20 October 2014

Review: Maplecroft


Maplecroft
Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



If I'm nitpicking, this is closer to a 4.5. If I could give a bonus star for how much fun and how much I loved this story, though, I would.

So I know, growing up and living in Massachusetts, the story of Lizzie Borden quite well. Accused of murdering her parents with an axe, she was later acquitted but her legend ultimately remained. Maplecroft takes that story and essentially retells it as if HP Lovecraft were putting it together. Yes, all the necessary tropes are there, and done beautifully.

The story is incredibly fast-paced and readable, with plenty of fun little nods to the Cthulhu Mythos and a few nice little curveballs along the way. It's a book I'm sure hardcore Lovecraftians might find something to quibble with, but, truly, if you are just looking for a fun ride? This is probably the most fun I've had with a book in months, and that should say something right there.

Highly recommended. Definitely check this one out.



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Review: The Abyss Beyond Dreams: Chronicle of the Fallers


The Abyss Beyond Dreams: Chronicle of the Fallers
The Abyss Beyond Dreams: Chronicle of the Fallers by Peter F. Hamilton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



One of my favorite science fiction books of all time is Pandora's Star by Peter F Hamilton, with the sequel, Judas Unchained, a fairly close second. A duology within a group of books labeled The Commonwealth Saga, it's hard sci-fi that doesn't really try to forget about the human elements, and invites a lot of cool ideas that go along with the overall theme.

The companion books, the Void trilogy, I couldn't get into. It was less of what I liked in a hard sci-fi book, especially given what I loved about the two prior books, and more about some fairly out-there ideas and concepts that left me a little cold. It wasn't really Hamilton, it was me.

So what do you get when you get a new series of books with people and concepts from both Commonwealth tales? It's ultimately mixed.

There's a lot going on, and it's almost not really worth recapping in some senses. There are names and faces that readers of the old books will remember, but the tale is centered at least in part around Nigel, who we first met in Pandora's Star. He's been recruited to infiltrate The Void (first introduced in the Void trilogy, naturally) and what he learns there is more than what was initially bargained for.

I have to say that my memory of this book is quite shaded from where it ends as opposed to how it begins. I really disliked a lot of the setup, as it relied ultimately on a lot more Void information and setting than I really was looking for. Once we get some information on what's going on and how it's being addressed, however, it becomes a lot more clear and a lot more enjoyable. It's still a highly imperfect read, but it saves itself with the setup for the future.

I sometimes feel like Hamilton is trying to ape Heinlein in many regards, especially with issues of sexuality and Grand Ideas. I pretty much end up wishing he'd just do what works for me, which is why this is partially my problem, but this book is ultimately a little too convoluted for what I wanted to see from a science fiction book or from Hamilton. Meanwhile, you probably wouldn't reach for this book without having at least sampled his other Commonwealth books first, so you would have a good idea as to what you're getting into.

Overall, be cautious, but know what's coming.



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19 October 2014

Review: The Fearless Defenders, Vol. 2: The Most Fabulous Fighting Team of All


The Fearless Defenders, Vol. 2: The Most Fabulous Fighting Team of All
The Fearless Defenders, Vol. 2: The Most Fabulous Fighting Team of All by Cullen Bunn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Excuse me while I use this review to rant for a few minutes.

There's a lot of desire for diversity in books, especially in comics as of late. The desires are not completely unreasonable, although I think that there's a broader discussion that needs to take place regarding the genre, the history, the expectations, and so on. The better news, however, is that we have a comic right here that hits a lot of those marks - diversity in character set, in gender, in race, in sexuality, and it does so without calling attention to itself or coming across as some sort of attempt to check off different boxes. It's a marvelous series that knows what it's trying to do and has a keen sense of the tropes it's aping and understands that comics are often supposed to be fun romps.

So that's why Marvel cancelled it, right?

No, Marvel cancelled it because sales dropped significantly, in part because it was a difficult draw in some senses, with characters that only hardcore comics readers would know and with plots that intentionally bordered on the absurd. That's what made it fun and drew in people like me, but I also get why it might not have caught fire with a lot of others. It's a shame, because it definitely felt like a comic that I could point to and say "this is what we should be striving for" in a lot of ways, from character to casting to plot. Instead, well...

I get that the industry is in trouble in some regards. It's just a shame there's not more room for a team-up that's off-kilter a bit. No, there's no foul-mouthed raccoon, but that doesn't mean that Valkyrie couldn't be the next Gamora, either, right?

And I suppose we'll never know.



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13 October 2014

Review: Wolf in White Van


Wolf in White Van
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Books by musicians, I've found, are continually risky. I can hear at least two of my close friends saying "but wait, John Darnielle!" and I would simply respond with how much I didn't care for Colin Meloy's efforts, and the two of them are both good lyricists. Still, when Wolf in White Van hit my library system, I made sure to put a hold on it.

Then it got nominated for a National Book Award.

Okay, so I guess I'm in. Award-nominated, I'm a fan of The Mountain Goats, so I dive in on a book where my expectations were understandlibly tempered and ended up finishing the book over the course of the evening, as it's one of the more poetic, straightforward, enjoyable contemporary reads I've consumed in a while.

The story is a little fractured, which only helps with the reveals along the way. We have a murder/wrongful death case, it involves a man who has been significantly disabled due to an accident (I don't want to give too much away), and he also ran a roleplaying-game-by-mail service. These are all interrelated issues, and we get a peek into his childhood and upbringing along with his mentality along the way.

It's the tale of a broken person, or broken people, and has enough cultural touchstones and references to go along with the tale to end up being a very different story than what I normally read, and one I really loved. Whether this breaks a lot of new ground in the sort of literary fiction universes that I don't spend a ton of time in, that's for other people to say. The book, however, deserves every accolade it's gotten and is definitely something I recommend for everyone. Really solid book.



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06 October 2014

Review: Nyctophobia


Nyctophobia
Nyctophobia by Christopher Fowler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Nyctophobia is defined as a significant fear of the dark. I'm not generally someone who is afraid of the dark, although I've been known to have my overtired darkness hallucinations from time to time. While I'm not really into scary books, this story in particular kind of feeds into the latent fears that I think we all thought we might have grown out of.

I also hadn't slept well in a week while reading this, and realized that (given I was reading this before bed every night), perhaps the warm glow of my Paperwhite was not enough to keep my mind firmly rooted in reality.

The tale is, in a way, a book about architecture. Callie marries and moves to Spain with her husband. Their home is an older building that is constructed in a certain way to allow light in at all times, but also has a closed-off servants quarters and is built to have some severely dark wings as well. The home also comes with a housekeeper and a gardener, both of which are as mysterious as the house itself. And then there are the weird things going on, the stuff in the dark behind the doors, and how protective of the dark side of the house the housekeeper tends to be.

The book is super creepy, and uses the concept of the fear of the dark in a pretty cool way. The reveals along the way are all pretty crazy, and it becomes almost a game of one-upsmanship along the way as the story speeds toward its end. The book does sputter a bit toward the end as it moves away from what made the rest of the narrative so scary in favor of a neat, but strange, explanation, but the fun of this book is more about the ride than the destination.

Overall, for a book that's generally outside of my genre preferences, I was very pleased and really enjoyed it in spite of the fact that it probably kept me up for a week. Might be a good gateway for this type of story for some, and I think those who are already happy to be a little scared when they read will find something to enjoy here.



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05 October 2014

Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After


Isla and the Happily Ever After
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Judging by when I first added this to Goodreads, it appears I was waiting for this book for at least three years. It was mostly worth the wait.

Much like the first two books in this cycle, it's a teen romance of missed connections, missed communications, and dramatic outcomes. This story basically takes place in a French boarding school with the son of an American politician and an upper class New York-area girl. The two love interests go through the typical motions and the story works as the last two did as well.

If I have a complaint, it's more that the plot kind of upped the ante on the age groups a bit. Isla and Josh have a much more mature relationship than shown in the prior two books, and I was actually kind of surprised and taken aback by it a bit. The story also took quite a long time to get rolling, as well, with the first hundred or so pages being frustratingly slow in comparison to the parts after it.

Overall, a good read. Not great in the way I felt the first two were, but Perkins has become a master of the ridiculous teen romance fantasies that tend to hit a lot of good notes for me. If I wasn't such a fan of the first two, I may have ended up being more forgiving on this third one on a whole.



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Review: Ghost Story


Ghost Story
Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



In many ways this was my favorite book in the series so far, and in many ways it was easily the most frustrating.

So, spoiler alert, Dresden's dead, baby. The final scene of the previous (non-short story) book was Dresden dying, and we open with the Dresden version of the afterlife. Harry's a ghost in a ghostly version of Chicago, and we get a good amount of time with his dealing with this new existence before we get into the meat of the story, which is really less an urban fantasy than a straightforward fantasy book steeped in death and destruction. It's a really interesting turn for the series on a whole.

What I loved, for starters, was that the Dresden/Butcher view of the afterlife is a pretty interesting one on a whole. I won't speak to its true originality, but it felt new and fresh to me as I read it. Seeing Dresden cope with this situation, meeting a lot of new characters, having him interact both with the new world he inhabited and the old one left behind? All of these things were really well done and presented throughout. It's not so much that the series needed a shift in tone or plot or anything, but it's a welcome one and a nice addition to the canon.

What's maddening about this book in particular, however, is that the consistent rules in place that one assumes to exist only seem to benefit Harry. While we're long past the idea of the story working for Harry's benefit, this takes it to a really absurd conclusion. He's dead because of something he did on purpose to screw over Mab, which just happens to be convenient to the story and to his own needs while dead, and that he somehow excises that memory from himself which either means that he also excised the memory of what he knows about death or that he just happened to fall conveniently into a situation in the afterlife that worked to his overall benefit when it comes to Mab? I'm especially annoyed by this because I love watching the other shoe drop, and this felt like a really convenient end-around.

And don't even get me started with his adventures in the Molly treehouse scene.

I feel as if I'm really overly negative about a book I actually really enjoyed, but I just don't get a lot of these choices in this instance. It really stopped the book from being the great book in the series it could have been, and that's frustrating. With that said, though, the book yet again did what just about every other entry has so far, and that's get me really excited to get to the next tale. With only two books left before I'm caught up with everyone else, though...




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01 October 2014

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why


Thirteen Reasons Why
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I'm not generally one to really react to a book in general. A funny book for me might elicit a chuckle, but I'm typically a silent reader. With this book, however, I'm pretty sure that the old ladies at the Dunkin Donuts where I was reading this was wondering why this grown man, beard and all, looked about ready to sob all over the place.

Yes, Thirteen Reasons Why is that good.

The plot is fairly straightforward in that we get to listen along with a teenage boy as he listens to the audio records of the girl who killed herself a few weeks earlier. She recorded the tapes with the intention of those who were involved in her making the choice she did knowing exactly why it happened.

It's gut-wrenching. It's heart-breaking.

A common problem with the teen "issues" books is that they can really do a lot in trivializing the emotional core of teen life. It's easy for us, as adults, to look back at what we spent our emotional energy on years earlier and forget how tough it was (heck, that's part of the reason why YA books are so popular with adults currently), but it also runs the risk of diminishing the real feelings involved along the way. If depression and emotional angst are a series of crushing weights (and, for many, they are), Thirteen Reasons Why just marches us right along as we watch that slow decline.

As someone who struggles with depression to this day, this book really hit home for me. I always tell people about how Stargirl is the best book I can think of for teens to read about acceptance and treating people right, and this book has lodged itself directly next to it as something not only important because of the message it sends, but also important because of how genuine and sincere it is. It's a narrative about how the small things become big, and maybe reading this book might just make some people treat their peers a little better, because it might be all it takes.

I don't know. It took me over a week to write up anything on this and I feel like I could spend forever talking about it. It's a beautiful, tragic, amazing, disturbing book in every regard. I'm glad I read it. I hate that I read it. I love that it exists, I hate that it needs to. No one should have to read this, but everyone really should. If you've been holding off, as I have for years and years now, just find a copy and read it now. You'll be really, really glad you did.

I'll supply the tissues.



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16 September 2014

Review: The Vault of Dreamers


The Vault of Dreamers
The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien

My rating: 0 of 5 stars



I definitely liked Birthmarked, the first book by this author, but never really felt compelled to finish the series. Seeing a new book form the author come up on NetGalley, I opted to give it a shot and, even with some quibbles about certain choices made, I'm ultimately glad I did.

The book throws a curve from the start, in that a girl is in a school environment complete with futuristic pods and such. We quickly learn that it is the future, and it's also part of a reality program of sorts for very creative types. Rosie skips her sleeping pill for the pod one night, however, and finds what she believes to be the true happenings and purpose of the school. It quickly becomes a story of perception and reality with some hints of future tech.

The ideas? Wonderful, and really advanced for a YA book in a lot of ways. I loved the choices and chances made, except for the end of the book where things quickly start to fall apart at the seams. The ending in particular outright angered me, and while I shouldn't judge a book so much by my disliking of an ending, there is something to be said about the ending fitting everything else.

All said and done, though, I did like this and would recommend. It's a strange trip, for sure, but one I'm glad I went on, all things considered.



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15 September 2014

Review: The Goblin Emperor


The Goblin Emperor
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Closer to a 4.5.

I spoke a few weeks ago about trying and failing to get through a political fantasy. It wasn't very exciting and didn't really pull me in at all. The Goblin Emperor comes in with a lot of praise and hype behind it, and, as a book that largely deals with the political machinations of a court in a fantasy-setting, it absolutely delivers. It's the story of an unexpected heir having to learn to rule on the fly while figuring out if his parents were actually assassinated and whether his head is on the chopping block next.

It's hard to describe exactly what works here on a whole, especially when most of it does. Maia, in trying to be a better ruler than those who preceded him, feels mostly realistic in spite of the circumstances. The issues in the country are viable and carry some real-feeling danger, and the book is so readable that it's just all easy to get through. I can forgive some qualms with social agendas and narrative weirdness that seems to have been inserted for no real reason, but the book and story are so solid that it can be forgiven easily.

Overall, a great, great read. Definitely one everyone should pick up.



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08 September 2014

Review: City of Stairs


City of Stairs
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Epic fantasy is more or less defined by either Brandon Sanderson or George RR Martin these days, and I've been looking for that Next Great Series for a while. When I saw this book get previewed in a few places a while back, I made sure to check it out when I could. I figured I'd like it, but what I didn't expect was for the book to be one of the best things I've read this year.

The story takes place in a land where the gods are all dead and much of the history of them and their society has gone missing or is lost. In some ways, the city this story takes place in has some modernish flair, but is still very rooted in the basic fantasy ideals. The issue is when our diplomat/officer of sorts enters the city on one task and quickly gets involved in a conspiracy of sorts, one that is equally magical and deadly at the same time.

The appeal for this book is twofold. For one, the setting is outstanding. The city of Bulikov, which is where this book takes place, feels fully formed and immersive. I wanted the book to spend just as much time on this as it did on the rest of the tale, and the little nooks, crannies, architecture, everything about it feels rich and alive in a way that many other places do not. Unlike any other book I've read in recent memory, the city itself is almost completely essential even if it's not at the root of the story.

The better part, though, is the tale itself. It has Lovecraftian elements, some humor, plenty of fantasy tropes, the whole nine yards. There's a warehouse of sorts in particular that was easily my favorite part, and one specific result of that ends up being one of the highlights of the book. Without giving much away, those who like their fantasy a little darker will find plenty to like here, but those who prefer some lighter fare won't be left behind or turned off. It's a pretty perfect mix.

Overall, knowing that the sequel is in the works is good to know, but I'm going to be impatient for the next volume for a while. This is absolutely one of my favorite reads of this year, and should really start being discussed as one of the best releases in the genre as of late. You must read this book. Highly, highly recommended.



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06 September 2014

Review: Acceptance


Acceptance
Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



In what was really the surprise of the year for me, the Southern Reach trilogy was a quick three book hit this year that was among the best in "weird" fiction I've read in some time. You can look back at my prior reviews of the first two books, but needless to say, the concept behind the strange "topographical anomaly" that is central to the three books remains excellent, and the way the tales are brought together in this third book is mostly masterful.

There's some confusion in that we have some actual names for the first time (as opposed to "The biologist" or "The director") and it creates a little extra issue in terms of how to keep track of everything. That's my only complaint in what ends up being a book that answers a ton of questions while still successfully raising even more. A lot of it had me thinking of The Croning's ending in many regards, and that's definitely a complement, as things are about as bizarre as expected.

Overall, a great series and one I'm sad to see finished. Needless to say, VanderMeer has become a must-read for me on this series alone, and I really look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.



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30 August 2014

Review: Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files


Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files
Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Side Jobs is about as mixed as you'd expect a short story collection of odds and sods to be.

It should be prefaced that the collection has a singular purpose of getting the shorter in-universe stuff published, plain and simple. So when the first story is described by Butcher as a bit rough, he's not kidding. It also allows Butcher to play around in the universe a bit, such as with stories from the perspective of the vampire Thomas and from Karrin herself (my personal favorite story in the book). It doesn't take itself terribly seriously, and that's a good thing.

The downside to the collection is that some of it, well, isn't great. The first story in particular is really tough to read, especially coming at it 12 books in when you've gotten used to a specific, more professional style from Butcher. Not all the stories work - the love spell one fell flat for me, the very short one toward the beginning, "Vignette," didn't really work for me, and a number of them are just flat-out unmemorable. There's one story in particular that really rubbed me the wrong way with the sexualization of Molly, and it really took me out of things. I don't know why, but I didn't expect it and really didn't like it.

As a whole, though? Not bad. Not great, but it has its moments, and you can really truly say that about any group of short stories that are out there. It's a solid collection in a universe I'm already really enjoying, so that's ultimately all that matters in the end. Closer to a 3.5.



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Review: Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files


Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files
Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Side Jobsis about as mixed as you'd expect a short story collection of odds and sods to be.

It should be prefaced that the collection has a singular purpose of getting the shorter in-universe stuff published, plain and simple. So when the first story is described by Butcher as a bit rough, he's not kidding. It also allows Butcher to play around in the universe a bit, such as with stories from the perspective of the vampire Thomas and from Karrin herself (my personal favorite story in the book). It doesn't take itself terribly seriously, and that's a good thing.

The downside to the collection is that some of it, well, isn't great. The first story in particular is really tough to read, especially coming at it 12 books in when you've gotten used to a specific, more professional style from Butcher. Not all the stories work - the love spell one fell flat for me, the very short one toward the beginning, "Vignette," didn't really work for me, and a number of them are just flat-out unmemorable. There's one story in particular that really rubbed me the wrong way with the sexualization of Molly, and it really took me out of things. I don't know why, but I didn't expect it and really didn't like it.

As a whole, though? Not bad. Not great, but it has its moments, and you can really truly say that about any group of short stories that are out there. It's a solid collection in a universe I'm already really enjoying, so that's ultimately all that matters in the end. Closer to a 3.5.



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Review: The Dragon's Path


The Dragon's Path
The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Having some time to kill on a plane a few weeks back, it felt like a good idea to try my hand at another epic fantasy, especially as my regular go-tos are ones I'm currently caught up on. The Dragon's Path is mostly good-to-great, and, perhaps more importantly, definitely scratches that itch that I was looking to solve.

Like any good long-term epic fantasy read, this one has its share of point of view storylines. There's the orphan girl, the noble heir, soldiers and politics, and all of these stories are, to Abraham's credit, interesting without staying too long. Even with my favorites like A Song of Ice and Fire, you have point of view characters that you want to ignore for a time to get back to the plot points you like, and this book doesn't seem to have that same sort of drag. It's not to say there aren't favorites - I'm personally partial to the story involving Cithrin the orphan banker - but nothing feels like filler or a way to keep the characters involved without giving them anything to do.

If there's a downside, it's that the story doesn't feel epic yet. Unlike ASOIAF or The Stormlight Archives, this feels a little lighter in both structure and story. This is not a bad thing at all, and it's in fact welcome in some regards, but if you're looking for that "true epic," this might not be the thing you're looking for. Then again, we're a number of books into the overall story now, so it might pick up significantly in the later volumes.

Overall, probably closer to a 4.5. Definitely a series I intend to continue, and definitely something that fills a significant void in what I've been reading of late.



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26 August 2014

Review: Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle


Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle
Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars



Closer to a 1.5, honestly.

This book is truly a bit of a mess. It doesn't know if it's a fantasy book, or a horror book, or a book centered around riddles, or a book centered around birds, or a book about animal companions, or a book about animal zombies/vampires. It could be all of these things, or it could be about none of them at all.

And did I mention it's a book for kids?

The story is incredibly long for what it is, has very cardboard characters and a far-too-confusing premise for the audience it's after. I really don't get it at all, and I'm at a loss to figure out where in the process it went wrong. I'm hesitant to call it a complete failure, but it's pretty much the closest I can get to "failure" without actually calling it one. There's redeemable ideas about virtue and selfless acts throughout, but you have to get through a LOT of nonsense to get there along the way, and it's just not worth it.

Avoid this one at all costs.



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16 August 2014

Review: Sisters


Sisters
Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



This is a book I liked while reading it, and end up finding that I loved the more I thought about it.

Smile was a solid read because of the fun story and the way that Telgemeier is able to tell an uncomfortable story about her childhood with grace and charm. Sisters is a different story, this one partially a road trip story about coping with a family that doesn't really get you and maybe never will, and partially a series of flashbacks regarding growing up with a younger sister that you started out excited about but ended up not having a ton in common with.

It's a great tale about how family is supposed to stick together, how we cope with trouble in a family environment, how we don't always know how to fit in. I wish this book existed when I was 12, and, at 33, I still find a lot to relate to and learn from with this book. It's a truly beautiful read, and it really belongs on everyone's shelf. Highly recommended.



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09 August 2014

Review: The Circuit: Executor Rising


The Circuit: Executor Rising
The Circuit: Executor Rising by Rhett C. Bruno

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



I'm always looking for a great space opera, even though the genre doesn't always work for me. Sometimes it's the plot, sometimes it's the attention to detail, sometimes it's just that the ideas aren't compelling. The Circuit is a space opera that draws from a lot of different ideas, and when it works, it's really solid, but sometimes there's less likable parts to wade through to get to the meat.

The story is more of an espionage piece in outer space, with a basically-unchallenged governing group and those who want that to change. There's mercenaries, there are government representatives, there's seemingly sentient transport units, and all of them have their own basic machinations.

The issue with broader "space operas," or anything with varying points of view, is that some storylines end up being more enjoyable than others. While the start and finish of this book were both very compelling, most of the middle I had a lot of trouble engaging with, whether it be due to my own personal feelings on the story or whether it being just that some characters felt better formed than others. Bruno excels at making ADIM, the transport android, a very enjoyable character, while the more rogueish types ended up feeling like background characters when they were the main thrust of the story. It really took me out of things a bit and made it a little more difficult to fully immerse.

Overall, though? It's not a bad book by any means. In a world where you have great space operas from Peter Hamilton, and newer pieces from John C. Wright and John Love, the genre has some mountainous competition. At the end of the day, I wanted the book to be as great as its start and finish was, and I didn't get there. Future books in this universe may succeed in that regard, and I'll definitely check them out, but this one might frustrate you from time to time.



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07 August 2014

Review: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation


Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation
Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I grew up a Nintendo partisan. My brother had the Genesis, my friends at school certainly thought Sega was "cooler," but knowing that I liked RPGs from the beginning, you could only get Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, basically any SquareSoft game, on Nintendo. So I did the Nintendo Power thing and that was the end of it - there was no internet to know about the different plans for the companies like we see today, no discussion outside of classrooms/workplaces, and so on.

Console Wars is an oral history of sorts of the timeframe of the growth of the console market in the 1980s and early 1990s. It covers the time of Sega making their big run toward the Super Nintendo up until the announcement of the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Saturn with the introduction of the PlayStation, and does so in a breezy, direct way.

The pros of this book are the personalities as well as the structure of the narrative. We get very distinct ideas of the people central to the discussions, and it's a great nostalgia trip for someone who lived it. The major con is that it is centralized almost entirely on Sega. As someone who lived the Nintendo dream, I appreciated that part, but if I were reading this ignorant of the whole situation, you'd almost think Sega ended up coming out ahead in the end, and we know how that resulted.

Overall, still a fun, solid read. Definitely good for anyone who loves or loved video games, and a great account of the times on a whole.



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Review: Full Fathom Five


Full Fathom Five
Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I've now read the three books in Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence and, in a lot of ways, Full Fathom Five is the best of the three. There's something inherently great about excellent worldbuilding, and when an author makes such an interesting world and then plays in it in such a wonderful way, it means so much of the stories become a joy to read.

It's difficult to discuss one book without discussing all three, though. The middle book felt more like a traditional urban fantasy, the first a legal thriller of sorts, and this book is more, to me, a bureaucratic tale. Whether that's intended or not, I don't know nor care, but taken as a complete piece up to this point, that's where the pleasure derives, as Gladstone appears to be at his best here in describing the minutia of the situations and proving a look into his world. It's not to say the story itself is secondary (although the important points are known from the first book), but that my enjoyment stems from what's built.

Overall, I don't know what (if anything) comes next from this series. Regardless, even as I was a little iffy on the middle book, this brought me right back in, and I really enjoyed it. Start at book one, and you'll want to get into this in no time.



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04 August 2014

Review: Changes


Changes
Changes by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



With Changes, some mixed reviews had me wary on this, but outside of a pretty deliberate curveball, this ended up really restoring my faith in the series.

The story begins with a pretty much out-of-nowhere plot development that Dresden has a daughter. Okay. Sure. Weirder things happen, I guess, so why not just run with the story. The daughter, however, is a MacGuffin of sorts to drive us to what's essentially an ultimate goal of a conspiracy to eliminate Dresden and his line from the universe entirely. Where we go from there is very typical Dresden adventure, complete with a final quarter of the book that is both exciting and fast-paced as any other in the series.

It's becoming easier to be critical of these books now that we're 12 in, but even the choices made here, especially with the daughter, do not seem to be done for story purposes as much as to provide an excuse to do things. The good news is that this story in particular does wrap up a lot of the loose ends I was complaining about when looking at the previous book, which was a happy surprise. Plus, the sense of danger is alive and well, and perhaps not the way I had considered (not to give anything away to those who might not be twelve books in). Even when this book is ultimately about 30-40 pages too long, it's not dragged down from start to finish with that problem, a testament to the overall storytelling involved.

Really, with this book, there's just a "what's next" element that hasn't existed in some time. We get some hints of what Dresden can do that we didn't before, and the door is wide, wide open now in a way that it wasn't before. I'm still frustrated by some of those choices, but it's more than made up for by the continued quality of what we're seeing. While I know I'm reading the short story collection next, I'm probably more invested in the overall story now than I have been for a few volumes now.



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29 July 2014

Review: The Fearless Defenders, Vol. 1: Doom Maidens


The Fearless Defenders, Vol. 1: Doom Maidens
The Fearless Defenders, Vol. 1: Doom Maidens by Cullen Bunn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Man, I loved this.

Cullen Bunn hit my radar with the flawed but still pretty cool Sixth Gun series, and I saw there was another series he was doing, so I requested it for a shot.

First, I truly had no idea this was a Marvel property, and this being a Marvel Now piece, I went in somewhat skeptical, since I haven't liked much of the Marvel Now comics coming forward. This, however, was great. A crazy ride from start to finish with big bad guys, fun c-list characters, and a schlocky, b-movie feel to the whole proceedings. No one is taking this especially seriously, and that's why it works - it just feels like a fun, crazy ride.

I don't know what to compare this to. It's a lot like the New 52 Suicide Squad in format, but a lot lighter. It's like an Avengers team-up, but with everything being a little more ridiculous. I want this to be a movie so, so much, and maybe we'll get lucky, but, for now? This was exactly what I was looking for and I didn't even know it.

Highly recommended.



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21 July 2014

Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



So I guess I'm an introvert?

I've had this on my to-read list since the day I heard about it, but only got around to it now. Partially because it's been on perpetual library hold, but more because it's only recently that I realized that I actually appear to hold more introverted traits than the extroverted ones I expected.

So reading this book, which is essentially a love letter to introversion, did a lot in terms of kind of confirming a few things about myself that I already kind of knew or believed, and put them in a good context. That was good.

The bad is that it might lead me to some confirmation bias issues to work out, but that's on me. That the book felt a little long is one that I can't control, though, and keeps it from being an all-star of a nonfiction book.

As it stands, though, a solid read overall and one I'm glad I read and can recommend. Worth the time, intro- or extroverted.



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20 July 2014

Review: Just Like the Movies


Just Like the Movies
Just Like the Movies by Kelly Fiore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



I came away from this book somewhat frustrated. In a lot of ways, it's a really solid YA teen romance read, and the concept behind it is solid. It reminded me quite a bit of a few of the recent reads in this genre that I've read, which was great. My complaint is more about how it never really reaches the concept that it presents in a way I'd expect.

The short answer on this is that the book is about a couple girls who aren't so lucky in the love department and end up trying to woo their crushes using romantic movie tropes. They start a small business, they try it on their own, and it is very much a comedy of errors in some senses.

The story is pretty straightforward on a whole, but the somewhat stuttered efforts to get the hook of the book involved really took away from the rest of the story for me. It had moments that felt like a bad comedy that were offset by other pretty fun scenes. That inconsistency was ultimately what kept me from enjoying this more on a whole. Closer to a 3.5, and good for a lighter read, but that's about it.



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Review: Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who's Lived It


Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who's Lived It
Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who's Lived It by Matthew Berry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



It should be noted, to start, that I'm really, truly bad at fantasy football. My best year, for those who will understand this, was when the best starting QB I could get was Kyle Orton when he was with the Bears. I somehow rode that horse into the finals, no idea why.

Fantasy Life is a book with two agendas. One, it's a memoir of sorts from Matthew Berry, former screenwriter and now full time fantasy guru. The other part is an accounting of some of the truly insane lengths people will go for their fantasy leagues and fantasy sports in general.

Having heard Berry discuss Crocodile Dundee 3 on a podcast before, it was fun to get some insight on his Hollywood career as well as how he is significantly responsible for the rise in popularity of fantasy sports in the United States. He's got a good way of telling his story, and it's a quick, compelling read.

The draw of this book, however, are the really weird stories regarding fantasy leagues he's heard about or witnessed over the years. It makes me glad the leagues I'm in are basically not so serious in comparison to what some people have had to go through for having a better track record than I do. If books about people being insane is something you're into, this will be worth your energy.

Overall, a fun, light read. Well exceeded my expectations overall, and definitely worth a look if you have any interest in fantasy sports. At minimum, you might find a few ways to torture your fellow fantasy owners.



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18 July 2014

Review: The Three


The Three
The Three by Sarah Lotz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



No book I have read recently that I've enjoyed and finished has frustrated me the way The Three has.

The book is sort of a World War Z take on four plane crashes that occur at the same time around the world. There are three child survivors, and it ushers in a weird reaction where some see it as a biblical apocalpyse, others various conspiracy theories, there are questions of immortality, and so on and so forth. Conceptually, the idea is really fascinating and certainly kept me going on this book.

What's frustrating about it? For one, far too many of the characters end up sounding exactly the same, which just doesn't work in a book like this. While there are really fully-formed, distinct characters (most notably the Asian survivor's contingent), the rest feels really similar whether you're in Cape Town or in the Americas. For another, the journalistic angle the narrative takes ultimately leaves a lot more questions than answers, and, while I get that the choice taken here is the point, it really didn't work within the existing narrative. This is not to say all raised questions needed to be answered, but it also means that, when providing a Lost-style story, the end result of leaving some questions unanswered needs to be much more compelling than what was ultimately offered.

This is less a story of survivors than a story of people dealing with a confusing world. I can see why I was drawn to it, and I can see why other people have come to enjoy this. It's just so flawed and so riddled with unforced errors that made me feel like it could have been more that those issues offset what was otherwise a quick and occasionally entertaining read. I can't recommend as much as I'd like to, although you could do worse if you're looking for a sci-fi beach-style read.



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29 June 2014

Review: Turn Coat


Turn Coat
Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



With book eleven, I feel like I'm sort of mired in the same midpoint I was with The Wheel of Time toward the middle, where not a ton is happening and it's getting frustrating. It's not to say it's outright bad like some of the middle Wheel of Time stuff, but I hesitate to call this book in particular good.

We're knee deep in the White Council conspiracy, there's some sort of supernatural being they're calling a "skinwalker" that's doing a good deal of damage, we're still mentoring Molly, and Thomas is still wavering a bit because he's a vampire and that's what they do. That's essentially what's going on with Harry Dresden right now, and that's why this book is a little frustrating. After a great run of book after book of action and plot development and payoffs, I feel as if the story stalls out a bit here. It's not to say we have no movement, as there's a lot that goes on with the Council and Thomas and Molly, and the end of the book in particular is paced extremely fast, but the books have created a bit of an expectation of things happening and there wasn't much of a payoff for this one.

This may be just a basic problem with multi-volume books in general. I don't doubt, by this point in publication, that Jim Butcher has some sort of endgame in mind - I've read one thing that claimed it would end at 20, and another that there's enough story ideas to bring it into the "lower 20s." It's just interesting to read these books where there is no apparent or necessary end in sight. What more, this book appears to be really well received in comparison to others, and I definitely had a different impression of it.

Overall, I'm far from throwing in the towel on this series. It's still pretty high quality even if there have been missteps. I am hoping, however, for a more cohesive, more exciting read in the next one. We'll see.



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28 June 2014

Review: Leviathan Wakes


Leviathan Wakes
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Let's get one thing out of the way first: I loved this book. Why, then, has it taken me almost a week to write a coherent review? Mostly because some of it was just frustrating? I don't know.

Long and short is that this is a nearish-future tale where Earth and Mars are colonized, but we still really can't leave the solar system. There's interplanetary politics, some advanced science/technology that exists, and there's also some strange happenings overall involving some conspiracies and such. There's also a more traditional mystery story that takes place, and these two ideas converge on each other to really get an impressive story out there.

I liked basically everything about this. It's not quite a space opera, but it has that feel and it's been a long time since I've read anything like it that hooked me in this well. The book is really readable, it's not taking too many chances and not bogging itself down in minutiae like many long science fiction books do. This works really well in that regard.

If I have a negative, it's that the book feels really surface level, and the last 10% or so of the book really accelerates things in a way that didn't feel very true to the rest of the book. The frustration comes in with a story that's great but is not memorable on the detail level, partially because it feels like things simply happen as opposed to having any real reason or the characters having significant agency. It's a weird case, but one that didn't take away from my enjoyment. It's just really different, and, looking back, perhaps a little frustrating.

Overall, I can't wait to pick up the second book in this series. I'd love to think this holds up long term over the multiple books, but we'll see.



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13 June 2014

Review: The Girl With All The Gifts


The Girl With All The Gifts
The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Maybe it's just me, but the whole zombie thing is really wearing me out. I'm still reading (not watching) The Walking Dead, but the idea if the World War Z movie or another zombie book or comic is frankly tiring. Thus, when it became evident early that The Girl With All The Gifts was in the same universe as so much zombie fiction right now, I probably would have thrown my hands up in frustration if the book wasn't so good.

The basic setting is not the most original thing in the world, with the United Kingdom in a post-apocalyptic state after the "hungries" have effectively taken over. Yes, they're zombies, I just don't think the word is ever used. The story starts out in a holding area of some sort, however, with a bunch of children in a school. They're constantly restrained because they want to bite and lash out, but still capable of learning and thought and such, and they even have future plans, all of which really upsets one of their teachers. The real secret comes later, and it upends both everyone's understanding of the crisis and raises some overall questions about humanity as well.

The book comes with a very simple premise, and the first quarter of the book ends up being some of the best I've read recently. The reveals are spaced out perfectly, the setting is not too detailed without feeling like anything is left out, and the overall trajectory of the story is great. It's extremely well-written with very few flaws, except for maybe the shift in overall plot if you were expecting the beginning to be like the end. I have no complaints.

What's also interesting is that the author is a pen name for comics author Mike Carey, best known as of late for the amazing Unwritten. While Unwritten (along with some of his Fantastic Four efforts) comes across as convoluted at times, this book is rock solid in terms of where it's going and what it's doing. A great read.



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Review: We Were Liars


We Were Liars
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I had actually forgotten that E Lockhart was the same author as The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, which I love. With that said, it's...easy to categorize her recent output as being focused on the trials and tribulations of the economically privileged, and, while that might at least be part of her intent, it really misses the broader point of what she accomplishes. Disreputable History was more of a focus on friendships and fabrications at a boarding school, not so much the super rich and their secret societies. We Were Liars is not so much about how They live, but how We live, and the way families lie to each other when they don't have to as well as when they do.

The story takes place on a small semi-private island off the coast of Massachusetts, where four children have grown up over the course of a number of summers. In summer 17, years after one girl's accident, the four are finally back together and nothing is really the same, and no one is willing to admit why.

This book works well because it's honest, and brutally so. As an adult reader, I saw a lot of dynamics portrayed in this book in my own life, and that's not a happy thought now or before. The curveball, of sorts, might be a little far-fetched, but it makes sense within the context of the story being provided, and the little hints and glimpses into the lives of the people who all come to this island every summer feel real and end up being continually heartbreaking.

Another solid read all around, really. If you've waffled on this a bit, don't. It's one of the better reads of the year.



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