29 August 2017

Review: Ban This Book

Ban This Book Ban This Book by Alan Gratz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ban This Book is the latest in a long line of middle-grade reads designed to send a message about a school/societal ill using precocious kids subverting authority. This is basically the Frindle of banned books, and as a message title that deals with a long-discussed topic, it's absolutely fine.

This book will appeal to the readers that it's geared toward in part due to the cameos of sorts by a lot of their favorite titles and authors - Dav Pilkey and Captain Underpants both feature broadly in this book in particular - and while the book does veer into unlikely territory as the arms race escalates, you can almost forgive it for the overall message.

While I fear this is more a book for librarians than for kids, there's enough kid appeal here to get through the noise, and Alan Gratz is a known name in slightly older circles in his writing, so this has a lot of promise. I don't know if I'd put it ahead of the Clements "School Stories," but it's worth being part of the discussion.

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28 August 2017

Review: The Secret History of Twin Peaks

The Secret History of Twin Peaks The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am totally and completely obsessed with Twin Peaks right now, and having an hour of The Return every week just hasn’t been enough. Now we have The Secret history, written by David Lynch’s Peaks partner Mark Frost, that acts as a document dump of the weird happenings that led us to what happened in the show.

From a basic “this scratches an itch” standpoint, this was a wonderful diversion. So much going on here that I loved, from the tiny Easter eggs to giving a much fuller accounting of some of my favorite characters and moments. Frost litters in a lot of real history (Lewis and Clark factor heavily into the Peaks Mythos, it turns out) in with the information established by the show, and we end up with a lot of background into some of the more important characters. With that said, it’s not all coffee and cherry pie – there’s a lot of diversions into UFO culture and more basic conspiracy theories that not only don’t quite fit into the overall Peaks experience, but almost divert it away from there. Plus, if you’ve watched The Return, some key moments in the show (most notably the happenings in Episode 8), barely factor into this book at all. An odd choice, perhaps, but one that I would have liked to see resolved – and maybe it will be in the companion to this that’s releasing soon.

Overall, though? One big Agent Cooper thumbs-up from me on this one. A great companion to a classic show, and a solid guidebook to The Return on a whole.

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Review: The Uploaded

The Uploaded The Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been keeping up with Ferrett Steinmetz for over 15 years on various internet platforms, and I’ve been jumping at the chance to read his books ever since he got an agent and was able to publish traditionally. His Flex series is a solid read across three books, and perhaps should have gotten more attention than they ended up receiving, but The Uploaded is Steinmetz’s shot at techno-dystopia. It… doesn’t always work.

Effectively, imagine if, instead of Social Security, the older folks moved their consciousness online instead. And they still got to run things, and it was up to the rest of us to maintain their servers and their way of life until it was out turn. That’s the idea behind this story, which follows some people who are willing to fight to undo the status quo.

The good on this is that, as with the Flex trilogy (and with some insight on how Steinmetz writes), there’s really not a wasted word here. The poetic-yet-seemingly-direct way he gets the plot from point A to point B is as much of a joy here as it was in his previous works. The issue, though, is that this is less of a story that lends itself to that sort of treatment. The Uploaded is reminiscent a lot of the sort of Cory Doctorow technopunk that has really hit home in the last few years, and the writing doesn’t always fit it. This means that the book does feel like it’s meandering off a bit in ways that were not probably intended. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the way that everything works out kept me engaged, but it’s not the same as Flex and doesn’t quite hit the same notes the same way as other books in this genre.

I don’t want to call it a miss, because the book still has its share of action and awesomeness. It’s just not great the way the Flex series was, and it’s just quite good in a lot of others. If the concept grabs you, the book probably will as well, but this is not as direct a recommendation for this book the way others might be. Dystopia, especially today, can be a tough sell, and the book makes a good attempt at being up to the challenge. Closer to a 3.5.

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Review: Nxt: the Future is Now

Nxt: the Future is Now Nxt: the Future is Now by Jon Robinson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I know better at this point than to read books like this. Still, as a wrestling fan who really, really likes NXT as a brand and product, I heard enough positive things in other reviews in wrestling circles about some of the insight this book gives into the overall project and process to give it a read.

The bad news? The morsels of interest are completely buried under a mountain of promotion and marketing that is so overbearing that it’s hard not to skim through portions as they’re repeated for the third, fourth, seemingly fifth time. The glowing adoration of everything NXT is doing from the wrestling talent to the complete lack of any indication that there haven’t been issues (like, most notably, the Bill DeMott bullying/hazing issue) makes this book almost indefensible outside of being a marketing piece, never mind a piece of literature that a publisher expects human beings to pay for. This isn’t a tie-in book or anything like that, it’s just a 200 page glossy profile that misses what makes the subject truly great.

Do not waste your time with this. Find a few posts on the internet highlighting the interesting takeaways from this book, and pretend the total package never existed. You’ll be better off.

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Review: Furnace

Furnace Furnace by Livia Llewellyn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I mentioned before, in my review for Gemma Files’s short story collection, that body horror ain’t really my thing. This book was mentioned in a Twin Peaks group I follow, noting that the story the collection takes its title from has a real Peaks-ian quality to it.

It does, but where this collection shines is in a lot of the other stories. The author isn’t afraid to put much of anything out there, and the result is a dark, often uncomfortable, occasionally psychosexual journey through a series of unrelated stories that hit that sweet spot of unsettling and thought-provoking. Considering how deep I’ve fallen into the New Weird/New Horror pit as of late, I’m frankly surprised this collection doesn’t get more attention.

Give “Furnace” a shot as a story, try the cowboy romance piece, and you’ll get a feel for the writing and want to spend a lot more time with this one. Just a great read, and one I’ll be recommending for some time.

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23 August 2017

Review: Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency

Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency by Joshua Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I dove into this book in the middle of a week that ended with Steve Bannon either getting fired or having his resignation take effect. So while part of me was laughing at the timing of reading this book when it didn't matter so much anymore, it was actually a solid read that gives a pretty solid background as to how we got the Trump we have now.

The story is less about Bannon (who is an interesting figure all his own) and more about his political impacts as of late. We get a surface-level look at how his history influenced his takeover of Breitbart and, later, the Trump campaign, and how his gadflyish attitude informs the current political conversation. On these points, this book is very interesting and informative. The book stumbles a bit when Green leaves the world of fact and begins editorializing a bit, but those places are few and far between and ultimately don't matter.

How long the legs for a book like this can be, I truly don't know. But if you're looking for a read about the current situation that is relevant to the now? Find a copy. It's likely to be pretty illuminating.

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