30 June 2015

Review: Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Yeah, this is more like it.

Delilah Dirk is a woman who is kind of a pirate and kind of Robin Hood but mostly just notoriously awesome as she steals from the rich and busts out of jail and swings her sword around and wows those around her along the way. This is basically her story and the story of a man entranced by who she is and what she does without it being a crazy romantic trope.

In other words, yeah, cool!

It appealed to me because it was a fun, action-packed adventure that did a lot of fun things with a classic type of story. Others who are concerned with gender representation and strong female characters will find plenty to love here as well, as Delilah is independent and awesome in all the right ways and the story isn't sexualized or filled with romance in the least. And it's rare for a book of late to straddle that line without going fully in either direction, and Tony Cliff somehow figured it out.

The next volume simply cannot come soon enough. I absolutely loved this, and it comes highly recommended. A well-done read.

Review: Trollhunters

Closer to a 2.5.

I enjoy Guillermo Del Toro. I thought the first bits of The Strain were solid, I've enjoyed many of his movies, and so a foray into children's books really seemed like it should have been down my alley. Why, then, didn't this work for me?

The idea behind the story is a kid who is dragged into a multigenerational conflict regarding underground trolls and prophecies and such. The kid is quickly trained to be part of the war and start working to end the conflict.

This book is tough because it can't really decide who its geared toward from an age level standpoint, and can't decide whether it's creepy or campy in the meantime. Del Toro is an expert in both, which might be part of the problem in any regard, but that expectation only further muddies the water. Worse, it's hard to buy the antagonists as a true threat at any real time, which is a pretty big problem considering the impacts we expect them to have and how they're affected others in the story.

It's just a hot mess in a lot of ways. I can see a lot of appeal, and it's not terrible, it's just something I expected a lot more from than what I ended up getting. Kids would benefit from a campy monster book at this age level, or a creepy one, or even one that walks the line in a successful way. Trollhunters, sadly, is none of those things.

20 June 2015

Review: End of Discussion

I mean, this one's obvious, right? If you've spent any time on the internet lately, you know the types. They shut down discussion before it starts, they're trying to keep things from being discussed at all, and it's getting to the point where college policies, government rules, and so on are being dictated by a sort of heckler's veto. End of Discussion is a book that sort of charts that recent rise and provides some examples along the way. The book is far from perfect, but it is necessary. The problem, as is with a lot of books in this sort of subgenre, is that there's no way the people who need to read this will see it. The result, instead, is a sort of preaching to the choir as opposed to being a vehicle for the necessary change in this area before it's perhaps too late. As a political conservative, though, it's interesting to see a lot of these stories compiled into one place. I just wish I knew how to get this into the hands of the people who need to read it.

16 June 2015

Review: Every Last Word

So there are books we call "sick lit," and books that tend to be just traditional "finding your place" books. Sometimes they meet and work, but sometimes, like with Every Last Word, they just don't.

Sam has OCD, and it sort of defines her life a bit. She has her friends, who are more of a clique, but a girl leads her to a more artsy group of teens, and she quickly starts to learn about what matters to her and how it can help her with her mental problems.

It's a very straightforward story, and the OCD is front and center in the descriptions, but not so much the story. The plot, instead, is more of a traditional "finding new friends" story with some mental illness aspects to try and help it stand out. What resulted, for me, was a book that I did finish, but really struggled with. It's just almost too straightforward, with the various twists in the plot (especially concerning Caroline, her friend who steers her in the new direction) being telegraphed from miles and miles away.

I think we're seeing a lot of this due to A Fault in Our Stars. Yes, we need more books that look honestly at illness. No, this one really isn't it.

13 June 2015

Review: The Affinites

I've been a fan of Robert Charles Wilson for a while now, and I can't say I've read anything I've disliked from him... until now. The Affinities is a rare miss, ultimately filled with a lot of ideas and some fairly rough execution.

The point of the book appears to be to sort of play with the whole dystopian trope we've seen of late, especially in YA literature. In this one, social media analytics, in part, help with the classification and understanding of humanities, to the point where a number of Affinities exist to separate some of the top members of society out there. These Affinities become the most important things in society, and, as is typical, they begin getting more and more power.

The book feels ham-fisted in a similar way to The Circle, except that I think Wilson understands what he's getting at here and it just doesn't work. At least with The Circle, it was a luddite-style misunderstanding of technology, this just feels like it's trying on an idea that doesn't work. Are we supposed to root for the top Affinity? Is there a reason to like anyone? What's the point?

I don't know. This just didn't work for me as much as I wanted it to, and I ultimately found it to be just a frustrating read. So many good books from this author, I would point to many others before this one.

Review: The Fold

I struggle a bit to describe what this book is. While part of it is the way this book shifts, the best description I can have is to think about what Stargate might be with a different take on the physics behind it.

The story is about a group of government scientists working on a top secret discovery. Mike, who is in a position to investigate the project, learns that they've developed a door of sorts that can bridge long distances, and, even better, it appears to be completely safe. It almost sounds too good to be true, and yet...

This book is a pretty simple premise and has the extra benefit of throwing a lot of fun curveballs along the way. The premise itself will tell you whether you have an interest, and there aren't really strong hard sci-fi elements to trip you up in the dimensional physics of the whole concept. If I have a complaint, it's just how the shift in the narrative toward the end feels a little out of place from the rest of the book, but that's ultimately a personal preference and not really a condemnation of the book even though it doesn't completely work. With that said, though, this was a really fun read on a whole and I pretty much enjoyed the ride throughout.

Definitely recommended for a fun science fiction ride.

Review: The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak

Closer to a 3.5.

On one hand, I don't think I realized how much a Nick and Norah for convention culture was needed. On the other, I just wish this was a little better as a result.

The root of the story is about Ana's brother ditching quiz bowl to go to a nearby sci-fi convention. Ana and Zak go on the hunt for him and it ends up being a fairly crazy, ridiculous adventure at the con through the rest of the night. It's the sci-fi nerd teaming up with the quiz bowl nerd and it's sort of a fish out of water scenario times two that ends up hitting upon a lot of general tropes while also successfully navigating some crazy waters.

I just... I don't know. I'm not so much critical that it's a book that went in a few different directions that it didn't like, and I did enjoy how well it normalized a lot of the "weird" con stuff, but I guess I more wish it took one tack and ran with it in a strong way as opposed to playing a few games (is it about quiz bowl? About cons? About fandom? About the mystery?) and not killing it at all of them.

Overall? A good, but not great, read. I'll definitely seek out more from this author, though.

09 June 2015

Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave

I think I understand why authors want to tackle difficult ideas and concepts for a middle grade audience. I don't get some of the choices that are being made, though. Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave is closer along the lines of Sara Pennypacker's Summer of the Gypsy Moths, complete with a questionable narrative and truly unfortunate plot to go with it. The story is about a pair of siblings trying to survive in what is effectively the middle of nowhere because their father abandons them at a gas station.


I don't even know what to say about this in any real detail. Does this happen? Sure, I'm positive it's not just concocted out of nowhere. Does that mean this book really meets the needs of the intended audience? Do the complexities of the decision being made (complete, by the way, with an utter lack of understanding of those complexities, creating a black and white situation out of emotional necessity as opposed to something more nuanced) offer anything? I don't know.

Skip this one. It's too juvenile for those looking for sophistication or even YA-level narratives, and it's too complicated for most middle grade readers anyway.

07 June 2015

Review: Royal Wedding

Closer to a 4.5, but as if I wasn't going to love this.

I was skeptical of the middle grade play with Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, and trying to age up an existing series is strange in and of itself. This book pretty much just takes place five years after the entirety of the initial YA series and covers exactly what the title entails. Like all the Princess Diaries books, it's fairly straightforward and dives right back in.

The book is basically a warm blanket with a bit of an adult twist. It's decidedly PG-13 and is ultimately less scandalous than the YA the series introduced so many readers to, but the really interesting part for me was how it wove itself into the middle school timeline so well. The middle grade book actually happens in the same timeframe as this book does, and it means that, for an adult reader, the middle grade book almost feels like a tiny bonus feature. It was a neat little thing Cabot did that made me appreciate both books more as a result.

At the end of the day, you'll know if you're going to like this before you even pick it up. If you liked the original books at all, this doesn't feel like a needless add-on, and the fact that it's actually pretty great doesn't hurt, either.

02 June 2015

Review: Book Scavenger

Far be it from me to criticize a book that embraces and celebrates the love of reading, but I'm not entirely sure this one is it (and i say this while, at the time of this writing, having not yet read Mr Lemoncello's Library). A book that sort of presents itself as the Willy Wonka of books about books, it's not quite light-hearted or fun enough to hold that mantle, nor whimsical enough to allow for the comparisons.

The book is about some kids obsessed with Book Scavenging, a game about finding and reading books developed by a man who is also a bookseller and publisher. He's got a new game coming, but he's mugged before it can be revealed (yes, people are mugged over books in this world). The kids suspect a bigger problem and begin doing their own investigations into finding out what the new game is and maybe what happened.

The story is a little darker than you'd think. Kids chased by bumbling muggers without the comedic relief element is problem enough, but the idea behind this is more suited to a book about puzzles and solving mysteries, yet the book doesn't provide enough of either for the reader, instead going into more non-fictional histories of books and authors. In a sense, even if it wasn't the intent, this is how Common Core-aligned middle grade books fail our kids (forcing information in over narrative), and while the end result of the book is a nice little surprise, the trajectory to get there is not the most appealing.

It will definitely find an audience. We absolutely need more books that normalize and celebrate literature and literacy for kids. I just ultimately don't know if this is it.

31 May 2015

Review: Wonderbook

This book really amazed me.

I've been struggling on rewrites for my decidedly not-fantasy novel, and it has stayed on my mind as it continues to collect dust. The writing book that got me thinking about seriously writing to start was Stephen King's On Writing, but Wonderbook, for me, really took that basic inspirational template and blew it apart into a lot of usable pieces.

From a purely reading standpoint, the book does take a fairly solid textbook form. The way it's set up, however, works for what's being presented in a really unique and necessary format. Much like the inspiration it tries to put in the writers the book is geared toward, it uses the fantasy constructs to help build out the ideas within.

The book is just valuable. I had ordered a copy to keep for myself by the time I was halfway through, but the interviews and the sidebars from authors were some of the most useful parts, and they're not only useful for those writing fantasy, but to someone like me writing a little contemporary story and struggling with a lot of different aspects of bringing his story together. It says a lot about the strength of the book on that alone, and I can only imagine it can be just as helpful to speculative-style writers.

Simply indispensable, and arguably belongs on every writer's shelf. I expected to like it simply because I like Jeff VanderMeer. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did, though.

Review: Seveneves

I feel like it's been ages since I read a truly epic, fulfilling science fiction novel. Anathem is one of my favorite reads, so Stephenson is still an auto-buy, but I really honestly didn't expect to love this one the way I did.

The plot is deceptively simple - on the first page, the moon explodes. We don't know why or how, but we do learn very quickly that it spells extinction-level-event for the people of Earth, and the book follows the way the human race deals with this new reality.

What I loved about this book is that it was straightforward without losing its complexity. It's hard sci-fi in a lot of ways, and the amount of science and theory Stephenson jams in here is pretty great. Why this worked for me, though, is that the politics and social activities that surround the disaster and beyond felt extremely real. While it's hard to give away crucial plotpoints in what is a nearly 900 page book, the fact that the book kept me so engaged on a lot of those issues ended up being a really pleasant surprise.

Another benefit of the story is how things came around toward the end, and how so many quality payoffs occur. One specific incident toward the end had me pounding the book in excitement, which never happens, and really brought the whole thing around for me.

I guess, if I have a warning, it's that this book won't lend itself to falling for specific characters. Just don't do it. You'll be better off. Instead, enjoy the long-term ride that this provides - it's a different book than Anathem, concerned less with philosophy than with technology and science, but still balancing things out in a good way. It might even be a better book than Anathem, even though Anathem appealed to a lot more of my base interests.

If an almost 900 page epic science fiction tale isn't daunting to you, get your hands on a copy of this immediately. This is, without a doubt, the best book I'e read in 2015 so far, and it's not even close. Highly recommended, a great ride from start to finish.

22 May 2015

Review: Forging Divinity

A surprisingly epic fantasy from someone who's involved with the Obsidian game studio, I was offered this for a review and I was pleasantly surprised.

At its core is a story of a sorceress investigating a small offshoot of believers, but the tale quickly becomes a multi-layered conspiracy tale we don't see a lot of in fantasy. Familiar-looking prisoners, warring power factions, things quickly expand out and devolve into a substantial situation.

The book itself is a fast read and a lot of fun. There's a lot going on, with a great setting and some interesting choices made along the way. The big complaint, for me, is that the old writing precept of "show, don't tell" is one that could have been applied a lot more in this book. For the type of epic this tries to be, a little less on-the-nose descriptions, especially of character motivations, would have taken this fully out of the "self-published" place and into something that might get more attention.

This, however, is still a great read in spite of that caveat. A very enjoyable read that reads a lot smoother than you'd expect for the genre.

12 May 2015

Review: Love, Fortunes, and Other Disasters

I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with silly. The problem is when silly becomes almost self-parody in a way. Love, Fortunes, and Other Disasters is a book about a town that has been basically governed by love charms in its romantic relationships, and about the students who have tasked themselves to end this entire thing. The story is actually fairly low-key and sometimes a little sad, as one might expect. The problems with this book, though, are fairly significant. The story attempts to have a weight of sorts with the charms and the impact it has one the people, but the stakes never feel too high. And I don't want to spoil the ending, but I can say that the ending is entirely ridiculous in a way that almost negates the limited good will that the book had created to start out. It's not easy to toe the line between seriousness and whimsy, but this book either doesn't try at all or utterly misses the mark as it swings wildly between the tones. I can't even figure out the audience for this one on a whole, as the appeal is so strange and limited. Ultimately, skip this one.

06 May 2015

Review: The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Probably closer to a 2.5.

I hate feeling negative about this book. It's gotten a ton of awards and accolades, is well-received by people who know books.

Meanwhile, I was just sitting there puzzled by what I was reading.

Pros: a unique voice, and a prose structure that makes sense given the protagonist. An interesting premise that will get kids to pick the book up.

Cons: The structure is so weird and experimental that it really feels disjointed. The plot itself leaves a bit to be desired too, as it ventures into sometimes-more-activist territory than warranted.

To really damn it with faint praise, it feels like a Newbery book even if it doesn't match up with the more recent structures. I didn't find it especially enjoyable, and a short book like this shouldn't feel like a chore. I can imagine a reluctant reader (who is already going to be wary with that medal on the jacket) picking up this book and thinking they're going to get a fun ape adventure, and ending up with this story instead, and it just makes my head hurt.

It's not terrible, but it's not what it could have/should have/might have been for me. I know I'm way out of step with this one, but it just didn't work for me at all.

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Review: The Grace of Kings

I absolutely wanted to love this, and all reviews and accounts and what was being said about the book ahead of time said I would. Unfortunately, the book is more like A Song of Ice and Fire on easy mode, and, while there's a lot to like about that sort of thing, the cohesive whole for this one isn't quite there. The book itself, the first in the series, follows an uprising against an emperor from a few points of view. These points of view are designed to get the different perspectives of things as they're occurring (and perhaps less about the individual storylines) and thus we get a lot of background and setting from the area. Where this works best is with the emperor and when things finally converge toward the end. The problem is perhaps the level of detail, which feels like detail because that's what epic fantasy entails rather than detail that enhances the plot. Worse is that the prose and presentation works extremely well when it's working, which makes me think more that this was an error in editing, overall, rather than an error in anything else. This just had a ton of missed potential overall, unfortunately. I might have had too high expectations, or maybe it's just something else, but this was basically even between hit and miss for me.

05 May 2015

Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel like I've been saying this a lot lately, but this might be my new favorite YA fantasy. I've found books set in the feywild to be really difficult for teen reads, and this one not only masterfully works the fey angle with the romance angle, but makes an incredibly compelling story that I really couldn't put down.

In the story, Feyre has unknowingly violated the treaty between humans and faeries when she hunts down a faerie that she thought was a wolf. She is quickly retrieved by one of the faeries and brought to his feywild kingdom as a prisoner of sorts, stuck in the fey for the rest of her life. The story starts out as a tale about her survival, but quickly becomes one of romance and political intrigue as the mysteries of the kingdom are slowly revealed.

I don't want to give a ton away on this because part of what makes this book work is the slow burn reveals. Sometimes books try to juggle too many ideas at once, and Sarah Maas definitely puts a lot of balls in the air on this book and they never come close to falling on the ground. The romance angle is solid, the stakes are high and the danger real, and the end result is a book that ends up being both engaging and satisfying, one that stands on its own as well as leaves the door open for a new book.

I absolutely loved this in ways I never expected. A great read, highly recommended across the board.

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02 May 2015

Review: Dreams of Shreds and Tatters

Dreams of Shreds and Tatters
Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm probably at the point right now where if a book is described as Lovecraftian in any way, I'll probably take a flier on it. Dreams of Shreds and Tatters is a book that's been on my radar for a while, and, while it's more Lovecraft-adjacent than anything (given the Chalmers/King in Yellow inspiration), it does do one thing exceptionally well, and that's instill the sense of dread that Lovecraft was so good at and modern Mythos literature often forgets.

The plot is fairly straightforward, with a woman and her vivid dreams and a comatose friend who is basically under the thrall of The Yellow King. The story is a balancing act between the real and the supernatural, and is just unsettling from beginning to end in a way that just makes a lot of things work.

I wish I had more to say about the book. It's a light story (when it's described as Lovecraft without a lot of the excess, the slimness of the story and the lack of excess fat in the plotting is really what's being described) and the way things go are just worth it for the ride. While the dread was there, my investment in the story, on a whole, was not in the way it was for a lot of other stories. I felt like I was more watching a film or observing as a third party, which is not always my reading experience.

Overall? Horror fans who like the sort of Weird Fic balancing acts that are so popular will find a lot to like here. Chalmers fans should definitely check it out as well, but if you're looking for something scary or more splatter-style, this might just not be your cup of tea. Not for everyone, but if you read the synopsis and think it sounds interesting, you're likely to enjoy.

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Review: The Rabbit Back Literature Society

The Rabbit Back Literature Society
The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is all sorts of weird and wonderful. It comes across as somewhat unassuming, and its critical popularity might be a turnoff, but reconsider it with that in mind, because this is really one of the stickiest books I've read in a while.

The story basically takes place in a small Nordic town, where a children's author created a small society of 10 children to train them to write. As time went on, some became famous, others are storytellers themselves, and they remain linked, even as one of them passed early on. A new person has been added to the society, the first since its inception, and we get to see the uncovering of the society's secrets unfold as they deal with the founder's disappearance and some strange things that are happening with the actual contents of books in town.

The book feels kind of odd and convoluted at first glance, but what's impressive (especially given that this is a really solid translation from a flow standpoint) is the way the book slowly reveals itself. It's not so much a slow burn as much as a steady drip of information and ideas that really just keep things going. Furthermore, it's a strange book - you're not entirely sure where a lot of this is coming from (it actually reminds me of Belzhar in a few key ways) and that question also acts as a sort of answer along the way.

Ultimately, though, it's really more that this book does a really good job of sticking around. I finished the book a few days ago, and still want to talk to everyone about it. I handed it to a friend the evening after I read it, saying "just look at it and tell me if you think it's interesting" and she quickly read 10 pages of it because it hooked her in so fast. It's traditional while still being nontraditional, and it's one of those books that will likely continue to fly under the radar long after it should. I definitely recommend it to everyone, flaws and all - definitely one of those books.

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19 April 2015

Review: The Awesome

The Awesome
The Awesome by Eva Darrows

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Early raves and reports on this one made me pick this up from Netgalley the moment it was offered. What I thought I was getting was another YA paranormal piece, but what I got what a really fun mix of genres that is best described as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls having a weird kid that turns out to be Superbad.

Our heroine is Maggie, a teenage demon hunter in training. A little foul-mouthed, but who would be surprised given that her mother is a sailor in comparison. Maggie's got some work to do, but part of the problem she's running into in her training is that vampires are really into virgin blood, and given that Maggie is still a virgin, well... she needs to take care of that. And, of course, balance out her training and a situation that she's inadvertently gotten herself into along the way.

I used the cultural comparisons for a reason. It's Gilmore-esque because it's a really great, perhaps a little unhealthy mother-daughter relationship. You can tell they care about each other, though, and see themselves as more of a team than anything else. Given the fact that there's literal vampire hunting and demons and such, the Buffy comparison is apt, but so too is the quickfire dialogue and the use of these supernatural ideas to be a parallel to growing up. I don't know if I've read a paranormal piece that's done it better, to be honest. And then, of course, the fact that this is, in many ways, a bizarro sex comedy in all its forms. Drunken debauchery, awkwardness, the whole nine yards.

Really, it's just a lot of fun. Plenty of openings for this to be a series, and the heroes are fun with the villains appropriately nasty and villainous. It's a quick paced read, very few flaws, and probably closer to a 4.5 when it's all said and done. Check this one out.

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18 April 2015

Review: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, The Girl on the Train. Probably the biggest publishing story of late, being compared to Gone Girl, on the bestseller list for months now.

Really, I thought it was pretty shrugworthy. On one hand, I can say that because I've read a good deal of books like it (observational mysteries that may or may not result in murder combined with weird psychological flairs), and The Girl on the Train does have a very solid narrative going for it that's easy to keep up with. The mystery tropes are somewhat there, but it's depending a bit on some unreliable narration and the sort of "who do you trust" storytelling that those who read a lot already know.

Where this failed to really grab me and not let go was the characters. At least with Gone Girl, to use the comparative example, the characters gave you a strong feeling - you loved, hated, felt certain ways for specific reasons. The characters in Girl on a Train, to me, felt rather flat and wooden. They exist, and that's basically it. Instead of asking us to invest in them, the story instead seems to be asking for us to invest in the story itself and not those inside of it. It's a strange situation when the book really more needs that sort of emotional investment as opposed to trying to exploit it with shock and naked appeals.

Overall? Okay story, but I really just didn't enjoy reading it at all. I tend to not love books like this, but there are exceptions and I was hoping this would be one of them. Instead, I wanted another Gone Girl or something that would stick with me for a while. I completely understand why this is getting the praise and attention that it is, but I just know I've seen it before and seen it done better.

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Review: Care of Wooden Floors

Care of Wooden Floors
Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5, but I really enjoyed my time with this one.

At the start, this seems like a pretty basic tale of a guy who is housesitting. The guy he's housesitting for is clearly a little quirky, but the instructions are pretty clear that he shouldn't touch the piano, take care of the two cats, and make sure the floor is taken care of.

What isn't surprising is that things start to go a little south with a spill of wine. What is surprising is how quickly things spiral out of control. By the time I was halfway through the book and one significant accident involving the piano was involved, I was more than in for the ride, but completely strapped in. It's Very Bad Things-level insanity, with just more and more crazy being piled on until the very end.

The book has been described as Kafka-esque, which I get. Really, it's more of an absurdist comedy that balances terrible choices and terrible things with increasingly terrible results, and it's hard not to enjoy it, especially if cringe-worthy humor is your thing.

This, at least as I review it, is a Prime Lending Library selection, so if you do the Amazon+Kindle thing, it's absolutely worth one of your selections for the month. A strange book that far exceeded my expectations, and I hate that I waited so long to finally read it. Well done!

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13 April 2015

Review: The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac

The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac
The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac by Sharma Shields

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really and truly have no idea what to make of this book. I do know that U thoroughly enjoyed the ride, though.

The story is fairly straightforward - Eli watches his mother leave with a bigfoot when he was 10. At least he's pretty sure it was a bigfoot. Regardless, the impacts on his life are pretty significant, and he dedicates his entire life to cryptozoology and trying to find this creature and, perhaps, his mother as well.

On the surface, that's the book. It's a man's quest to find bigfoot because bigfoot stole his mother away. In that the yeti consumes his life is one aspect, that he's got a whole bunch of issues concerning abandonment and commitment is another, that we get some insight into the mother's choices yet another. All of these come together in a really fascinating way to tell a pretty interesting story with a lot of weird twists and turns and some truly unexpected points to begin with, including apparent misunderstandings and questions about what is truly real.

It's closer to a 4.5 because, as well-crafted and interesting as this is, I really don't get it. Taken solely on the surface, this book is really just about a man and a sasquatch. Is it about megolomania? About family drama? About selfish choices? I have absolutely no idea. A little more clarity (or perhaps more personal perception) would have gone a long way, but perhaps some of the mystery is what makes this great on its own? I don't know.

Still, a pretty fun ride even with the flaws. Definitely glad I scooped this one up, and definitely one I think people who don't mind some left-of-center fiction would enjoy on a whole.

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11 April 2015

Review: Harrison Squared

Harrison Squared
Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once upon a NaNoWriMo, I had opted to try and write a Lovecraftian piece for young adults. I think I got to about 1700 words before throwing in the towel.

Daryl Gregory has a book here, Harrison Squared, that decidedly is not young adult but has some strong YA overtones, and ends up not only being a better book than I could have come up with, but really one of the better modern interpretations of Lovecraftian themes I've read in a while.

Harrison Harrison (thus the nickname) had his father die in a freak accident at sea when a large creature capsized the boat his father was on. Now, Harrison and his marine biologist mother have moved to Dunnsmouth on the east coast, and nothing seems quite right with the weird rituals, weirder people, strange myths and stories, and, finally, Harrison's mother also becoming lost at sea. Harrison's new problem is not only trying to find his mother, but trying to navigate a town that doesn't seem to want him there and that he doesn't seem to quite fit into or understand.

All the classic tropes are there, even if they're Lovecraft-adjacent (Dunnsmouth instead of Innsmouth, creatures with strange, difficult-to-pronounce names, offhand jokes about ancient languages), and they're treated with equal reverence and with tongue firmly in cheek. It's not so obvious that a non-Lovecraft fan would catch all the references, but it's also such a good homage that there are more than a few jokes and references interspersed to make you smile. Even better, most Lovecraftian pieces seem to feel as if they must also be as verbose and descriptive as Lovecraft himself was (to the detriment of many of his stories), and this does away with that habit - possibly part of the reason so many people want to call this young adult.

Overall, this was a fun and quick and enjoyable read. As a fan of the related Lovecraft Mythos, this is a welcome addition to the overall subgenre, and there's more than enough here for fantasy or light/weird horror fans to dive into. Overall, it's closer to a 4.5, but I'd give a lot of bonus points just to my overall sheer enjoyment of the ride that I went on with this one. Highly recommended.

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Review: The Empathy Exams: Essays

The Empathy Exams: Essays
The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the surface, this looked really interesting. A book about pain, about understanding other people's pain, about describing it and so on? Sounds like an interesting read. The end result is a little more mixed.

In a way, Jamison is trying to be a cross between Mary Roach and Sarah Vowell, providing short essays investigative/immersive journalism-style about various topics from fake internet diseases to people in jail to hardcore marathoners. When she is a reporter, or a minimal participant, the essays can be absolutely riveting. When the focus is more on Jamison, though, things feel less interesting and less essential. Probably the strongest essay in the bunch, about Morgellon's Disease, straddles that line expertly and ends up being the most compelling thing in the book.

Ultimately, in a book at least partially designed to make you care, being annoyed by aspects of it seems counterproductive. Part of it is the general problem in journalism about agenda-driven or too-personal storytelling, but part of it is simply the tone and attitude. Some will find it endearing, others annoyed, but the good parts of this ultimately far outweigh the bad. Closer to a 3.5.

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Review: Eutopia

Eutopia by David Nickle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On one hand, if HP Lovecraft were to write a a modern-day eugenics tale, it might look a little like this.

On the other, if HP Lovecraft were to write a modern-day eugenics tale, it would look little like this.

The book goes in your face with the ideas, the racial animosity, the anger and hate and all the fixings that go with the eugenicist movement in the beginning of this plot, but also attach a very New Weird twist to it with horror and supernatural elements. While I'm unsure if it's exactly the point, the use of the racism as a skewer toward Lovecraft's own beliefs tend to sit in the front seat of the tale, and it comes across as more shocking unless you know that context going in (and even so, the habit to overstate the impact of Lovecraft's views on his fiction does seem to arrive here as well).

On a whole, though, the problem with the story is that it only sort of works. When you really dive into the more horror elements, the writing is riveting and superb. The rest, well, I can give or take a lot of it. As with much of the New Weird, there's a lot of exposition that has some questionable relation outside of detailing the edges of the story, and when the story is fairly straightforward, it's not as necessary. It could have absolutely used a trim.

As someone who loves the Greater Mythos, and likes seeing it played with, I'm not against this book as much as I'm just not really for it. It was a bit of an unfortunate slog for me most of the time, and that took away from the great parts of the book.

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08 April 2015

Review: My Secret Guide to Paris

My Secret Guide to Paris
My Secret Guide to Paris by Lisa Schroeder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read far too often that people avoid reading YA books (and, in turn, younger books) because they don't really deal with issues well, don't have the sort of emotional maturity, what have you.

I say hogwash, and offer My Secret Guide to Paris up as a counter.

The story itself is very simple, and it's written toward its target audience, for sure. A young girl has a great relationship with her grandmother, and their combined desire is to go to Paris together. Unfortunately, the grandmother dies in an accident and Nora isn't sure she'll be able to go anymore until her mother finds three tickets and some envelopes in a trunk. Quickly, they're off to Paris and what becomes a fun scavenger hunt for Nora to enjoy Paris and everything that goes with it.

This book is actually pretty solid on a few levels. It deals with loss, with family drama, with independence and spreading your wings, with new experiences. A lot of these feel really pure and realistic, which is not always true of middle grade books, and the end result is one that you really hope for, which is great. No, the book isn't dealing with Important Social Issues or forging any new frontiers, but it doesn't have to - instead, it's a book that kids will pick up thinking they're getting a light story, and end up with one that they'll probably find something to relate to. That's what makes good fiction for kids work.

Just a solid read across the board, and I wish I read it earlier. Definitely recommended for any kids in your life, and if you're into books for kids, you should read it, too. A ton of heart.

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07 April 2015

Review: Bomb

Bomb by Sarah Mussi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not going to lie - I didn't expect to love this book the way I did.

This story is ridiculously simple. Genesis wakes up in a dark basement, and she quickly learns she has a suicide bomb strapped to her body. She quickly deduces it's related to her boyfriend who has become aligned with a radical Islamic sect. She also has a bluetooth earpiece in her ear, and the voice in her ear is giving her a lot of directions. She knows her time is limited, and she doesn't really know what to do.

It's a really, really action-packed book, unlike anything I've ever read. The pacing is almost breakneck, the way the plot is revealed absolutely incredible. It really kind of brings home the type of strange tactics we've only really read about when it comes to terrorism. It's just a wild thrill ride, action-movie-style, and that's all that matters.

One can quibble with some of the unrealistic parts of the book or the simplified characterizations, but I don't think this is necessarily meant to be a broad treatise on international politics for a teen audience. It's more of a "based on current events" roller coaster that keeps you on the edge of your seat, guessing the whole way through.

Definitely recommended, but only for the strong of heart. This one's truly intense, but absolutely worth it.

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05 April 2015

Review: Sex Criminals, Vol. 2: Two Worlds, One Cop

Sex Criminals, Vol. 2: Two Worlds, One Cop
Sex Criminals, Vol. 2: Two Worlds, One Cop by Matt Fraction

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5, but I'm annoyed. The first arc was a lot of really weird insanity, and the tone was set pretty quickly and kind of made it the awesome, unique fascinating story.

This arc decides to go the more quiet, slower, sometimes preachy route. If this were the first volume, I probably wouldn't have reached for the second and might not have made it to the last issue/chapter of this arc when things get interesting again.

I get what is trying to occur here. We've been introduced the conceit and the characters, and now we're getting to know them a bit more, getting some backstory and so on. Okay. I can get behind that, but tonally it's a bummer as opposed to staying with the broader themes. It makes it feel like our creators don't know what kind of comic they want to make as opposed to running with something that was working.

I liked this more than a 3/3.5 would indicate on a whole, but, overall, the series needs to ultimately decide what it wants to be.

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04 April 2015

Review: My Best Everything

My Best Everything
My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So this is basically Breaking Bad for teens, right?

Lulu lives in rural Virginia in what is a stereotypical hick town. People don't generally leave, and it's not the most wealthy town in the state. And the locals love their moonshine. Abby, however, is going to get out of there and go to school in California, her father has some money set aside...and then he doesn't. Her dreams of leaving shattered, she comes up with an audacious plan when an old still arrives at the junkyard she works at - make her own moonshine, sell it, and get the money for college that way. Enlisting her boyfriend and some other outside help, this becomes a race to get out of town by any means necessary.

I don't know if I've ever read a YA book so soaked in booze before. It's a fun premise with not-so-fun stuff attached to it in a cultural setting that doesn't get a lot of serious play at all. The stakes actually feel high, and it's a question throughout whether things will work out. Things just feel realistic, which is good, and while the premise is funny, the story is pretty serious without being too heavy. There's something to be said about that.

Overall, a good read! As things progress, it does get a little draggy and the madcap parts don't always work, but it's a fast read on a whole and a pretty good experience with a topic I can't recall ever reading for this age group before.

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