29 July 2016

Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matter Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blake Crouch is getting the overdue success he deserves with how popular Wayward Pines ended up. While one can complain about his plotting or writing style, he's probably best at coming up with unique and different takes on a long-standing genre. In Dark Matter, he's approaching the multiverse with a great story and a little bit of sadism.

The story is about one man, kidnapped and drugged and seemingly left for dead. He comes to in a hospital, and is quickly informed as to why things are not as they seem, but has a way out. But the resources are finite and the avenues are a little strange as he jumps from new universe to new universe in an attempt to find his way back home.

I think this is well-trod territory, and the combination of action and the way the different universes are presented is unique in its own way. There's a good amount of action, and the characters are good enough where you definitely feel invested in the outcome. I could quibble about some of the choices, perhaps with how the universes are put forward, but the climax is so weird and wonderful as to forgive any faults that are there. I really loved how it finished up, and that means this is an enjoyable, sometimes pulpy read.

Definitely recommended.

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25 July 2016

Review: Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned"

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" by Lena Dunham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's a bit on an episode of Family Guy where Peter Griffin, the father, confesses that he doesn't like The Godfather. His reasoning? "It insists upon itself."

Thus my feeling on Not That Kind of Girl.

I come into this liking Lena Dunham's work on a whole. She's perhaps a little too arsty and big-I-Important for a lot of tastes (mine included), but Girls is great and Tiny Furniture was great, so why not?

The problem is that this is really just in Dunham's voice throughout, and there are just a lot of really frustrating things about her and her personality that ring throughout. If you find Dunham insufferable, you'll want to shake her when she talks about college boyfriends or summer camp. If you find her charming, her stories from childhood will be inspiring and fun. Those who pick up this book already have an opinion on Dunham, and it's just going to transfer onto the writing, for better or for worse.

With the controversy surrounding this book (in context, it's not nearly as bad as it's portrayed regarding her sister), it's hard to simply read it, so kind of take everything in stride. Honestly, unless you're really into Dunham both as an artist and a person, this isn't something you'll enjoy. I found it to be what it was, but I don't think I feel great about picking it up, either.

Closer to a 2.5.

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22 July 2016

Review: Black Magick, Volume 1: Awakening, Part One

Black Magick, Volume 1: Awakening, Part One Black Magick, Volume 1: Awakening, Part One by Greg Rucka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's a shame Rucka is embroiled in a bit of a controversy regarding Wonder Woman at the time I write this, because it might cause people to overlook what was a really fun, really brilliant start to a comic series.

In Black Magick, witches are real, and one of them, Rowan, is a detective. She's called into a hostage situation where the perpetrator asks for her specifically, and things go haywire. Rowan has to balance out the issues she's facing in the mundane world in this case along with a more supernatural situation unfolding around her.

The art feels modern while suggesting a more noirish bent, which works wonders in this case. The result is a read that kept me riveted almost from the moment I opened the book, and the possibilities of where this could end up are just wide open. It's a great reminder as to why Greg Rucka is so good at what he does regardless of any drama surrounding him, and it's a series I can't wait to dive back into. Absolutely essential.

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18 July 2016

Review: Carter & Lovecraft

Carter & Lovecraft Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

There's a lot of fanservice in this book, and that's not a bad thing considering that the Cthulhu Mythos is really fanservice in and of itself. Carter and Lovecraft absolutely embraces that, though, and it mostly works throughout.

Carter is a detective-turned-private investigator following the solving of a rather grisly serial killer case involving kids and the suicide of his partner. He ends up in Providence as the sole inheritor of an estate that includes a bookstore run by a woman who is the direct descendant of HP Lovecraft. Not long after his arrival, though, some strange murders occur and they seem to be circling around him.

There are plenty of little Mythos Easter eggs hidden throughout, some more obvious than others, and the pacing of the story helps that a bit. It has a lot of mystery elements which are a little disjointed (especially considering how important they are to the plot), and the characterizations feel a little thin, but the payoff is awesome and sets up nicely for future volumes.

Overall? Good candy for Lovecraft fans and supernatural mystery readers alike. More than enough fun to go around.

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16 July 2016

Review: Project Beta: The Story of Paul Bennewitz, National Security, and the Creation of a Modern UFO Myth

Project Beta: The Story of Paul Bennewitz, National Security, and the Creation of a Modern UFO Myth Project Beta: The Story of Paul Bennewitz, National Security, and the Creation of a Modern UFO Myth by Greg Bishop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

I forget what the conversation was that turned me onto this book, but considering the constant enjoyment I get from UFOs and first contact stuff as well a weird government conspiracies, this book is a nice little intersection for all of those things.

In this book, though, it's about the federal government allegedly actively waging a disinformation campaign with one man who was seeing more than he should have near a military base. The lengths and the depth of the disinformation campaign are impressive on their own, and the end result is something both fascinating and infuriating, given the source of the disinformation.

The book itself is a pretty quick, straightforward read, and that's probably where the flaw is. Little effort is made to make this an engaging read as much as a straightforward popcorn flick, and that's unfortunate because there are other books like it that make for a more compelling narrative with the description of the events. Still, there's a fair amount of meat here, and a fairly fascinating take on a piece of American lore that gets basically zero play.

Worth a read if you like UFOs and such, but far from a necessary one.

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12 July 2016

Review: The Last One

The Last One The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Last One is a weird book.

On the surface, we're talking about a story following the taping of a Survivor-style reality show. A lot of it seems sort of scripted and planned, but there's also some stuff happening that puts some doubt into the minds of the contestants as they work their way through the challenges and the show itself.

Especially since it's nearly Big Brother season as I read this, the way this handles reality TV does deserve some credit, as it places us right inside the production aspect as well as following people around as it happens. Unfortunately, this limitation makes for some difficult transitions as the story continues, and the level of unreality to get to accepting what's going on in the story as legitimate ultimately ended up being a bridge too far. Instead of an ambiguous scenario or a direct one, it takes its time getting to where it's heading and does so at the overall detriment of the narrative.

This was okay. Not great, but not bad, either. Fairly readable, but not one I would ultimately recommend. Closer to a 2.5.

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10 July 2016

Review: Compass South

Compass South Compass South by Hope Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hope Larson knows what she's doing, and the result is another solid, albeit flawed, graphic novel. This one a swashbuckling pirate adventure with two kids on different ships, I found it to be a fast page-turning adventure story that is worth reading for anyone who likes graphic novels for the younger set.

The downsides here are that the story itself feels fairly thin, especially in comparison to a lot of her other work, and that the art style here lends itself to a more of an anime feel than a traditional read, and that didn't really work for me on a whole with the tone and story.

I hesitate to call this a miss (and it's probably closer to a 3.5 overall for me), but this is just good, not great graphic novel from someone who we're used to getting closer on the side of great. Still works well for the age group and is worth paying attention to, though.

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09 July 2016

Review: In the Dust of This Planet

In the Dust of This Planet In the Dust of This Planet by Eugene Thacker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I learned of this book from an episode of Radiolab where the cover for this title was featured on a jacket worn by Jay-Z. Weirdly enough, the topic matter (philosophy and horror writing) was something I've been enjoying as of late, and with a nod from Thomas Ligotti, I got my hands on a copy of this.

It's a little dense, and maybe a little out there, but especially in the times we're in currently, it's interesting to read about horror writing in a more existential plane. Much like how we can trace Lovecraft's work to his existential wranglings, the idea posed here is that this horror renaissance of sorts (especially with the more nihilistic looks given by Ligotti and the like) is a reflection of a world we're struggling with ourselves.

As someone who reads horror and the weird more for the different concepts and ideas than the standard tropes that come along with fantasy and science fiction these days, I don't know if I relate 100% with the premise, but I appreciate the take on it nonetheless.

If you're into cultural criticism and horror/weird fiction, this is something you should seek out if you can find a copy. There are two other books in this series that I hope to pick up eventually, as Thacker does present some good ideas to think about here.

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Review: The Dark Forest

The Dark Forest The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked The Three-Body Problem even though I wasn't totally connected with it. I love a first contact story, and there were some cultural touchstones I had missed that probably kept me from loving it, but I still wanted to dive into the sequel and see where it was going.

The Dark Forest may now be one of my favorite science fiction books of all time.

Taking place shortly after the first book, we immediately get an idea as to what's happening with the impending invasion (with one of the coldest final statements to humanity in the first few pages I've read), and then a long tale about how the world reacts. The way it's set up and progresses is a very unique response to a very unique situation set up in the first book (I'm trying not to give too much away, but imagine humanity fighting against omniscience), and the way it results is equally riveting and maddening.

I also have to say that I thought the translation in the first book was fine, but what we see with the translation this time feels a lot more natural and fits the themes and the story better. I found this to be a much more enjoyable read prose-wise than Three Body, for what it's worth. The Cultural Revolution parallels are also a little less central to the plot, meaning that the gateways to the story aren't as difficult. This ultimately ends up being a much more accessible read with a traditional trope turned on its head a bit.

I truly loved reading this. I can't wait for the English translation of the final book this fall because I have no idea what's coming next, and that's awesome. If it's even close to as good as this was, this might end up being an all-time series.

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08 July 2016

Review: But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past

But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is like the best drunken bar conversation you've ever had.

You know exactly what I mean by that, because we've all had it. On our third (or eighth) beer, we start waxing philosophical about books or movies or what we ate for dinner, and it feels profound in the moment even though it's not at all. And those conversations are the best! Why? They get you thinking outside the box a little bit, and every so often you get that pearl of wisdom that you hang onto.

Chuck Klosterman has always been great at putting forth really solid, thought-provoking discussions and arguments about the culture around us. But What If We're Wrong, though, feels like a step further, where it becomes more a discussion about the place of culture and how we're responding to it, and it feels both ridiculous and deep, essential and arbitrary, and ultimately, a book I didn't feel like I wanted to put down at any point. And only Klosterman could really pull this off, as well, because there's just so much here that requires us to accept his authority as what it is.

I can't overstate how much I loved this. Maybe I'm putting too much meaning into it, but every time I finished a section or chapter, I felt like I got a better appreciation for the topic whether I agreed or not. And nonfiction should be like that. It should make us think a little more, especially when the topic is one of modern and present culture, and especially when the common consensus in so many circles is how disposable it is. I call this a must read for everyone, but we can say that about a lot of Klosterman's work. Ultimately, though, this is a really timely read that's worth the investment. Hopefully, you won't think I'm wrong...

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Review: nameless: a novel

nameless: a novel nameless: a novel by Matthew Rossi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ultimately closer to a 4.5.

Matthew Rossi, if you know his writing, is best known for his work on World of Warcraft information. For me, it was his weird essays on alternative histories and cultures (Bottled Demon being my favorite, but his three previous reads were all great). He had hinted on Twitter about the novel he was working on, and it got released and I finally got to read it.

And how do I sum it up? It's like a mainstream weird horror novel... and then Santa Claus shows up in a major battle.

I'm kind of glad I approached this from having read Bottled Demon and the like, because the conceits behind the good versus evil mindsets here are absolutely established in this sort of skewed look at genre the way Rossi has taken a skewed look at history and noteworthy events in his previous books. The pacing allows for the story to move along, and the number of true curveballs that Rossi throws from both main characters and major events alike means that the book is a page-turner in a different sense. It's not so much that you want to know what happens next (because you do), but because you end up wondering what craziness is happening next.

In that it doesn't really fit in well with the current weird and is perhaps a little too reliant on those curveballs is the one negative, but it's far from anything resembling a dealbreaker for how solid this book truly is. It has something for fans of horror, of the current weird fiction trend, of urban fantasy, and of slight absurdism. In the end, you really can't go wrong on this one.

There is apparently a sequel planned, and the best praise I can think of for this book comes from that fact. The ability of this book to surprise me over and over again is what will get me coming back to what's been established here as soon as possible. It's just a lot of fun in a genre that is often lacking it, and that's worth the time to take part.

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05 July 2016

Review: The Crown

The Crown The Crown by Kiera Cass
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Truly closer to a 2.5.

I have been a major evangelist for this series since I found out about it, and while I think everyone was of the understanding that the trilogy didn't need any extra sequels, there was no reason to believe that they'd be anything more than superfluous baggage. With how poorly this final volume turned out, though...

The final two books are about the princess daughter of our heroine from the first trilogy. Running a Selection of her own, she's narrowed it down to the final few suitors, and we get to see some of the political machinations that Princess Eadlyn is facing down.

The problems with this book are so, so many. For one, the actual Selection process takes a back seat to a lot of weird political posturing. There's an outside party trying to spin public opinion toward his attempt at claiming an engagement with Eadlyn that is unrealistic on its own, and we essentially fast-forward the whole Selection simply because of a somewhat convenient plot point that almost appears to exist because of the lack of ideas to make it work. The ending is also telegraphed from a mile away, there's a lot of forced agenda throughout (especially in a series that balanced the princess fantasy with a strong female character who forged her own path in a believable fashion), and it just feels like a mess. Considering how unnecessary these last two books were, it's hard not to wonder whether there weren't a lot of ideas left at all.

I'm still a really big fan of the first trilogy. The last couple books don't take away from the main story at all, but this just wasn't a good idea to start, and it appears that the final book kind of proves that. Just not enough here to defend.

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Review: Learning to Swear in America

Learning to Swear in America Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are certain types of stories that will always hook me in, almost no matter what. Stories where an asteroid is hurtling toward earth for an extinction-level event is certainly one of them, and Learning to Swear in American is a YA title that handles the concept in a fun and different way. With shades of The Martian as well as a basic fish-out-of-water/teen struggle story following a Russian teenager who figures out what's going on with the asteroid and how to stop it, this ends up being a really enjoyable story on a whole with a fun lead character, a slightly-realistic-but-still-out-there premise, and a lot of interesting little tidbits on the side.

The science focus is a fun plus, as is the relationships and the Americanization of the teen in many ways. There are so many subtle things that happen in this book that I loved as an adult reader, and there's enough for everyone in the intended audience that this ends up being one of the better YA books out this year. Plus, look at that cover!

Highly recommended. Really a fun read from start to finish.

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Review: Autumn's Wish

Autumn's Wish Autumn's Wish by Bella Thorne
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

The Autumn series has been fairly up-and-down over its three books. The first was sweet, second kind of rough, but this third and final installment might be the best of the bunch.

In this book, it's senior year and we're looking ahead to college. Autumn is given another gift from her father, a watch that allows her to jump into the future and see where the path takes her. As she jumps back and forth, watching as her actions change the futures she's seeing, she has to figure out what's going on and what kind of future she wants before it's too late.

I'm a sucker for time travel tales, so it's no surprise this one resonated with me, but, outside of some perhaps unnecessary ramping up of the activities of the kids, this ends up being a pretty solid cap to a decent YA series. There's not a ton to say as the series continues into a more traditional YA story, but I like the family orientation here, I love how much Autumn cares about her friends, and I like the semi-consistency of the time changes in the story. Pretty well done on a whole.

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28 June 2016

Review: The World from Up Here

The World from Up Here The World from Up Here by Cecilia Galante
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like when books can surprise you. While The World From Up Here rightfully gets praise for its handling of a character with Asperger's, the impressive feat is how it dances with the stories we all tell and the way ideas and concepts spread regardless of evidence, both in our own families and in our town.

In the story, a girl has to stay with her cousin for a time when her mother is hospitalized. Her cousin is a little flighty and fearless, and the town has a big story about a witch who lives up on the hill. The cousin decides, for a class project, that she wants to interview the witch, and our protagonist is quickly forced to work outside of her comfort zone and get some things together.

It's a decent book, although I have a lot of reservations in play here. I found the cousin to be more than a little unrealistic in the context of this story - a Manic Pixie Dream Girl works in a John Green book, not a family story like this one. The benefit of how the story is structured is that the last act really keeps you guessing, especially about the witch. The ultimate problem, though, is that this tries to be a little heavier than it ends up being. It's a Rules-style story without the Rules-style weight, and that's why this stumbles a bit.

Overall, this book can and should find an audience, and I hope it does. I just wish it did a few things better.

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Review: My Miserable Life

My Miserable Life My Miserable Life by F.L. Block
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Francesca Lia Block is not an author I'm significantly fond of, but she is an author of a number of well-regarded/important young adult books. My Miserable Life is her first foray into middle grade, and it definitely carries some of the darker aspects of what we've come to expect from her realistic fiction while not losing the appropriateness or realism of the genre.

For Ben, nothing seems right. He can't seem to win with his folks or at school, his sister isn't really great to her, he's being bullied, and so he lashes out as one would expect. The story is told through journaling, often with his teacher, and we get some insight into not only what hits him emotionally, but how he copes (or in some cases doesn't).

The book is good, but not great. It's more nihilistic in a sense than the cover or title implies, and there's not a lot of humor to offset the depression. While it ends on an optimistic tone, getting there can be a bit of a downer. I appreciate, however, the realism in this book. I don't feel as if middle grade really handles this sort of emotional despair well, and this one certainly comes closest.

Overall, closer to a 3.5. There's definitely an audience for this, although it might be specific kids who would respond to this the best.

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27 June 2016

Review: Stiletto

Stiletto Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book took me eleven days to finish.

That doesn't happen to me very often, except when a book is, like, 1200 pages and I'm super busy, and that's not the case here. As someone who loved The Rook and evangelized it up and down to everyone I knew, I preordered this two years ago when it showed up on Amazon and I was so, so excited when it finally landed on my doorstep.

So why didn't this connect so well for me? I still don't know, but I have a few ideas.

For one, The Rook was great because of the world O'Malley developed. The world of the Checquy and what they're fighting was just off enough, and Myfawny was the perfect type of hero with a lot of interesting things happening to her from page one. Stiletto suffers from having a lead in Odette early on that simply isn't as engaging (by no fault of her own, as we learn later), and seeing as we already have an established universe in which to play, the expansion of what's happening just isn't the same. Granted, I am a sucker for worldbuilding, so I carry my own biases in this area, but if you're going to inflate a book a couple hundred pages, I might end up looking for more of it.

The solid part of the book, though, is that it does reward patience. The early part of the book has parts greater than the sum, but a reveal midway through ties it all together and created an investment for me that I didn't have before, and the book largely works its way to the finish in a much better state than it started. The book's lack of balance, however, ends up being its downfall - while I can think of a lot of different parts of The Rook that amused or resonated with me five years after the fact, Stiletto is missing a lot of those, resulting in a more standard narrative that just doesn't have the same heft.

I feel like I'm overly negative about a book that's probably closer to a 3.5, but it's worth noting that this book is just very different from its predecessor, and that the differences make for a lesser book as a result. Does it keep me from being excited about this series and where it might go? Will it keep me from recommending this series to everyone I know who likes quirky urban fantasy? No on all counts. But do I kind of wish this book was able to keep my interest and enthusiasm enough so I could finish it in three days instead of keeping me from other things I preferred to read for nearly twelve? Absolutely.

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18 June 2016

Review: Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let's put everything else aside for one moment - this series is amazing.

"Bitch Planet" is a prison planet in some sort of dystopian future run by a corrupt collection of politicians, and the planet is an all-women's facility, complete with the sort of collective abuse and degradation one would expect. There is a sport competition of sorts, the guards and those in charge want to use it to break some of the women, but they're not having it.

There's a definitive The Longest Yard-meets-Orange is the New Black with a dash of 1960s-70s exploitation film thing here that just works. Granted, Kelly Sue DeConnick is kind of awesome at this sort of thing, but the full package just works from top to bottom. It's a heavy read at times, but it's also a lot of fun along the way, too.

There's also a lesson here for other writers, especially in this era where there's a lot of socio-political pandering in fiction. DeConnick clearly went into this looking for a certain message about feminism, intersectionality, etc, etc. Those looking for the message will find it, but those who really prefer to leave that sort of thing out of their comics won't find that Bitch Planet beats you over the head with messaging in particular. The characters and story stand on their own, which is really important, and there's something here for everyone.

One of the best recent comic reads I've taken in. Can't wait for the next volume.

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17 June 2016

Review: The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld

The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld by Jamie Bartlett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you've been on the internet since the early 1990s, you've seen some things.

And yet, the internet itself has expanded out far beyond that since then, and the seedy underbelly gets some press but not a lot of the detail you'd expect. The Dark Net attempts to fix that by giving some short pieces and details from known things like the deep web and 4chan to lesser-known situations involving the GNAA and camgirls. The end result is a good read with some magazine-article-sized chunks of information throughout.

In a way, it only scratches the surface, both as a detailed read and of all the things that you might know of that the book doesn't cover. As I often feel with these more mainstream takes, I wish this had more detail, but that's a small complaint for what was a good read on a whole. Especially good for those who haven't been as ingrained in the culture.

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12 June 2016

Review: Calamity

Calamity Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With the finale of this series, Brandon Sanderson seals up what's been a pretty great series about superpowers gone rogue. While Calamity ties up a lot of the loose ends nicely, it does falter a bit by taking a while to get to the point before racing toward a conclusion.

What I found interesting was some of the tropes Sanderson chose to work with in the final portions of this book. Without giving anything away (and the books have been derivative, but not in a bad way), the way to the conclusion here was surprising in its lack of real risk, especially given the way the series has been handled so far. A subverted trope un-subverted, in a sense.

Either way, though, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better modern science fiction tale for YA these days, and Brandon Sanderson is an absolute master in nearly everything he does anyway, so this series was still very solid on a whole. If anything, it might have benefited from another volume to expand on what was here in this book.

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08 June 2016

Review: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part of why I've enjoyed everything I've read from Erik Larson up to now is that he dives deep into topics that I have a lot of interest in. With Dead Wake, this was his first foray into a topic I didn't care as much about, the sinking of the Lusitania.

There are a lot of interesting geopolitical notes about the sinking of the Lusitania that take a backseat to the lives of the people on the ship as well as many of the U-Boat/submarine operators who were serving in the Atlantic at the time. This serves as a narrative where you spend a lot of time waiting for that eventual shoe to drop, as everyone knows what's coming right away. This isn't a bad way to do it, but it ends up feeling less like a history story (a la The Devil in the White City) and more a social history. The balance struck here isn't the same as the balance in his other books, so that's probably the one downer.

Still, Larson is a master at what he does. If this ends up being the worst thing he ever publishes, it's still better than most everything else like it out there. I wouldn't not recommend it, it's just that the story has a different feel to it than his other works.

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Review: Modern Romance

Modern Romance Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5.

I'm an Aziz fan, so I'm probably going to like what he's up to anyway. Hearing about what this book was about to start, I knew it wasn't a humor book as much as a book on dating from a humorist, so there's that. Also, having been out of the dating pool for 12+ years now, it's not a topic that's remotely relevant to me, but I also love stories about data and modern... everything. So then there's this, where Ansari actually spent a lot of time talking to those who are dating, plenty of data scientists, people who run services and apps, and gives a pretty basic, top-down overview as to what it's like to date today.

I can't say whether it's representative or anything, but it's an impressive take and Ansari offers such a good conversational tone as well as a good level of humor to make this worth the time. It maybe fails from not being detailed enough, and he even cops to it early in detailing his focus, but it's mostly a nitpick. This is a good read for fans of his as well as those who like pop sociology books.

I waited a while to pick this one up, and I kind of hate myself for waiting so long. Give it a read.

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Review: The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sometimes books aren't for me, and this book, positioned as a fun urban fantasy-ish tale of mystical librarians was extremely reminiscent of the Deborah Harkness books in terms of overall feel, but with a much lighter touch. For me, the lack of real meat ended my enjoyment of this before it started, and nothing grabbed be through its entire duration.

Those looking for something a little less significant, this might be for you. Otherwise, though, there's just not enough here to like to spend any significant time with.

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07 June 2016

Review: The Fireman

The Fireman The Fireman by Joe Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I will preface this by saying that I don't feel that I "got" this book.

On the basic level, this is a strange, post-apocalyptic thing with the Joe Hill touch. People have a disease that eventually makes them combust, and one man is able to control it. The story is somewhat about him, but also about the other people surrounding him, and people sort of figuring out how to exist in the world they're in.

I don't know if there's another message here, or if there's just the sort of inventive way of dealing with existing horror/fantasy tropes that Hill does so well. It's a very well-written page turner, for sure, and there are a lot of little nods throughout that are nice to see, but I can't help comparing it to NOS4A2 (given the similar size/scope) or even Heart-Shaped Box, both of which just seem to work better across the board.

I guess I was just looking for a little more meat, a little something different than what I got. It's a solid read, and if you're into horror or Hill at all, this is basically a must-read, but knowing what he's done before and what he's really capable of on a whole, this just seems like a misfire on a whole. If you want to try Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box probably has to come first, but this is probably just a book that shouldn't be at the top of your priority list.

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01 June 2016

Review: Anomaly

Anomaly Anomaly by Skip Brittenham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've generally had a struggle, for whatever reason, with science fiction graphic novels. Something about the format mixed with the topic rarely seems to click, but I read something from Skip Brittenham not too long ago and saw this graphic novel available, and I had to check it out.

The story is basically about an interplanetary expedition to bring a planet into a confederation, but the system malfunctions and space flight issues keep the team stranded on this planet. The team is quickly attacked and enslaved, and the story is about them dealing with this new situation and how they get out.

There isn't a ton of new ground from a story perspective here. However it is a well-executed attempt with engaging characters and a few cool surprises along the way. The artwork is essentially 3-D renders that are painted, so some might find the visuals a little off-putting, but I thought it worked great for what was being presented. Also, there are apparently some augmented reality options that I didn't explore, but if you read this and are into that sort of thing, it's an added bonus.

Overall, though, on the basic level of a cool science fiction graphic novel (in an impossibly large format, I should add), I certainly enjoyed this. Worth a look if you can get your hands on a copy.

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31 May 2016

Review: Save Me a Seat

Save Me a Seat Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of Sarah Weeks after reading Pie however long ago, and pretty much anything she does is an automatic for me at this point. Save Me a Seat is a collaborative effort with first-time author Gita Varadarajan, and, while flawed, ends up being a charming book about acceptance and friendship.

The story follows two kids. One, Joe, has some special educational needs and is struggling in school but at least knows how to navigate the social aspects a bit. Ravi, our other main character, just moved into town. An Indian-American boy, he speaks with an accent and his family is proud of their heritage, but it's causing him some distress at school both in terms of outright bullying and smaller issues. Over the course of a week, we follow these two kids who get to know each other in a specialized class for struggling students.

On one hand, the book is a really charming story about friendship and acceptance. We get just enough in the way of the cultural and social navigation to be a good entry point for the intended age group without overwhelming the story, which is good. On the downside, some of the issues are a little heavy-handed, and I probably noticed it more because of my awareness of the current literary climate in regards to cultural issues than a regular 10 year old reading this would. Still, it's not enough by any standard to not recommend this across the board.

Sarah Weeks continues to be great, and I also hope we get more from Gita Varadarajan as well. This was a wonderful read for everyone.

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Review: Sing

Sing Sing by Vivi Greene
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I'm not part of Taylor's Squad or whatever, I can appreciate what she's accomplishing culturally and I find the constant attention to her personal life to be fascinating even if the details don't matter much to me. Sing absolutely takes advantage of that cultural zeitgeist (up to and including the obvious cover) and succeeds extremely well in the process.

The story follows one of the biggest pop singers in the world months away from her next tour. Her album is coming out and it's basically about her boyfriend, but they just broke up, so Lily heads to a small island to get away from it all and maybe write some new songs there. She, of course, meets another boy and things are hit off a bit, and the story quickly becomes about this balance between work, fame, and love.

It's a surprisingly quiet book for this genre and age group, which was sort of refreshing. You got a good sense of the speed that things move on these small island/coastal towns (I could absolutely picture this taking place on Cape Cod), and while the book doesn't throw you much in the way of curveballs, this felt different enough across the board where I fully enjoyed it from start to finish.

Definitely worth your time if you're into the contemporary YA stuff. A fun, solid read.

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30 May 2016

Review: Lily and Dunkin

Lily and Dunkin Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lily and Dunkin is one of the latst in a long line of stories about trans kids and, in part, the trans experience. I've read a number of these now, and I think this one might be the best even with some of its flaws and sameness.

On one side we have Lily, an eight grader born Timothy that is seen out front of his house by a classmate in a dress. That classmate, Dunkin, has bipolar disorder and has been treating it, but just moved into town and he's not taking it well. The two strike up a bond and friendship even as the world around them changes rapidly.

An issue with the trans books for YA and middle grade, at least so far, is that the stories all follow a similar trajectory. I appreciated what Donna Gephardt did in contrasting one story that few readers will be able to relate to in Lily's tale with a more accessible one in Dunkin's, but Lily's story does still suffer from that sort of sameness that others like it have followed. Plus, having to handle sensitive and confusing topics for this age group is difficult as is, and Lily's story in particular has its share of difficult-to-read parts from an emotional standpoint.

Still, this is miles ahead of George (in spite of some of the age differences), and easily the best in the space I've read in spite of a lot of the tropes being replicated here. The trend of featuring trans issues in books for kids and teens isn't going to go anywhere anytime soon, and it's great that we have one that is mostly appropriate and well-written. Especially if you're running a library and looking for the right book in this topic space, this one is worth your time.

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Review: Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend

Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Probably closer to a 2.5 or so.

When you see a book titled Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend, you pretty much have to scoop it up, right? I got an early copy of this, was very excited, and it left me... I don't know.

The story takes place at a high school where a pterodactyl randomly shows up. And he's hot. And the girls like him, as do a lot of people in town. And he plays football. And when you get romantic with the pterodactyl, you're branded in a way. and the whole thing really turns the town upside down.

The book was inspired by a quote at a writing summit, where an author recommended to the writers to not "go writing your hot pterodactyl boyfriend novel." So, of course, this guy does exactly that and kind of proves exactly why it was a bad idea. I still wonder if there was a good was to put this story together, but there was a lot of ridiculousness beyond the initial conceit added in on this (including an ending where it all completely goes off the rails) that ultimately makes this not even too much fun as a curiosity. I can't even recommend this as sort of campy fun, unfortunately, it just doesn't work.

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29 May 2016

Review: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 2: Squirrel You Know It's True

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 2: Squirrel You Know It's True The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 2: Squirrel You Know It's True by Ryan North
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the first volume of the rebooted/"new" Squirrel Girl. The second volume? I just felt like saying "yeah, that's enough."

It's not that she's not necessarily fun, or that it's not necessarily well-written or anything like that. The character is fun, in capable hands, and so on. It's just kind of exhaustingly self-aware already, a sort of self-congratulatory idea behind it that's nodding to a lot of the discussion surrounding the property these days that I could have just done without. If you want to wink at the meta, wink at the meta, y'know?

There's so much that could be done with this character, and I wasn't seeing it from this in what I felt was kind of an annoying fashion. Maybe we'll get some better expansion moving forward, but so much of the major comics right now don't seem to know what they're doing and it's a little frustrating to see such a positive comic possibly head down this road, too.

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