30 August 2015

Review: Ultima

Ultima Ultima by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ultima is the second and final book of this duology that had a first book that basically took the entirety of the story to reach a good payoff. The way it ended so clearly redeemed the concept that I was curious as to how the sequel would figure everything out, and the result is a book that is even better than its predecessor and turned this into one of my favorite duologies. Spoilers going forward.

The end of Proxima had our crew running into a group of people who were speaking Latin. What we quickly learn is that the hatches from book one are designed as portals into alternate dimensions, and where our crew happens to be is an alternate universe where the Roman Empire continued its dominance. The story continues along the same lines as time progresses and we visit more universes and the mysteries are untangled.

I love both time travel and alternate universe stories, so the fact that Ultima was able to exceed my already-high expectations is awesome. I understand a lot of the flaws in the story and why some aren't finding it to be as great as I am, but it's a great mix of genres (including a way to do alternate history without disrupting existing timelines) that just hit all the right spots for me.

Definitely recommended for sci-fi fans and people who like weird alternate histories. A fun ride.

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27 August 2015

Review: Time Salvager

Time Salvager Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Time travel is tough to get right. There are a lot of factors that go into it, and typically works are okay as long as the rules are consistent within the universe. Time Salvager succeeds in that regard, but ultimately peters out in the second half once the concepts have been exhausted a bit.

In the tale we have James, working as a "chronman" to grab resources from the past and bring them into the future for use without destroying the timeline in the process. There are ways to see how actions impact the timeline, which is why there are so many important laws of time to follow. James meets Elise on one of his missions and brings her back to his present to save her life, and now they're on the run.

Great concept, and good execution in the first half. Once we're largely centralized in one spot, though, this becomes more of an action/escape movie than a time travel novel, which, while appealing to some, ends up not being the same strength as the first half. I'd say it's almost like a Michael Bay movie, but since Michael Bay has already optioned this for a movie, it's probably too obvious an observation to make.

I guess I'm not saying to avoid this, but I'm also not necessarily arguing this is as mind-blowing as others seem to think. The characters aren't especially well fleshed-out, much of the plot relies on immensely stupid decision-making, and, especially within the time travel genre, there are other books I'd much prefer to read and recommend. This might appeal to a lot of readers, but just be wary.

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26 August 2015

Review: Fish In A Tree

Fish In A Tree Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We're only two books in, but I think Lynda Mullaly Hunt is fast carving a nice niche for herself in middle grade literature that demands a lot more attention. It's difficult to get the tone right on a lot of these books that deal with a significant issue, and, like One for the Murphys before it, Fish in a Tree generally nails it.

This is a dyslexia story, and Ally has been able to fake it for a while, although the result is a lot of lashing out and a lot of trouble. After one significant incident, she is transferred to a new class and a new teacher who starts to break down the walls a bit.

It's a simple premise, and perhaps it loses a few points because we all know this story from other books or mediums, but it's hard to understate exactly how well this one is done. Ally is sympathetic from the start, we have a model teacher, and the right mix of emotional heft and narrative flow to make it work. It's a book that you know will be special to a special someone in your life, and one of those books that most readers who enjoy true-to-life stories will enjoy.

A solid recommendation.

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25 August 2015

Review: We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story

We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story by Josh Sundquist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As much as I read a lot of broad genres and style, nonfiction for kids and teens has always been a bit of a gap for me. I picked up We Should Hang Out Sometime for a specific reason unrelated to filling any gaps, and ended up absolutely loving this story.

Josh Sundquist is a guy who had cancer as a kid and lost his leg. In his 20s, he realized that, by no fault of a lack of effort, he had never actually had a girlfriend before. This book is effectively a log of his trials and tribulations in love, including reaching out to old crushes, dates, and firsts to maybe figure out what went wrong.

To say this isn't absolutely charming would be a lie, because it really is. Sundquist has a great, relatable writing style that makes this read that much more entertaining, but I also wish I had this book in my teen years, because I saw a lot of my own stupidity in here. If I knew then what I know now and such, this book can easily act in the same way for a lot of teens, both male and female. Even adult readers would probably find a lot of fun nostalgic reasons to enjoy something like this.

Overall, just a great, quick read that I loved. Highly recommended for all readers of all ages.

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Review: Run

Run Run by Blake Crouch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So even as much of a mixed bag as it was, Wayward Pines was an interesting science fiction exercise.

This, however, was a mess.

Run is about a family on the run after an alien-style aurora hypnotizes those who did see it into killing off those who did not. It's a lot of brutality within the simple premise of pages and pages of running from this threat.

It's readable. I'll give it that. As a piece of candy science fictional suspense, I've seen worse. The issue is that the entire thing feels stilted and strange, and the narrative doesn't really work on a whole. It's such a simple premise (which is fine) that just feels hastily put together (which isn't). I'm not kidding that the idea is very simple here, there aren't a ton of layers to explore.

The ending isn't much better, either. I don't want to give it away, but I'll just say that, if you're looking for quality payoffs, this one isn't going to provide it.

If you're a huge fan of Wayward Pines, you might get something out of this. If you've spent a lot of time in the genre, though, there are a ton of other options that approach this concept better.

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Review: Randoms

Randoms Randoms by David Liss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is the current generation looking for their own Ender's Game? I'm not really sure, but with Randoms, we might have found it anyway. It's a great story with both modern societal analogues and some classic tropes to go along with them, and there's a lot to love.

Zeke is a typical, average kid who is effectively drafted to be part of a four kid delegation in the universe's federation. He's the "random," chosen not for any particular skills or reason, but simply to have a wild card draftee. In this outer space, the society advances through video game-style leveling up, complete with experience points, which is right in line with Zeke's skillset. Unfortunately, his skillset also ends up getting him involved in what becomes an intergalactic incident that threatens the universe as we know it.

The book is really well done and brilliant in its execution. The use of video game logic for the societal rankings has certainly been done before, but the way it's done here feels fresh and different. The stakes also felt high throughout, which is, frankly, a rarity in young adult literature period, never mind in science fiction. There's a lot to enjoy about the story, about how it handles the diversity concepts, and just the overall fun of the book. Very well done.

Ultimately, if you like science fiction, this is worth a look whether you read YA or not. It's a fun read with a lot going for it, and I can't wait for the sequel.

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24 August 2015

Review: Axis

Axis Axis by Robert Charles Wilson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So Axis is the sequel/companion to Spin, and Spin is basically regarded as a brilliant science fiction tale. Axis, while in the same universe, ends up feeling more like an add on than a solid expansion of the story.

The book basically takes place on Mars, created by the same aliens who put a shell around the Earth. Part mystery and part excuse to come back to the story, we get more mysterious happenings from the alien race along the way.

I read this a few weeks ago before writing this, and it's stunning how little I remember about it. That's how utterly disposable this story is on a whole, and one has to wonder what went wrong overall. While Robert Charles Wilson can be hit or miss, it's just a fascinating read to see where this missed.

Just not a great read at all, but not terrible enough to toss aside. Sort of like a b-side compilation album that you're glad exists even if it isn't great.

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23 August 2015

Review: The Philosopher Kings

The Philosopher Kings The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I finished The Philosopher Kings, my first thought was that it wasn't nearly as good as its predecessor, The Just City, but was still really good. After sitting with it a bit, I think that's really the most apt description. It's still really good, almost stand-alone while existing in the universe established from before, while still not reaching the conceptual or useful heights of the former.

This is basically an Apollo revenge tale, with a few factions at war and Apollo obsessed with avenging tragedy. The quest that comes about on this ends up going into really strange and terrible directions.

Why is this not as good as the prior book? The conflict is less interesting, for one, but, more to the point, the result of the conflict is really the most compelling part and it happens very late in the narrative. It's weird and strange and arresting, but the travel there just isn't as solid. Given that it is directly correlated with the existing Apollo myth, it's just a lack of strength in this story in comparison.

Still highly recommended if you liked the first one, but just be aware.

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Review: Winter

Winter Winter by Rod Rees
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've probably had this book on my to-read list since it came out. A longish plane ride and finding this on a library shelf on a lark later and it turns out that I tripped up on a great read similar to Tad Williams's Otherland.

In the near future, the US military has developed a computer program to help train soldiers against a more insurgent style of warfare. To provide leadership, they uploaded the personality profiles of some of history's greatest psychopaths to help round things out and make things a little more realistic. As with any good plan, though, it goes haywire in a hurry and the president's daughter ends up logging into the simulation. Our heroine, Ella, has a very specific personality and identity profile to perhaps be the person who can go in and extract the president's daughter before it's too late.

The book is just really outstanding. From the start, the gravity and lunacy of the situation hits. As the story moves into the Demi-Monde itself, the situation in place and the gravity of everything just gets amped up and doesn't really stop. The politics of the simulation, the way everything is crafted, it's incredibly well thought-out and entertaining as a result. Plus, Ella is really an awesome, interesting protagonist and the way the book interweaves a more diverse cast with the needs of the story is one that should really be a model in how to do it.

Just well done all around, and I'm really looking forward to jumping in on the next one. I have no idea where it would go next, and I can't wait to find out.

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Review: Circus Mirandus

Circus Mirandus Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

Sometimes comparisons for books can be a bit of a death knell right from the start. At a conference I was at recently, this book was quickly one of the more popular options both for the excellent cover treatment and the very obvious comparison to being The Night Circus for kids. The Night Circus was a truly wonderful read, and while Circus Mirandus is solid in its own right, the comparison is only sort of apt.

At its base, the tale is about a magical circus that a child's grandfather speaks of. All sorts of wild and wonderful things happen there, and the master of ceremonies still owes the grandfather a miracle to boot. The kid seeks out to find the circus and get some answers as a result.

For kids, this will be a fun and interesting fantasy, especially for those into circuses and magic. Adult readers of middle grade will probably find the tale lacking a bit, but some of the magic and mystery really works out well. That the comparison to Night Circus exists is ultimately the problem, as the expectations that are set up here just cannot be met in this instance.

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19 August 2015

Review: Hunter

Hunter Hunter by Mercedes Lackey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Mercedes Lackey is well-known in adult fantasy circles, and this is (I believe) her first foray into young adult fiction. It's sort of like The Hunger Games, sort of like a book that uses gaming tropes to advance a plot, and mostly a swing and a miss.

The story follows Joy, a Hunter in her area of Colorado. The book takes place in a future America where there are a lot of supernatural creatures (seemingly right out of the D&D Monster Manual) running rampant. Joy has been moved to a more central location, where she will help defend the main city while taking part in what is essentially a reality television competition, but things are a little darker than what is initially implied with the move.

The story takes at least a fifth of the book to really get rolling. It's exposition on top of exposition on top of exposition, and with a length of 400 pages, there's a lot that arguably should have been cut here. It becomes so overbearing at times that I almost felt like a detached observer (much like those watching the show in the book) than really immersed in the narrative, and Joy as a seemingly near-flawless character doesn't really help matters. If that was the point from the start, it didn't work, but I do doubt that to be the case.

The book, however, isn't completely off. The battle scenes in particular are really well-done and pretty exciting at times, and the overall conspiracy aspects as well as the society isn't terrible. You just have to cut through so much stuff to get there. Maybe the move to YA lost something in translation, maybe it's just not a great read, but I can't say this even came close to meeting my expectations. An unfortunate disappointment.

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15 August 2015

Review: Fool's Quest

Fool's Quest Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Middle Book Syndrome strikes again!

I was a big fan of Fool's Assassin, a book which, after it got through the early doldrums, ended up being an excellent fantasy read with a lot of wrinkles and points of interest. It was contained while still keeping an epic feeling, and that's not easy to do.

Fool's Quest falters, yes, but not in a terrible way. As an anticipated title, the amount of time the book spends effectively milling around and waiting for an endpoint or some action feels almost inexcusable, but it's part a style choice that doesn't always work when the scale of the story has grown so much. Fitz (basically) the bureaucrat isn't entirely the same as Fitz the woodsman away from the world he was once part of, and it becomes a stumbling block for a lot of the book. Only when a key decision is made regarding Fitz and certain family members does the book really kick into gear and, while the final quarter of the book doesn't exactly redeem the first three-fourths, it does create a marvelous run up to an interesting finale and some significant anticipation for the third book.

The problem with Quest, though, is that so much of it could have been excised. Many strange choices (including an explanation for Fitz's daughter, Bee, that was a little unsettling and yet didn't quite seem to intend to play that way, although my lack of experience with prior Fitz/Fool books may shade this) and some character confusion keep this from being the great tale it could be, but that's why Middle Book Syndrome is a thing.

I'm excited for the third book and I enjoyed this second one more than I sound like. Just maybe hold off until we're close to the final release date of the next book first.

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04 August 2015

Review: Goodbye Stranger

Goodbye Stranger Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had a lot of issues with this book. A lot of issues.

First, seeing after the fact that this is probably meant to be more for the pre-YA crowd makes this book all the more puzzling as the subject matter is pretty mature on a whole, with a key plot point being middle schoolers sending racier and racier pictures to each other. Are we really ready to tackle the pre-teen texting issue like this?

There are other stories in the book, to be sure, and none of them are especially engaging - one involves a kid estranged from his family, another involves skipping school, a third about a kid in recovery from being hit by a car and being clinically dead. The tales intertwine, but not enough in a way that makes for an engaging tale, and it's unfortunate given how well the book is written on a whole. The story is extremely readable, but not especially enjoyable.

Beyond that, the kids sound and act older than they are - the voices sound like teenagers in high school and I had to consistently remind myself they’re middle schoolers. If you're looking for firm consequences for actions such as skipping class and sending scantily-clad photos, they don’t really exist in a significant enough way here - the suspensions levied for some kids and the punishments doled out for others feel like aftereffects and are quickly brushed off as opposed to being significant issues for the kids. While it's hinted at, the fact that kids are being arrested and put on sex offender lists for photos not too far from what is described here means this comes across as highly unrealistic.

It’s as if the focus on their own issues isn’t impacted by anything else happening around them. As well-written from a basic prose standpoint that this book is, it seems like a major miss across the board to try to walk this tightrope and yet seem to not really come to any sort of real solid resolution. It might be *too* realistic in that regard in that nothing is necessarily tied up with a bow. You have lockdown drills, talent shows, and none of it really seems to matter. It's all very strange.

I can't really recommend this to anyone. I get what the attempt was here, and it just doesn't work on a number of levels.

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01 August 2015

Review: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has gotten no lack of buzz over recent months, and I decided to seek it out from the library sooner rather than later. A lot of people will compare this to The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone, but it's actually less conceptual and more mainstream and, once everything gets established, this becomes and interesting ride.

The story is told from multiple points of view about the film career of young female director Sophie Stark, who gains some prominence from her first short film. It follows some of her relationships, her movies, the views from a distance and how she reconnects with people in her past, and so on. It's almost like an oral history than anything else.

Why does this work? The format means that you're not stuck in a lesser point of view too long, and the different feelings and ideas that people have about Stark and her work (as well as who she was and who she became) ends up having a reality/documentary feel to it in a lot of ways. It means that you sometimes don't get why you're supposed to care until a little too late, but by the time you get used to the format, none of that is a problem anymore.

Ultimately closer to a 4.5. A surprisingly solid read that I enjoyed a lot more than I initially thought. Great for people looking for somewhat nontraditional storytelling, and especially those who enjoy film and movie production.

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27 July 2015

Review: The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since I kind of immersed myself into weird horror for adults, I've been trying to figure out how you can translate the sort of existential dread into a middle grade or YA audience. Especially when horror for kids typically means R L Stine or Christopher Pike, the room for the sort of creepy thing that I'm looking for seems difficult to nail down.

The Night Gardener, though, is probably the template I'd use. A little unsettling and plenty creepy without going too far over the top, it's maybe the closest thing to Weird For Kids we might see, and it's worth your attention.

The story revolves around two children who are servants at a very old home in Ireland. The house has a large, imposing tree on the premises, and everyone who lives at the home seems a little sickly and off. Then the nightmares start. And then there are footprints. And it all seems related to that tree.

It's a classic tale in a sense. Part ghost story, part creepy tale, its flaw may be the tone it has to balance for its audience and the length, which felt a little more overlong than it perhaps needed to be. These are minor flaws, though, as adult readers know what they're getting into and, if you're really into the setting and such, spending a little extra time won't mind.

Perfect as an exercise to see the boundaries pushed in fiction for young people, and especially great for those kids who like to be creeped out a bit. Definitely worth your time.

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26 July 2015

Review: Furies of Calderon

Furies of Calderon Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good friend and great human being has been trying to get me to read this book since at least 2008, maybe a little earlier. I spent a year and a half reading one Dresden Files book a month between then and now, so I've become pretty well-versed in Butcher's style. So with all this in mind, and considering it's an author I like doing fantasy, now is as good a time as any to dive in, right?

The story is about a broader war between "furies," the magic users and such of this universe, and some loyalist factions. There is slavery, brutality, and all sorts of craziness going on along the way, and it's very traditional in a sense even with Butcher's take.

So why didn't I love it? I've been trying to place it since I finished the book. It was a good read, but I slogged a bit through it. I've never been one for dark fantasy, and this is is definitely on the dark scale (although I'm not sure I'd place it in the grimdark area). The characters are solid, I liked Tavi in particular but pretty much all the heroes are worthwhile (which is a standard for Butcher, I'm finding), and the worldbuilding is great, too.

I just didn't connect. I can't place it, I'm not sure if it was me or just how everything worked out or what, but it ended up being something I kind of endured rather than enjoyed.

I'll keep going with the series. Also in true Butcher form, the final act was really great and maybe I just needed to get over that hump first, but I would never dissuade anyone from reading it. It might just not be the type of fantasy I love?

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24 July 2015

Review: Forever for a Year

Forever for a Year Forever for a Year by B.T. Gottfred
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sometimes, when you don't like a book, it's better to say as little as you can about it lest it become a big dump of nonsense.

So it is with <>Forever for a Year, positioned as a multi-point-of-view tale about a burgeoning relationship of first love between two high school kids. It goes through them falling for each other, first sexual experiences, jealousy, and so on and so forth.

Why doesn't this work? It is overboard as a cautionary tale, the actions simply aren't realistic for the setting put in place, it works under the assumption that sex and such are really the only things kids care about, and it's just a painful read. The voices of the characters come across as the sort of faux-realistic type that sounds like an authentic voice but just tries too hard.

Long and short, everything about it feels wrong.

I think we have a good number of books that portray realistic relationships enough that are higher quality than what exists here. I was hoping for better, and this didn't deliver. Readable but that's it.

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21 July 2015

Review: El Deafo

El Deafo El Deafo by Cece Bell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's always nice to see an award winning book for kids that deserves it these days. El Deafo, while somewhat flawed, is still an inspirational read that manages to be fun, informative, and touching all at the same time. The story about a girl (well, rabbit girl, but whatever) who becomes functionally deaf after falling ill and receives a hearing device that makes her feel like a superhero, the story does a great job of demonstrating the difficulty of the disability and both the expected and unexpected issues that come with it while keeping the tone light enough to have some fun with it as it goes on. The graphic format lends itself well to the topic, but the downside is that there is not a significant endpoint to the story and, much like other tales in this genre, the story just sort of exists without coming to an enjoyable conclusion. It doesn't take away from the ride, but just the destination. This book belongs in every public and school library, for sure. Kids who like realistic stories will find a lot to love here, and this is definitely a demonstration of where diverse books can go in an era where the clamor for such books is so significant. Definitely recommended.

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16 July 2015

Review: Serafina and the Black Cloak

Closer to a 1.5. I *really* didn't like this book.

I'm a firm believer that kids need creepy. There's a reason Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark have persevered over time, and Serafina and the Black Cloak tries pretty hard to be in that same vein, but ends up wildly missing the mark.

Serafina is a girl who was found in the woods, battered and broken. Taken in by a man and kept secret for the first decade or so of her life, she is witness to a strange disappearance that she feels uniquely qualified to get to the bottom of, and so begins our tale of Serafina exploring and uncovering a dark, weird secret.

The first bit of the book, the parts that establish who Serafina is and what she's really up to? Pretty great. The moment we get to the meat of the plot, however, the story screeches almost to a halt, with a few interesting scenes scattered amongst a tale that plods toward a conclusion - a conclusion, by the way, that is a very pat, firm, almost Disney-style ending that nearly betrays the entire tale. It's a frustrating read because all the parts are there for a truly great read with some really interesting elements, but basically only a third of the story is really truly worth the time or effort, leading to a supremely disappointing story.

Of course, as is typical, I appear to be in the stark minority on this. People seem to overwhelmingly love this book, from the setting to the characters to the tale itself. As for me, while Serafina is an engaging enough heroine, she deserves a much better story than this, and middle grade readers who are looking for a creepy story to keep them up at nights deserve something that's much more substantial. I don't know if I missed something significant here or what, but this didn't do it for me at all.

11 July 2015

Review: I Am Princess X

Stealth YA mystery!

May and Abby were best friends growing up, and they developed a comic together. When Abby died, so too did the comic.

Until stickers with the comic started popping up all over Seattle.

May quickly recruits an at-home IT "expert" to help track down who has been putting Princess X comics up online and who the anonymous, mystery author is. Because May is convinced Abby is actually alive and well.

It's a fun premise, and at just a hair over 200 pages, a very quick and straightforward read. The mystery elements are there, but it's pretty light on a whole and, if the books have any fault, it's that the stakes don't feel terribly high and everything seems pretty simple. I didn't love the reveals, but that's just more nitpicky than anything else, especially for a genre I don't generally love.

Still, recommended for YA readers. If you're into Cherie Priest's adult work, this is probably going to throw you off a bit, though. Fair warning.

Review: Those Girls

Closer to a 1.5.

There are plenty of mean girl books. There are plenty of books that have absolutely despicable characters with little to no redeeming values. Those books sometimes know how to handle those topics, and Those Girls utterly fails at creating anything worth noting in this genre. Filled with characters who are rotten and criminal who seem to learn nothing from their actions, it's almost questionable as to what the point of this was at all.

The story follows a handful of girls around their senior year. They sleep around with each other's boyfriends, they frame them for different things. One is in a band, others can't be happy for her. It all culminates in a situation that just ended up being gross and disturbing, and I don't even know what anyone was thinking here.

I thought a few days away from this one might temper my mood about it, but it's clear this is one of the worst things I've read recently. Avoid this one at all costs - the rare times you'll need a book like this, there are a dozen better ones out there that might actually improve your lot in life a bit.

07 July 2015

Review: Silver in the Blood

Closer to a 3.5.

If you read Twilight and thought "Man, I wish the story focused more on those European vampires," I might just have the book for you. Granted, this is much better written and works more off of the Stoker-level Dracula/vampire tropes than the more popularized ones of, late, but it's still a good, albeit flawed, read.

The story takes place shortly after the publication of Stoker's Dracula, where some high society girls are brought back to Europe to meet their families in time for their birthday. Meeting the family, of course, results in taking their place among the Dracula family and learning of their true nature as vampire shapeshifters. Yep.

So the idea is a little corny, but the book reads more like a teen literary piece, keeping us firmly in the time period intended. The author seems incredibly fixated in pointing out how naked everyone is when they shapeshift, which was just strange, but the way the story flows and moves is something that did a good job in keeping my interest, so there is that.

I originally read this without knowing what it was about, so I wonder if at least part of the issue with the story is that the hook is given away so freely, but given the great cover and topic matter, it should still find an audience for what it is. Worth a look if you're into historical fiction or different takes on vampire mythologies.

Review: Shadowshaper

Sometimes books are frustrating.

Urban fantasy for the YA set is a mixed bag, with a lot of it going toward the paranormal romance. This is described as sort of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-type tale, but it really reminds me more of a teenage female Harry Dresden in that the city is, in many cases, a character along with our heroine and her abilities regarding shadows and those she's up against. The plot itself almost feels secondary to whatever is trying to happen here, which is never a good sign, and ends up being something where the notes the author is trying to hit seem to take precedence over good plotting and action.

The concept is cool but the execution ends up lacking in a few ways, with the actual meat of the story taking seemingly forever to get rolling and the thing truly picking up only toward the last quarter of the book. It tries to be true to the cultural heritage but ends up feeling forced in more than a few ways, which is unfortunate. There's just a lot of potential in play here with a lot of negatives going along with it.

This is a decent read, but ultimately left me with something to be desired. Certain readers will enjoy this, but it didn't work for me.

Review: The Fixer

While my love for teen romance novels is hardly a secret to those who have read my reviews for any length of time, political intrigue for the YA set is something I've wanted to see more of, and, time and time again, the stories seem to let me down. Gallagher Girls is the ideal in many ways, but it's less House of Cards and more James Bond. Embassy Row's first book was disappointing, and most of the rest try to be humorous spoofs. I figured I'd enjoy The Fixer, being a book more in line with some of my other interests. What I didn't expect was to love it.

Tess lives with her grandfather, who is falling more and more seriously ill. Her parents, dead in an accident, left her with him, and her older sister, Ivy, left them to go to Washington. With grandpa sick, though, Tess is off to DC to live with her sister. Quickly, she learns that her sister is a bit of an important big shot, someone who "fixes" the problems of high-profile people and politicians. At Tess's new school, that reputation is shifted onto Tess, who really doesn't want it. Quickly, though, it looks like she's going to have to anyway, and she learns how dangerous her sister's life really is.

I have very little to complain about when it comes to this book. It balances political intrigue and conspiracy with a great family story, at nearly 400 pages it doesn't feel as if it's dragging at all, and the story ends on a solid note while leaving a good opening for sequels as well. Nearly pitch perfect, and really does the whole concept well as a result. Truly, it might be closest to a House of Cards for kids we'll ever see, and that's definitely high praise from me, at least. I'm hoping the rest of the series can stand up to how good this one is, and I can't wait to see what comes next. Highly recommended.

05 July 2015

Review: Bios

As I traverse through Robert Charles Wilson's body of work, I'm somewhat impressed by how hit or miss it can be. This book is almost a love letter to scientific/science fictional exploration and study, but it doesn't work more than it works, even if the ending is enjoyable and the parts are greater than the whole. It's a simple tale, almost a novella, about clones and alien races and the dangers in study, and it is a markedly different take than a lot of the books like it I've read.

What is it lacking? I'd say a sense of wonder, but also a sense of horror. It's surprisingly mundane in its presentation, which, in one sense, may have been the point, but this is where relying on existing tropes does matter. We're very conditioned to find the extremes when we read about new races, civilizations, and so on. This doesn't give that sense of revelry throughout, and, if that was in fact the point, it's simply not direct enough to be clear or engaging.

I just felt disappointed. So much promise unfulfilled on this one. I can't imagine recommending this to anyone other than really solid fans of his.

Review: The Vorrh

Closer to a 2.5.

I finished reading this close to two weeks ago and I'm only writing a review now. This is emblematic of my frustration with The Vorrh, a book that came with a lot of buzz in some circles and, in the first 80 or so pages, really established something I thought I was falling in love with.

This is, at its heart, a sort of Weird fantasy tale. There's a small town bordering a forest that is believed to be magical or haunted or dangerous or some combination of all of those things. One man seeks to explore the Vorrh, others are trying to stop him, and just the strange character of the town in general ends up dominating everything.

It's a book that suffers from the same thing we see a lot of the New Weird doing (even if this is not explicitly categorized as such), in that the setting and mood of the book overwhelmingly take precedence over the plot, and what ends up happening is that the construction of the story takes a back seat over the worldbuilding aspects. What was constructed deserved a better tale to go with it, and it became repeatedly difficult to care about anything that was going on.

Just a definite disappointment. Some readers might find some interesting stuff here, and if you're into significant worldbuilding this might be one to look up, but otherwise...

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.