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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30 December 2015

Review: Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can't remember exactly when the first time I listened to Night Vale was, but it wasn't too long after they started. While it's maybe gotten a little long in the tooth even as a trailblazer, the book version of this was a welcome surprise. A story within Night Vale even if it's not just like the podcast (although it does have interludes of the radio program within), the benefit of this story is twofold:

1) It gets the charm and feel of Night Vale down pat. You feel like you're there, and the tone and quality of the writing holds up in a more narrative format.

2) It's a great entry point. You don't have to know the show for this to work, but it absolutely helps. Even on its own, it's a solid stand-alone weird fiction tale. I would have enjoyed this without the Night Vale brand, and maybe even might have liked it more.

So if you're still into the podcast, or even feeling a little burned out on it, this is worth some of your time. It's a solid read and one you'd probably enjoy if weird stuff is your thing.

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Review: George

George George by Alex Gino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've read a lot of middle grade/YA trans experience books recently, and George, at least in my circles, is commonly referred to as The Book in this subgenre. For me, it's a solid, quiet story, but suffers from a lot of the same issues the other books like it are suffering from.

In this one, George is in fifth grade and knows she's a girl, but no one else does. The class is doing a school play of Charlotte's Web, however, and that may be her opening to be who she really is.

For now, I'll put aside the point that this is a complicated issue for kids to start for a lot of reasons, and dive in more that the book, like many others, doesn't really delve into that complexity for most readers. The result is a book that scratches the surface of the issue, but still makes a lot of references to issues and concerns that are too old for the intended audience. While it's probably impossible to discuss the issue without having the characters in question discuss genitalia, for example, having read many of these books indicates at least a lack of trying to get there.

Then again, I could be approaching this one incorrectly. The intended audience in this case may in fact be trans kids, which is a very laudable goal but also an exceptionally small market, so it may be why there's a lack of resonance here that we get from other books in the subgenre. That's not a knock against the book, but may be why it's just okay to me. While there's merit to the idea that books need to reflect the broad audience out there, there's also the ability of books to expose readers to characters and people not like them, and this might be a failure in terms of grabbing them.

Overall, though, the story is probably just a little too quiet. We're asked to feel for George, but the emotional weight isn't there. We see some positive developments at the end, and it leaves with a message of hope, but in terms of books that get the weight out there, this one might just be too quiet to be the one.

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28 December 2015

Review: The Sculptor

The Sculptor The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Man, this book.

So Scott McCloud is sort of legendary in graphic circles, and for good reason. I heard great things about this one, but I really honestly didn't expect this sort of great story. It's sort of a love letter to art and creation and such, but also really grasps what trying to be an artist can be like.

We follow David Smith, who is a sculptor who can't seem to get any traction. He meets a man who offers him a deal he can't refuse: 200 days to be able to sculpt anything with his hands, but he dies when his time is up. What follows is a trajectory that's unpredictable and maddening.

I get it. I haven't been as creative as I used to be as of late for a myriad of reasons, but the sort of craziness that can sometimes inhabit you comes across in full force here. I feel like this hits upon a lot of the artists I know, along with the personality quirks that go with it. The book handles mental illness in a pretty real way as well, which is a nice change of pace even if the "mentally disturbed artist" trope has a tendency to be overdone. What's best, though, are the surprises. Even though this has a Faustian angle to it, I kept being surprised as the book went on, and that's always a good thing. And the artwork is gorgeous, and is definitely in the more traditional comic medium without sacrificing the clarity and beauty of it all - it's a different kind of gorgeous than what modern graphic novels with amazing art tend to be.

Still, this is a great example of the best graphic novels have to offer. Really should be up there in terms of required reading for those who love the medium or want to see what it's about. I know I would have fallen in love with graphic novels much earlier if I had seen this a decade ago. Simply a must read, amazingly done.

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Review: The Sculptor

The Sculptor The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Man, this book.

So Scott McCloud is sort of legendary in graphic circles, and for good reason. I heard great things about this one, but I really honestly didn't expect this sort of great story. It's sort of a love letter to art and creation and such, but also really grasps what trying to be an artist can be like.

We follow David Smith, who is a sculptor who can't seem to get any traction. He meets a man who offers him a deal he can't refuse: 200 days to be able to sculpt anything with his hands, but he dies when his time is up. What follows is a trajectory that's unpredictable and maddening.

I get it. I haven't been as creative as I used to be as of late for a myriad of reasons, but the sort of craziness that can sometimes inhabit you comes across in full force here. I feel like this hits upon a lot of the artists I know, along with the personality quirks that go with it. The book handles mental illness in a pretty real way as well, which is a nice change of pace even if the "mentally disturbed artist" trope has a tendency to be overdone. What's best, though, are the surprises. Even though this has a Faustian angle to it, I kept being surprised as the book went on, and that's always a good thing. And the artwork is gorgeous, and is definitely in the more traditional comic medium without sacrificing the clarity and beauty of it all - it's a different kind of gorgeous than what modern graphic novels with amazing art tend to be.

Still, this is a great example of the best graphic novels have to offer. Really should be up there in terms of required reading for those who love the medium or want to see what it's about. I know I would have fallen in love with graphic novels much earlier if I had seen this a decade ago. Simply a must read, amazingly done.

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23 December 2015

Review: Nest

Nest Nest by Esther Ehrlich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book broke my heart into a million tiny little pieces, and I'm still trying to find a way to put it back together again.

A little girl nicknamed Chirp lives on Cape Cod in the early 1970s. Her mother, a dancer, is quickly stricken with a disease, and later depression, and Chirp has to learn to kind of cope with everything that goes along with that.

It's a heartbreaker for a lot of reasons, both personal and otherwise. As someone who has his own depression issues and is a parent, this book hit close to home even if I'm not anywhere near the extremes of Chips's mom. But there were moments in this book where I literally had to toss down my Kindle in frustration and sadness because, guys, this book is so sad. And the way Chirp and her friend cope with everything in the end is both empowering and heartbreaking in its own way.

I don't have a relationship with this book the way I do, say, The Start of Me and You. There's one flaw in this, and that's the unfortunate fact that this is a story that's too heavy for younger readers, but written toward younger readers in a way that might lose the older ones who would benefit the most from it. Still, as a basic work of fiction? Geez. Just one of the more impactful and solid reads I've experienced in a long time.

This is one of those books everyone should track down and read. It won't take you long, and it will really do a number on you in a good way. I wish all books impacted me the way this one did, and I hope it finds its way into the hands of kids who would really benefit from it, if only so they know that there are other people who understand the sort of suffering in play.

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01 December 2015

Review: Not If I See You First

Not If I See You First Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes a book takes some time to hook you in, other times you can pinpoint the exact moment the book charms the heck out of you. Not If I See You First is a pretty great book, but the benefit of it is the little moments along the way that rope you in, making the whole so much more pleasurable.

The story follows Parker, a girl who was blinded in a car accident years earlier. Both her parents have since passed, she's in school, and things are about as difficult as you'd expect. She does have a good support group of friends and does enjoy running, though, so that's something, but now there's a boy involved and that's when things start getting a little complicated.

There's a scene about a quarter of the way through when she goes shopping for running shoes that changed this to a sort of standard teen romance with a twist into something a little more. The way Lindstrom handles the blindness issue, the way we get to see the personalities around Parker similar to how she experiences them is a nice touch, and there are some pretty great messages in here throughout. Is it perfect? Not at all. I'm sure many people could take some issue with the portrayal, but it got me thinking more about the issue and as a good starting point, I'm in favor.

If you like YA books, like teen romances, this one should really be on your list. There's a lot here to love.

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30 November 2015

Review: Ninja Timmy

Ninja Timmy Ninja Timmy by Henrik Tamm
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Closer to a 2.5.

Ninja Timmy, at its core, has a lot going for it. The anthropomorphic animals in a steampunk-style setting works for this age group, and the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. On the other hand, the plot (involving stealing the souls of children to give a robot a soul so it can feel love) is more than a little bizarre.

The worst parts, though, are twofold. For one, the translation (in whatever form, whether from the original author or someone else), appears to have sucked a lot of the life out of the story. Everything feels declarative and matter-of-fact, especially action sequences (which you'd expect in spades in a book with "Ninja" in the title). Perhaps worst of all, though, is that the "final battle," as it were, is basically written away as "this happened, but no one was there to witness it," which completely took away from all the buildup. Incredibly disappointing.

Overall, this just didn't work for me. It's a shame, too, because stories like this should be better, and when you have illustrations this good to go along with the tales, it should be an absolute winner. At least in English, it fails on both counts.

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28 November 2015

Review: Restless Waters

Restless Waters Restless Waters by Jessica Park
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm continually intrigued by Jessica Park's books in a way I'm not with others. I can't quite explain it, as I'm compelled just as much by the stories as much as her success first as an independent author and now using some of the more mainstream outlets. Restless Waters is a sequel to Left Drowning, a book I enjoyed even though it felt a little fanservicey, and this continuation of the story feels different while still having the same sort of soul to it.

The sort of family of broken pieces is broken apart yet again, but the story really feels more like a reunion as Blythe and Chris visit Sabin in his new digs across the country. What starts as an excuse for the holidays becomes one of real soul-searching and figuring out how to survive independently while still relying on each other.

It's a complicated situation with a love triangle of sorts that both is and isn't your standard fare. The story works for feeling kind of unique, but the already-credulity-stretching romance between Blythe and Chris (complete with their similar sexual exploits) almost hits a breaking point with the Sabin storyline. It's realistic in a sense, and given the ages of the characters in the story, reasonable, but I spent a lot of time thinking "oh, come on at some of the stuff that could have been more easily resolved with a simple conversation. It may be a little nitpicky, but it almost feels like we need everything to be extreme in order to buy into the already-existing extremes, and it doesn't always work.

I wouldn't not recommend this, especially if you enjoyed Left Drowning. But this is ultimately closer to a 3.5 because of the melodrama, and I'm just more intrigued by what's next more than anything.

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Review: Restless Waters

Restless Waters Restless Waters by Jessica Park
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I'm continually intrigued by Jessica Park's books in a way I'm not with others. I can't quite explain it, as I'm compelled just as much by the stories as much as her success first as an independent author and now using some of the more mainstream outlets. Restless Waters is a sequel to Left Drowning, a book I enjoyed even though it felt a little fanservicey, and this continuation of the story feels different while still having the same sort of soul to it.

The sort of family of broken pieces is broken apart yet again, but the story really feels more like a reunion as Blythe and Chris visit Sabin in his new digs across the country. What starts as an excuse for the holidays becomes one of real soul-searching and figuring out how to survive independently while still relying on each other.

It's a complicated situation with a love triangle of sorts that both is and isn't your standard fare. The story works for feeling kind of unique, but the already-credulity-stretching romance between Blythe and Chris (complete with their similar sexual exploits) almost hits a breaking point with the Sabin storyline. It's realistic in a sense, and given the ages of the characters in the story, reasonable, but I spent a lot of time thinking "oh, come on at some of the stuff that could have been more easily resolved with a simple conversation. It may be a little nitpicky, but it almost feels like we need everything to be extreme in order to buy into the already-existing extremes, and it doesn't always work.

I wouldn't not recommend this, especially if you enjoyed Left Drowning. But this is ultimately closer to a 3.5 because of the melodrama, and I'm just more intrigued by what's next more than anything.

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22 November 2015

Review: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of Sarah Vowell's take on history since I found Assassination Vacation however many years ago. So it's been difficult for me to figure out what it is about this that feels like a miss.

Lafayette being the French general who was one of the instrumental cogs in the successful American Revolution, this sort of attempts to get inside his contributions a bit more. In a sense, he's a compelling figure, but he's also perhaps a little misunderstood.

So why did this fall a little flat for me? Maybe it's because I've read so much Revolutionary stuff over the years? Maybe he's just not compelling enough for this sort of treatment? Maybe I might be over Vowell's approach altogether?

I honestly don't know. But this is the first time I've read a Vowell book and didn't leave happy. I won't say to skip it, but maybe wait on it a bit.

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15 November 2015

Review: They All Fall Down

They All Fall Down They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes the best books are the ones that surprise you. They All Fall Down comes across in the first part of the book as yet another catty teen girl story, and then it goes sideways and becomes a super-fun read.

The school in question has a "Hottie List," where the hottest girls in the class are ranked. This is typically a good thing, but then the girls start dying in weird ways one by one. Is it a curse or something more?

This is a book that ties itself in and out of knots so well, and throws a lot of fun curveballs in your direction as you go about it. It has a very Final Destination vibe to it, for sure, but I think the horror of it all is less the eventualities and more of the way the characters interact and the mystery behind it all. Playing up some classic horror tropes doesn't hurt, either, especially with the "is it a curse or not" idea.

Overall, a fun read! Definitely a little different than what I've come to expect from YA, which is nice, and worth a read if you're into this sort of story.

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Review: Soundless

Soundless Soundless by Richelle Mead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lot of people are going to flock to this book due to hashtag politics or other agenda-driven reasons. While I'm hesitant to fault anyone for reading books for any real reason, the good news is that Soundless is a great read that feels very familiar without running on the same road when it comes to fantasy stories.

This tale is about a village at the top of a mountain. There's no sound at the village, but there is a mine that the people of the village use to trade for food and goods with the city below. Things are getting bad, though, because the town with no sound is also experiencing citizens losing their sight. Then, one day, Fei begins hearing, and everything changes.

The story reminds me, in ways, of The Knife of Never Letting Go in the use of senses to drive a narrative. This book is both more interesting and, in ways, more brutal, and also relies on some existing Eastern folk tales to drill down to this story of oppression. There's a lot to love on the surface, but the more I thought about this story, the more it ended up sticking with me. It loses some points with me because I really felt like the ending was a bit of a deus ex machina cop out, but it doesn't change what was great about the story along the way.

A good YA tale, handles ideas of deafness and disability in general in an interesting and accessible way, and has a lot of good, fun fantasy/YA elements to keep those reading at a more surface level entertained as well. Ultimately closer to a 4.5.

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11 November 2015

Review: Max Helsing And The Thirteenth Curse

Max Helsing And The Thirteenth Curse Max Helsing And The Thirteenth Curse by Curtis Jobling
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Honestly closer to a 1.5.

I should have loved this book. It's a nice little concept of a monster hunter who, well, goes around and hunts monsters. It borrows heavily from existing tropes, it's part Buffy and part Dresden, it's like a good bad monster movie.

And yet.

For a book for kids, okay. I can see where there might be some appeal. What I don't get is why it's so poorly executed. Plotlines are dropped, language use is inconsistent, it tries to be too many things all at once and yet doesn't seem to succeed at any of them at all. On one hand, this should be a winning hand in any regard - the descendant of a great monster hunter dealing with growing up while still having responsibilities and duties to deal with, as well as the expectations that go along with the name and actions. It almost makes me want to try and write it myself. Instead, this just really doesn't work. With mostly action in a medium that lends itself to at least coherent plotting, this just doesn't work on many levels at all.

Be wary.

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10 November 2015

Review: Autumn's Kiss

Autumn's Kiss Autumn's Kiss by Bella Thorne
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Bella Thorne's debut novel, which deftly handled issues of learning disabilities, navigating school, and dealing with the loss of a loved one while having an interesting, consequential magical element that tied a lot of it together.

Autumn's Kiss takes all the good stuff out and instead provides us with a surface-level romance that barely matters and isn't all that compelling.

The book that granted wishes still exists, but the emblem on the cover is gone and it doesn't seem to grant wishes anymore. Autumn can't figure it out, and the love triangle that she's kind of fallen into is taking up a lot of her headspace. Plus, her friends are being weird, her family situation is still difficult, and nothing seems right. Exploring the book further, however, unveils a map on the cover, and she can write in where she wants to go and be instantly transported. This is a game-changer for her, and she starts to get a lot of answers to some questions, including answers she doesn't really want.

The whole thing is just kind of dumb and ridiculous, especially given the qualities of the first book. Everything feels surface-level, there's no real stakes, nothing to set things apart. It's all just very straightforward, and, frankly, not great. If you loved Autumn in book one, you'll likely hate her in book two. If you thought her love interests were weird in the first book, just wait until this one comes along. Everyone is forgettable, no one improves, and it's just rough.

Skip this.

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08 November 2015

Review: KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money

KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money by J.M.R. Higgs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I only have a passing knowledge of music group The KLF, and a side interest in Discordianism in general, so this short book ultimately does a good job combining the two in the best way it possibly could given the metric ton of deliberate misinformation strewn about by all parties involved. While this is billed primarily as about The KLF, it's really better as a basic primer of Discordianism in popular arts and culture, and that's not to say a larger piece would be more interesting, but as someone who decidedly cannot take the time to become more obsessed with yet another weird arcane "thing," this was more than enough to satiate my overall interest.

This is short enough to be engrossing and whet anyone's appetite, but might not be detailed enough to truly delve into everything people would like to about the topics within. For me, it was pitch perfect, and I'm glad I took some time to read this one.

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Review: Old School

Old School Old School by Jeff Kinney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been continually impressed by how high the quality of the Wimpy Kid books have been as the series has progressed. We're close to 10 years worth of the books now and, while at one time this was rumored to be the final book, that might not be so anymore. I wonder if that's part of the reason why this one was just okay.

The charm of the books comes from the seemingly tied together stories to go along with the broader arc. I'd say the issue with this one was that the story with Greg's grandfather wasn't terribly engaging, and the rest was ultimately forgettable almost as soon as I read it. Not a great combination for a book that sort of requires a little more to keep it going.

Kids will keep loving this in any regard. If you've read the first nine and you're a kid obsessed with this series, this won't be the thing to change your mind. For this adult reader, though, it really felt like a rather broad misstep of stories maybe better relegated as subplots for a better tale.

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Review: The Weight of Things

The Weight of Things The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such a beautiful, strange book.

The best way I can describe this short novel is that it's really a bit of a weird, uncomfortable existential dread that doesn't devolve into scary bits or anything like that. It's fear of the mundane, it's sort of about the choices made over a lifetime and over generations, and it just works.

I struggle with really giving this a full accounting, as it's a book that ended up being more about what the book evoked rather than what the individual contents were. This book won a prize long ago and this translation appears to have kept the mood throughout, which is great, too.

As I slowly move through the Dorothy Project books, I found that this one stuck with me quite a bit. I wish I could pull something like this off. If you can get a copy, do so - it's one that might end up sticking to your gut, too.

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