humor and storytelling in fiction form was fun to see. The book isn't perfect, but it ends up being a fairly pleasant read nonetheless.

In this book, Will is a blind student entering a regular school for the first time. He's able to be largely independent, but he makes a series of mistakes that start things off weird, but he quickly settles in with a group of people and ends up falling for a girl. The girl is guarded, but when Josh receives a chance to take part in an experimental treatment that could give him sight, he's forced to confront a lot of what he thinks he knows.

It's an interesting story, for sure, and has a lot of good, basic messages about disability and acceptance that aren't a bludgeon. The writing itself is kind of simple, which is maybe a drawback for some but worked for the story being told, and the end result of a surprising science fiction element of sorts made it even more enjoyable for me, personally. I'm not entirely sure whether this will work for all audiences, but with the rise of disability lit throughout, this definitely deserves to be part of the broader conversation. Absolutely worth a look.

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Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Under Rose-Tainted Skies Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sick lit, as of late, seems to be moving back toward the mental illness realm after spending time with various terminal illnesses. Under Rose-Tainted Skies has some different things happening, from the OCD area to the whole shut-in idea, and it ultimately doesn't really offer much in the way of new ground.

It tells the story of a girl, Norah, who is so crippled by her agoraphobia that even going to the front porch is a problem. A new cute boy is across the street, tries to strike up a friendship, and it's just more and more complicated when feelings get involved.

The overall tone of this book is very straightforward, and I think the big flaw is that we don't ever get an opportunity to really feel sympathetic to Norah, as she's a character who doesn't seem to recognize anything happening to her and gets very "woe is me" while rejecting the help she needs. It's a realistic portrayal in a sense, but it's not one that lends itself to a quality narrative, especially in a genre that's littered with similar books, both modern and in the past. The love interest is almost too perfect in a way, as well, which simply plays off of Norah in a bad way as well. Some more obvious flaws would have helped.

Overall, this is fine. It's not great, but it isn't terrible, either. With so many other books in front of it along the way, this isn't one I would put at the head of the line, but if this is your favored genre, it might be worth a look.

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