21 April 2016

Review: Sleeping Giants

Sleeping Giants Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had read about this book ages ago, and then when I got an opportunity to read it, I was pretty hyped up about it. Even with high expectations, this book, with an unconventional narrative structure and a cool premise, more than delivered.

The situation is fairly simple - the United States is finding pieces of... something. They're coming up from the earth, wreaking havoc, but they seem to be parts of a giant. A big hand, a leg segment, and so on. What starts as a collection quickly becomes a construction, and the more we learn from the construction the more strange everything seems, both from the perspective of what the weird giant machine is for and for the motives of those involved.

It's such a simple premise, done almost documentary-style in a fly-on-the-wall sort of way. The characters are simple but almost secondary to the overall concept behind the story, and it's a real page turner as a result. The beauty of the book is in its simplicity - we see the plans put into motion, the results, and slowly, more mysteries are revealed.

It's a simple read, popcornish in a sense, but it's exactly what I was looking for in a book like this. Absolutely recommended, especially for a sci-fi palate cleanser.

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13 April 2016

Review: OCDaniel

OCDaniel OCDaniel by Wesley King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Is it possible for something to try to be the OCD Stargirl?

Maybe so, as OCDaniel is about a boy who is the backup punter on his school football team. He struggles to keep his situation in line, having a lot of small OCD episodes, and meets a girl who intrigues him with a mystery and might be a good distraction for him.

There's a lot that's endearing about this book, but a lot that's kind of wrong about it. The girl, who signs a note "Fellow Star Child," feels like an attempt to subvert the whole Manic Pixie trope and just kind of falls flat, and Daniel's OCD is almost too stereotypical at times and the idea of him not having a clue as to what's going on until this point in his life defies believability. Especially when you have what is basically the seminal YA work on OCD in Kissing Doorknobs, a book like this doesn't necessarily have to surpass it, but it does have to go a little further in order to succeed, and this just didn't pull it off.

Ultimately, not really a recommendation except if you're seeking something specific from it. Closer to a 2.5.

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Review: Dreamology

Dreamology Dreamology by Lucy Keating
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'll always at least give a nod to books that try something a little different. Dreamology takes a basic teen romance trope and turns it on its head a bit, and, while it doesn't always work, it's a unique enough tale to take a look at.

Alice goes to her new school and sees a boy there, Max. Max happens to be a guy Alice has dreamed about for seemingly her whole life, and now he's just there at the same school. To make matters worse, it appears that the dreams that they have been sharing are starting to bleed into their real world, and this is causing obvious problems across the board. So now, Alice and Max need to figure out what's going on before it's perhaps too late.

In a way, this book is a little too unbelievable in some regards, and the way it gets sorted feels strange. The entire thing is a little mind-bendy, but I've never been fully into the "world of dreams" the way a lot of people, including those who are likely to be drawn to this, would be. It does try to use some sort of future-science scenarios to explain what's happening, but there doesn't feel like there's a ton of urgency or anything going on, which is arguably the biggest flaw.

If the concept appeals to you, you might love this. If you're a little more critical, though....

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12 April 2016

Review: Going Red: The Two Million Voters Who Will Elect the Next President--and How Conservatives Can Win Them

Going Red: The Two Million Voters Who Will Elect the Next President--and How Conservatives Can Win Them Going Red: The Two Million Voters Who Will Elect the Next President--and How Conservatives Can Win Them by Ed Morrissey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5.

Ed Morrissey is best known for his work on Hot Air, the conservative news site, but this book ended up being a surprisingly great, well-researched primer on the upcoming election.

Why does this work? It's more like a basic electoral roadmap about some of the most important areas for Republicans and how they can win. It's so well put together that it will work well as a historical document in a few cycles, and gives enough tips and information to work for years beyond as well.

The downside? In a year with Donald Trump making such great inroads, we'll never really get to see the extent of the value of this work.

Honestly, there's not a ton to say about this. The appeal is for conservative election wonks and movement types who are looking for in-depth information about Republican electoral options. Beyond that, it might not be much, but, for myself, I really found a lot to enjoy and digest in this. A pleasant, wonderful surprise.

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05 April 2016

Review: Queen of Likes

Queen of Likes Queen of Likes by Hillary Homzie
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Mmmm, anti-technology cautionary tales.

We have a girl names Karma who is obsessed with an Instagram-style clone. Her parents don't like her social media fame, she breaks a rule and loses access to the phone. She quickly Learns Her Lesson through volunteering and that there's more to life than just getting approval on social media. Everyone's happy.

Argh, this book. Yes, there's more to life than technology and social media. No, that doesn't mean that we must treat our phones like cancer. No, this doesn't mean that we need to be Luddites about everything. No, this especially doesn't mean we need to treat local historical societies as the last standard-bearers of a more innocent and humane time in which technology wasn't perverting everything.

This book just irritated me. Everything about it felt insincere and melodramatic, from the cover to the cardboard caricatures within the book. It's almost too preachy and on the nose, and sends just a terrible message. There's a way to write a book about our relationship with technology (especially in a teen/school setting) that does not require us to look at technology in such a negative way. It's just as unhealthy to treat cell phones, social media, and the like as negative tools as it is to be chained to our devices, and this book misses that completely.

Avoid this like the plague. It's just not a good read or a good message. Closer to a 1.5, but I'm not feeling generous.

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Review: When We Collided

When We Collided When We Collided by Emery Lord
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

The Start of Me and You is one of my favorite books ever, balancing fun teen romance with a great message about coping mechanisms and moving forward in times of crisis. When We Collided comes along with a similar point of view but with a different angle, and there are parts that work and parts that don't.

The story is about two teenagers, Vivi and Jonah. Jonah has essentially become the head of his household following the death of his father, especially given that her mother isn't coping well. Vivi is in town for the summer, and her flighty spontaneity quickly evolves into a whirlwind relationship where the two of them get to spread their wings a bit, learn about each other, and learn to cope with each other and each other's problems and failings.

It's definitely a good story, and I feel like Emery Lord is starting to find a nice niche for herself here. The issue with this story is more that I feel like the weight of the story isn't quite there. Jonah resists help, Vivi perhaps too stereotypical, and the choices being made are all a little strange. I can't quite pinpoint what didn't work, and maybe it was just my expectations being too high.

Still, a book I think will matter to kids who have to grow up too fast, teens who are depressed, and those prone to the type of fast-falling that summer relationships often provide. Growing up too fast is hard, and maybe this is a book that might slow it down for the right readers.

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29 March 2016

Review: What You Always Wanted

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

Closer to a 3.5.

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

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

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

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

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20 March 2016

Review: Dragons vs. Drones

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Rule of Mirrors

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Version Control

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

Oh, time travel books, how I love you.

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

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

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

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08 March 2016

Review: Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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06 March 2016

Review: The Siren

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

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

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

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

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

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02 March 2016

Review: Arkwright

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

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

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

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

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

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01 March 2016

Review: In Real Life

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

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

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

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

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

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23 February 2016

Review: Just My Luck

Just My Luck Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of the many trends in middle grade and YA fiction right now, autism and stories about family struggles are leading the way. Just My Luck is one of the better ones that covers these trends, and deserves a lot of attention.

This is mostly about Benny, who finds a new best friend but also has to deal with his autistic brother and his father's sickness. It's a balancing act, and one that might not always be working in Benny's favor.

It's a simple book that excels because of the simplicity and humor in play. As someone who has a parent who slowly became nonverbal, a lot of the coping I saw in this book felt real, and that includes the humor that goes along with it. On a whole, a great read and one that should really be on a lot of middle grade bookshelves, and perfect for those kids who are dealing with these issues. Just one of the more pleasurable reads I've had of late.

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21 February 2016

Review: Flicker

Flicker Flicker by Theodore Roszak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes a book hits all your interests all at once, and there's really nothing else quite like it out there. Flicker, as a book, is closing in on 25 years old, and yet this book felt far too much like something that was relevant and on-trend today as it may have been when it was written, and that says a lot.

The story, on the surface, is about a man, Jonathan Gates, who falls in with the art film crowd and becomes enamored with a specific filmmaker who specialized just as much in important artsy filmmaking as he did the sort of schlock Roger Corman and the like are known for. As Gates begins to do more research on this filmmaker, he begins to slowly unravel something a lot more strange, including a multi-generational conspiracy, religious cults and propaganda, Old Hollywood (and some of the Code-era figures as well) and a whole lot more.

I do wonder if Marisha Pessl has read this book, because the mood in this is reminiscent of Night Film (another book I absolutely adore), but this goes a lot deeper. For sure, a lot of my love of this book in particular is that it's so willing and able to dive into existing, little-known conspiracy theories and effortlessly incorporate them into a story that traverses decades without feeling too long or overambitious. In an era like today where the "new weird" is taking hold, reading a book that would, in a lot of ways, fit right into the existing trendy oeuvre is just icing on the cake for me, as there's just enough here to keep you on the fence as to what's actually going on here, and the way Roszak opts to end the story is just as weird and fascinating as it is completely out of left field, and is a tactic I really appreciated.

This book won't be for everyone. If long-winded diversions of sorts featuring a fictional Orson Welles or deep-rooted European Christian conspiracy cults aren't your bag, you might be bored or frustrated with parts of this story, but if you're looking for something kind of meaty without being overly literary or over-the-top, you might want to take a flier on this one. Absolutely one of the most immersive literary experiences I've had in recent memory.

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16 February 2016

Review: Rebel Bully Geek Pariah

Rebel Bully Geek Pariah Rebel Bully Geek Pariah by Erin Jade Lange
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

File this under "what were they thinking?"

Four teens at a party, and the party is broken up by the cops. The kids run, and decide to steal an SUV to escape. And the SUV has a ton of heroin in it. Ad they may have killed a cop with the car as they sped away.

I mean, this is sort of like Very Bad Things, a brutally dark and funny movie from almost 20 years ago, except this isn't funny at all. It's sad and dark and you keep waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel or someone to get what they deserve or any sort of quality resolution, and nothing is coming at all. It's a dire, unfortunate read that just left me wondering what the impetus for this entire exercise was at all. A cool concept, just tough and terrible and weird execution. The writing is good but the entire tone and point were just way off.

Definitely skip this one. There's better out there like it.

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02 February 2016

Review: Burning Midnight

Burning Midnight Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

loser to a 4.5. There's no dearth of YA dystopias, and plenty of science fiction novels as well for the same group. Burning Midnight was definitely more unique than some of the more recent reads I've had. It's got a nice, edgier Brandon Sanderson vibe to it, which really just sets us up for a fun time.

The story takes place in a nearish future. At some point, a bunch of spheres arrived on Earth. No one knows where they came from, but it was quickly figured out that you can take a pair, "burn" them, and you get different abilities or improvements to yourself. The story follows a teen boy who sells spheres and a girl that he meets who is very good at finding them, and the way their world turns upside-down when they discover a never-before-seen golden sphere.

It's hard to fully discuss this without giving away the ending, and I'll do my best, but the way that the concept behind the spheres is revealed is absolutely wonderfully insane, and turned an already-riveting read into something a lot cooler. The story has so many little elements that it juggles well, and perhaps only falters a bit in the sense that the book doesn't feel all that modern from a setting standpoint, especially in the almost throwback treatment of the sphere market. Still, my complaints about the book are more nitpicky than anything else, as this is a rock-solid read that deserves some attention. Just a lot of fun and unlike a lot of what I've read

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30 January 2016

Review: Falls the Shadow

Falls the Shadow Falls the Shadow by Stefanie Gaither
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

I feel like we're closing in on a decade of one dystopia after another. Falls the Shadow is far from perfect, but I give it credit for trying a different tack on what's quickly becoming a tired genre. In this futuristic setting, human cloning is a thing, and Cate becomes embroiled in a situation involving a murder and some clone issues.

This isn't Orphan Black-style clone stuff, but instead government-directed. It's a compelling read from a writing standpoint, but where this kind of lost me is that the story just isn't quite engaging enough to take that next step into something great. I have so little to say about it because it left such a lackluster impression even though I enjoyed it as I read it.

I mean, if you're doing dystopia, you're reading Hunger Games or Divergent or The Testing first. If you're hungry for more, this might be worth the time, but I can't see this as a first or second choice for most.

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Review: Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science

Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science by Alice Dreger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The politicization of science is not a new situation in the world, but with a lot of social justice concerns taking precedence over good science, we've reached what might be a different version of a recognizable problem. Alice Dreger ran into some of it first-hand with her research on intersex people, and she spends some time in this book talking about similar situations and how the politics got in the way of the science.

While she certainly has a point of view (and not a conservative one, it should be said), she does do her best to present the information as it is. The story is less about the science and more about the reactions to it, though, so those expecting a certain type of scientific fare might be left disappointed. Those also looking for a condemnation of certain types of activists won't find it here - the activism she speaks out about is real, but the target is narrower than you may expect.

Overall, I think it's a necessary read, especially in today's political climate. I'd like to see some rebuttals from the other side, but this is still something that should be on the list of anyone interested in science and sexuality topics.

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Review: Awkward

Awkward Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It feels weird to say this, but I haven't seen enough good graphic novels that are just simply about school for older kids. The Knights of the Lunch Table comes close, but is for a younger audience, but Awkward ends up being a fun story that pits the artsy kids against the science kids in a pretty unique and different take. All the characters are fun and likable, the story is solid, and the way the story ends, while somewhat telegraphed, ends up being exactly what I wanted.

The story perhaps tries too hard in a few regards, though. It has a very anime feel to it, which kind of took me out of the tale a bit just because of how out-of-step it is with the current popular graphic climate. The diversity aspect, while to be commended in some ways, was also very noticeably checkbox in particular, and was kind of hard not to notice in its overintent. There's a way to do it without being so ham-fisted.

Overall, though, a really great read and one that really belongs on a lot of bookshelves. Looking forward to seeing what else we get from Chmakova.

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26 January 2016

Review: City of Blades

City of Blades City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was blown away by City of Stairs, a fantasy story that had a ton of things that were just right up my alley. So I was very excited for the sequel, and, while it's a great read on its own, it's very different than its predecessor and isn't quite as solid.

The story follows a retired general who, due to administrative error, has to go back into service and find a missing agent, but things in the city are catching up with her rather quickly, and the tale quickly becomes one of dealing with one's past.

I think what I loved about Stairs was the overall plot, with the character of the city being so central to the story. I never got that same feeling from Blades, and with so much of the narrative being caught up in the investigative, it truly felt like things didn't pick up until the second half of the book. This does not make it a bad read, but given how much of a hook it sets in the beginning (the opening scenes are amazing in particular) and with the precedent of the prior book, it became frustrating at times as I spent a lot of time waiting for major things to happen. Still, the writing is so good and the characterization so solid that it wasn't a slog by any means, and that means a lot for me as a reader.

On a whole, Stairs is better but this is great. I look forward to what the next installment will look like, and to see these worlds and their relationships combine.

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12 January 2016

Review: Zero Day

Zero Day Zero Day by Jan Gangsei
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a big fan of Homeland, especially the first couple seasons. I also love some good political thrillers (as hard as they are to find), and Zero Day may be the closest thing to a Homeland-style political thriller for the YA set I've seen in some time.

Addie was kidnapped from the home of her politician father eight years earlier, and it became one of the most well-known kidnappings in history. She then reappeared eight years later, just as her father was elected President of the United States. This raises a lot of suspicion within the intelligence community, and begins a tale of espionage and suspense that really kept me guessing.

This was an intense read. For someone familiar with the genre overall, I could complain about some of the things that were telegraphed, but it didn't hurt my enjoyment of the story at all. Addie is a believable character, as is her brother that was so caught up in the initial kidnapping. The balance between the operation of government and the family issues are also really well-represented as well as a positive for the age group.

I honestly just loved everything about this. Really one of the better recent YA books I've read, and I'm looking forward to hopefully seeing more like this in the future. Highly recommended.

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08 January 2016

Review: American Elsewhere

American Elsewhere American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I thought I loved this book about fifty pages in.

I knew I loved this book about one hundred pages in.

I think I knew it was going down as one of my favorites about two hundred pages in, and then I still had four hundred to go.

I didn't want it to end, but it did, and it's easily one of the weirdest, strangest, most straightforward weird/horror books I've read. It's a little ahead of its time, too - if this had come out in 2015 it would be heralded as the book that could propel the New Weird into mainstream acceptance, but instead it's a little/not little 2013 title that won some horror awards and has otherwise not shown up on my radar, and that's a shame, because this is an absolute gem of a book.

The story follows Mona. She has inherited a house in a small town called Wink in New Mexico, and it's become a hassle to even find this town, never mind get information on her mother and what's part of the inheritance. As she makes her way through town, nothing seems quite right. As a police officer, her senses are tingling a bit, the woman at the town hall is strange, and the guy who runs to motel perhaps a little too friendly for a place that doesn't ever seem to have customers.

And then things get strange.

The pleasure I derived from this book comes more from the little reveals along the way, from the small vignettes of townspeople and the happenings to how it all comes together only to unravel again as the story goes on. While the ideas perhaps fail to break any new ground from a storytelling standpoint, it's ultimately how Bennett ties them all together in an off-putting, uncomfortable way that makes this book so much more special than your typical horror/weird tale. And I didn't see the end coming, which was nice. Or, for that matter, the middle. Or much of anything - it's familiar enough to not feel absurd while still being completely strange nearly from page one.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's not a difficult read even though it's a long one, and I just absolutely love the ideas and concepts behind it. This is now two masterful books I've read by Robert Jackson Bennett, and he's fast becoming someone I'm going to have to seek out when his next books come out right away. Find a copy of this book and read it, you absolutely won't be let down.

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05 January 2016

Review: Bounders

Bounders Bounders by Monica Tesler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5.

A lot of people tend to be looking for the "next" something. This aspires to be the next Ender's Game, and surprisingly succeeds on the merits.

The story follows kids at a military-space school. Technology has allowed us to identify a link regarding the structure of the brain and space travel, so kids are brought to the academy to be trained. Of course, this is under false pretenses, and the kids soon learn what role they're supposed to play in an interplanetary situation.

I found this book to be unique in spite of the many tropes it employed, being a fun read overall with enough action and humor to balance the rest out. Might be a little more sophisticated than the age group it's initially intended for, but if you have kids who are looking for some great science fiction (especially after seeing the new Star Wars), this is definitely worth the time.

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04 January 2016

Review: Firsts

Firsts Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

This is one tightrope of a contemporary young adult book, let me tell you.

Mercedes provides a service of sorts to her classmates. Virgin high schoolers come to her to lose their virginity, she gives them tips in order to improve their relationships and not be a disaster in bed with their girlfriends. She keeps detailed logs for her records, has strict rules in place, and everything. It seems like the perfect scheme until things get a little rough around the edges.

I really got worried initially that this would be some sort of attempt at an after-school-special cautionary tale, or that it would turn into some weird sex farce, and neither of these things happened. As the story panned out, we learned a lot more about motivations and empowerment and sexual politics for teens, and, in the end, it ended up being a pretty decent read. There's a lot I could quibble with, but in terms of what really ended up being a unique plot, I can't fault a lot of the different choices made along the way.

Overall, I don't know if this is a book that would necessarily speak to anyone. Sexual empowerment is a weird subject to tackle for this age group anyway, never mind handling the darker sides of sexuality in an appropriate, non-preachy way. As a decent, left-of-center tale, though, it's one I'm actually glad I got my hands on.

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03 January 2016

Review: Aurora

Aurora Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's incredibly difficult to fully discuss this book without spoiling things, but I'm really going to try because this, in a way, is the anti-Seveneves - a multi-generational science fiction tale that has a fair share of nihilism and darkness underneath it while still providing a really great (and often unique) narrative along the way. The story of a number of people from Earth sent to colonize a nearby habitable planet, it surprised me a lot and ended in ways I didn't expect.

It's kind of the best of science fiction in a sense not necessarily because of the message it does or doesn't send depending on your perspective, but in that it offers a new take on the colonization story that I really didn't see coming and didn't consider before, to the point where it actively has me rethinking a lot of what I believe regarding the future of humanity and its ability to settle off-planet. It's that good. The story is largely told by the ship computer, which both gives a level of detail and enough moments of levity to both detach us as observers and include us in the travels as well, which is a nice touch.

Kim Stanley Robinson hasn't always connected with me. While it took some time for me to get going, this is quite the start for the new year in terms of reads for me, and I'm sure it will get some deserved award consideration. Absolutely worth adding to your list if you're looking for new sci-fi.

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01 January 2016

Review: The Visible Filth

The Visible Filth The Visible Filth by Nathan Ballingrud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having spent a good deal of the last couple years delving into horror and weird fiction when it comes to my adult choices, a book that kept popping up on a few recommendation lists was this novella, The Visible Filth. I figured I'd like it, but certainly not as much as I ended up loving it.

The story is about a bartender who grabs a cell phone left behind after a fight. He tries to communicate with a friend of the owner, but what he thinks is a prank quickly escalates into something much, much more sinister.

Why this worked for me is, in part, due to a lot of the weird/horror stuff I tend toward, which either takes place in alternate worlds entirely or exists in a world where technology isn't central to the story. This tale instead takes the existing tropes (it's The Ring-esque in some regards) and adds a technological element to it that is both relatable and uncomfortable along the way. The reminders to the popularity of shock sites from early internet days was not lost on me, either, and all combined made for a creepy and awesome read.

Got this one from the Amazon Prime Lending Library, so it's worth a read if you're into this and have a freebie for the month. I assume it's Unlimited, too.

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31 December 2015

Review: The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses

The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ulysses is not a book I've read. Yeah, I've read close to 1000 books in the last four years, but Ulysses is not one of them and is likely never going to be one of them. This book, however, is sort of a biography of Ulysses, from Joyce's writing it to the publication of it to the censorship battles waged over it.

I'm always curious about how society and governments handle subversive art in whatever forms they come in, so the benefit of this book is less the discussion of whether Ulysses was art or obscene or both (although there is some discussion), but rather how the work survived some of the worst times in semi-modern history for this sort of censorial activity. Especially coming from a time where we discuss banned books even though the ban usually amounts to not being on the shelf you'd expect, the sort of smuggling operations for a work like this were impressive to read about. That we get a glimpse into the character of James Joyce is also a plus, especially considering how fundamental it is to the overall tale.

A good read overall. Maybe more meaningful to those who enjoy or appreciate Ulysses, but I got a lot of out this book in a lot of ways.

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Review: An Atlas of Countries That Don't Exist: A compendium of fifty unrecognized and largely unnoticed states

An Atlas of Countries That Don't Exist: A compendium of fifty unrecognized and largely unnoticed states An Atlas of Countries That Don't Exist: A compendium of fifty unrecognized and largely unnoticed states by Nick Middleton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been intrigued about micronations and unrecognized nations for a long, long time. I used to make little maps as a kid, devour atlases and such. It's just always been there. I was told about this absolutely gorgeous book a while back and knew I needed to own a copy.

In terms of presentation, this is one of the best I've seen. The maps are cut out from the pages before them, allowing for basic demographics on one page and capsule histories on the following. You get a very basic look at each "nation" and then move right on to the next one. It's a lot of fun, and perhaps more of an introductory piece.

The book ultimately loses points for me because of the overall lack of detail and the choices made as to which to highlight. For every oddity like Sealand, you get a lot of indigenous lands or annexed provinces that maybe don't belong in a volume like this in this sort of presentation. Plus, giving what amounts to one page of detail for each nation (for example, much of Sealand is given to the armed attempt to take it over by the British government and not much else; even the 99% Invisible introductory piece gives more detail in their shortform piece than this does) simply doesn't give the sort of weight or depth that a lot of these deserve. I wanted more!

Overall, though, this is just as much a conversation piece as it is a conversation starter. Absolutely a must have for those who love pretty books or want a good starter to the micronation/lost nations discussion, but if you're already well-versed and data presentation isn't your cup of tea, you might want to look elsewhere.

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