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Saturday, August 6, 2016

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (A Book That Was Originally Written In A Different Language)

Pro:A solid story full of fun, feel-good stuff
Con: None

The Bottom Line: This is the kind of fiction I enjoy. I'm glad so many folks recommended it.

Whoa, what a blog title.

But it's true. Written by Jonas Jonasson, this book originally came out in 2009 in Sweden. It didn't make it into English until 2012. It was eventually made into a film in 2016, but as often happens, folks stated that the book was better than the film. Surprise. I hadn't heard about it until our store chose a book to try and handsell – something light and fun. This book was the choice and everyone started reading it. And now here we are.

Allan Karlsson is about to have his 100th birthday celebrated at the old folks home in the little town of Malmkoping. But he's not too into that – he's a quiet guy and the woman running the place is kind of rude. So he decides to quit the place via window. From there he gets a bus ticket to however far his money can get him. Along the way he ends up taking a briefcase a young man asked him to watch. From there things get rather interesting considering there's a couple million in that case. Hilarity and hijinks ensue.

The book actually flips back and forth from present day with Allan to the past where we get Allan's full life story in chunks. And Allan's had an interesting life. In fact, I enjoyed his story leading up to the present even more than the silliness of the present. It reminded me of Forrest Gump in that Allan met scores of famous figures from history and was the focal point of dozens of important historical events, from the creation of the atom bomb to meeting with Mao Tse-tung. Everything is weaved in so seamlessly it's great – Allan is such an easygoing guy that he slips into situations, causes things to happen (sometimes on purpose, often not), and then leaves while the consequences rain down upon everyone else behind him. It's great.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud or simple giggle-worthy moments, and for me this was a refreshing change from what I usually find myself faced with when it comes to fiction books. Characters I discover are often SO SAD about something; husband left, child died, traumatic event now means they're an alcoholic, they have to get back on their feet after they lost their house, etc. Now, no disrespect to those who love all sorts of fiction, but the vast majority of it isn't for me – hence why I read genre stuff. But this was totally different and exactly the sort of thing in the fiction section I'd sign up for more often. Fun, funny, lighthearted, all while still being unexpected and wholly unique.

It really is something you can enjoy reading at any time. If you need something off the beaten path, definitely give this book a go. It's just not something you'd expect, and that's what makes it such a delight.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Nantucket Red (A Book You Own But Have Never Read)

Pro: Fun being in Nantucket again...
Con: Semi-weak love conflict

The Bottom Line: A good read, but in the end I'll always love Nantucket Blue best...

Yes. I've owned this book since it came out in 2014. But I bought it late in the year and wanted to read it during summer, as I had Nantucket Blue. So I waited. Then 2015 never afforded me a good beach-side, pool-side, chill vacation-sort-of-time the way I'd had when I soaked in Leila Howland's first book. So I never got to read it then, either. But now it's 2016 and the time has finally come for me to read the rest of Cricket Thompson's story.

Cricket's life is changing. Back in the real world, away from the seemingly endless summer world that is Nantucket, she is faced with getting into college, being apart from Zack, and still trying to repair her damaged friendship with Jules. But things seem to finally start falling into place - and then almost as suddenly they start to fall spectacularly apart. Zack is gone. Her Ivy League future may never happen. The only hope she has left is the world of Nantucket, the help of her friends, and a list left behind by Jules's mother, Nina...

I love the premise of this book. And I love that Leila Howland figured out another way to get Cricket back to Nantucket (which, because of her, I now really want to visit...I daresay it's kind of on my bucket list now...). It works out rather nicely. And of course, Nantucket is just as magical as it is the first time - when Cricket isn't stuck waitressing, anyway. She encounters new people and old friends, finds herself in new situations that she handles with aplomb, and I like that this time around, when stuff gets real, the connection happens with Cricket's dad rather than her mom. The only real, serious bump in the road is her relationship with Zack.

That was the one thing I wasn't sure if it would work itself out or not. Everything else you pretty much already know will be okay. How it becomes okay is a different matter, but you know it's going to happen. I think really, my biggest issue was how well Cricket took Zack's abandonment. I wanted her to be angrier at him. Especially when he finally, finally provides his reasons. They weren't that great, and even the biggest stopper he was stuck with should have been challenged by Cricket. If their love is so strong, then he fails at it. Rather, he's still a teenager and does what a teen does so in some ways I can understand. Still, Cricket's love felt far more powerful than anything he had to offer. Their relationship issues were solved at the very end in three pages - almost two, really. I wanted far more conflict. I wanted Cricket to tell him how much she loved him and how much hurt he put on her. I just wanted more. The fix came too fast, too easily, and I wasn't satisfied.

Other than that, it's a great book. Nantucket Blue will forever be my favorite, though. It's Cricket's first foray out into the wild, and I love her for everything she does. In this book, too. She's a great character that I think a lot of girls could admire. But I liked the little threads that Howland weaves throughout this story, the way she puts Nina in it and makes a cheeky mystery, gives things for Cricket to think about, and I liked the final ending bit as well with Cricket's ultimate decision.

Sadly, I think Cricket's story is over and there won't be another Nantucket book, but that's okay. Sometimes you just know when a character's tale is finished. Unless Leila Howland crafts an adult book with Cricket as the central character once she's out of college. Or Cricket's daughter. I could see that.

I'd read it, too.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Gods & Monsters: Unclean Spirits (A Book with Magic)

Pro: Everything
Con: I mean, if you don't like violence know. Maybe go read Little Women?

The Bottom Line: This is the American Gods no one needed, but it's the American Gods I wanted.

I have a long history with this book. Sort of. I'd seen it, quite literally, years ago on the shelf – probably when it first came out in 2013. By the time I thought to buy it, it was gone. So I thought to get it from the library. In a nutshell, that turned into such a long, absurd battle that it became a weird sort of I-have-to-get-it-from-the-library-now-simply-based-on-principle thing.

Until about two weeks ago when I realized how dumb the whole thing was and just bought the damn book.

For the record, I am a massive schmuck for waiting this long.

Cason Cole has just recently been freed. Freed from what, he's not entirely sure, because what he thought was a man may not actually be a man, and the thing that freed him was most definitely a bomb. But he's alive, and that's what counts. Now he can finally see his wife and son again.

Except he can't. Because something seriously wrong is going on. Nothing is what it seems and there are some truly messed up people in his way. Even worse? They're not exactly people. They're gods. Goddesses. All of them. And if he ever wants his family back, he's going to have to go through them and it is not going to be easy.

Some writers, when you read it's like swimming in a pool of crystal clear water. It's sleek and bright and magical. With Chuck Wendig? It's like going down to the pond and digging up a handful of silt and mud. It's heavy and thick and it feels great when you squish it between your fingers. I loved it. Every minute of it. Every word of it. I read for hours outside until the sun made me groggy and I was halfway through the book. I read the rest the next day—today, finished a few minutes ago, in fact—until my eyes were dry and yelling at me OH MY GOD, PLEASE STOP. (They still are, by the way, now that I'm writing this).

But really, to go back to my Bottom Line up there, this was the American Gods I wanted. No disrespect to those that love that book, nor any to Neil Gaiman, but that one was not for me. I had to sludge my way through that book hoping something would happen and the exposition would calm down a little. But this? Oh my. This the action didn't stop happening and the dialogue was always on point – especially the character of Frank. That guy had me laughing out loud a few times.

I also love how Wendig drops you right in the middle of something at the beginning and you're just as baffled as Cason. The great part is that it isn't disorienting. Not in an annoying fashion the way some books can be. Everything that's happening is too weird, too interesting to get mad about not knowing things. And you don't really know for quite some time. Why the gods and goddesses are here. Who's doing the killing. Why. And what makes Cason so special. His bit is actually the easiest to guess. I was right (sort of-ish – it's hard to explain). But it's a good time either way.

My biggest thing is that I really want to know what happens to all the divinity after Cason does his final act. I suppose the last option, given that final flutter of wings. Still, I wonder if they'll all be mad at him. Or care. Though I am still curious what happened to some of the elder gods – where the hell did those guys go? Maybe they all went to that final party in American Gods.

I'm all over recommending this. If you need something exciting, visceral, and satisfying, I say go for it. These aren't your typical gods/goddesses – or the occasional typical creature either. It's clear Wendig did a bit of digging about for rogue gods/goddesses that most of us have never heard of, and probably never would have, for that matter. It's a refreshing dip into a world of the wild, weird, and wholly unexpected.


P.S. I 100% had a moment of, "OH MY GOD, PLEASE BE THE SON OF CTHULHU."

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Passenger (A Mystery or Thriller)

Pro: You'll keep wondering until the end. And oh, that twist.
Con: It's not as nail-biting as it sounds.

The Bottom Line: Definitely worth your time, but I almost chose a different category as while it is a mystery in an odd way, I hesitate to call it a thriller.

I ended up reading this book as I did most - bored in the back room at work and it was sitting there as an ARC. But it began interesting and it stayed interesting, so I cruised on until the end.

Tanya Dubois considers her options when she discovers her husband's dead body at the bottom of the stairs. But in the end, she grabs some money, dyes her hair, and hits the road. With a single phone call she demands money and a new identity to start over. But when she meets another woman by the name of Blue, things only become more complicated. New identities, men with guns, and a shady past are all clamoring for Tanya's attention. But who is Tanya Dubois really - and what lurks in her past?

It sounds exciting, I know, but it's actually pretty mellow, in a way. Not bad mellow, just...not much happening mellow. Yes, there are moments where things jump up a notch, but for the majority of the time you follow Tanya around the pages as she seeks to become a new person. To disappear into the world and remain safe. She's been doing this sort of thing for so long it's like she's become a bit numb to it. And you're just a weird outsider watching her do these things.

I can't say that I was ever on the edge of my seat. But I was entertained and kept wondering how things were going to work out. You knew the second she met a cop, he'd be the kind to not let up. And I liked that guy. Moreover, Tanya is smart, resourceful, and I was glad when she finally decided she was done and chose to face the very thing making her run. Though you can understand why she did in the first place. The story comes to you in bits and pieces, through snippets of emails and memories, and you learn who you ought to despise and eventually the reasons why.

The twist, however, was not something I saw coming. Sure, it's not hard to guess why Tanya might be running, and whether or not it's something she's actually a part of. But the very, very end. That's a wow moment right there. And you think, maybe if those idiots had chosen to let that ugly little secret out in the first place, poor Tanya might not have had any of this happen to her. But once it's over, you wish her well, and will find yourself satisfied with the results.

For the record, Blue is my hero.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Alight (A Trilogy x2)

Pro: An excellent second installment in the trilogy
Con: Trouble with some descriptions, but maybe that's just me. I also wish the covers were better.

The Bottom Line: I'm loving these books and I'm super excited that the next one comes out in October!

While I truly enjoyed the first book and had a blast with this second one, I'm still not sure how it made it into the Teen section given the amount of violence. I guess publishers are letting up and realizing teens aren't as innocent as they've always thought (heck, I watched Aliens at age 10 and loved it). The Hunger Games actually didn't have a lot of violence at all, as most characters died off screen. The Maze Runner definitely kicked it up a notch, particularly in The Scorch Trials, but Scott Sigler's Generations Trilogy is a whole new ball of wax.

Still, if you or your teen has read the other two trilogies and some of the other various dystopian, survival-style books out there, then no big deal.

Em and the others have landed on the planet Omeyocan. They discover a jungle and a massive city – that may at one point have been two cities. But the problem now is food. They only have a limited amount before they starve. Aramovsky isn't above scheming and whispering in order to subvert Em's position as leader. But what might be most dangerous of all is that they aren't alone on this planet. Something knows they are here...

Oh boy, what a ride! Sigler knows how to pen a story brimming over with excitement, anxiousness, and high-strung emotions of every kind. I think I had to put the book down and stop reading a few times just to take a break and regroup. He brings you everything from death to life to love to let's-blow-some-shit-up. So many times you hope Em might just waste Aramovsky, but she doesn't since she knows that would be a poor choice as a leader. Other times you might hope she figures out what to say, but being who she is she just can't. She has to battle with what Matilda was and how those thoughts occasionally invade her brain, and remind herself that she is her own person – not Matilda. It makes for some interesting internal struggles.

There is a bit of a love triangle, but I love how Sigler handled that too. Instead of having Em agonize over it she realizes now is not the time to worry about it, and then Sigler takes care of the problem by yanking things up from under Em and burning one of those choices to the ground. Almost literally, in fact.

All the other characters, no matter how briefly they may be on the page, leave some kind of impact so that once something happens to them, you feel it. The history that still waits to be revealed gets more and more intriguing and bizarre, and what happens at the end – man, I'll be very interested in seeing how Sigler managers to cram all that into one final book. But no matter what, I am looking forward to it.

My only qualm was the occasional bit of description. I had a hard time visualizing the things Em described as a snake-wolf, as well as how people sat on the pentapods once they discovered what they were. It's as if in those cases there just wasn't quite enough description for it to work in my brain. There are a few others, but part of me wonders also if I was just reading a little too fast for the pictures to catch up in my mind. Other times the descriptions were perfect, such as the climb up the Observatory and the awful statues. Messed up, man.

I do really wish that the covers better reflected how kickass these books are. They're just faces with some typeface that doesn't really have anything to do with the insides of the book. Ok, sure, the first book was Em's face I guess, but there's just a fraction of the circle's edge on her forehead. The symbol on the person's head for the cover of this book is slightly easier to see (I think it's supposed to be Bishop?), but you still have to know it's there to get what's going on. Even then, you can't see it clearly at all. The original cover of the first book was a little better, in my view, but still. Ah well.

(There is this video of Scott's editor talking about why they made the change. Frankly, I don't know who would have thought Em was dead, among other things, but whatever. Still think they could have been way better.)

But I'm totally digging on this trilogy, I love the Aztec imagery and all the borrowing that's been done to make everything here even more unique, and I am really, really, looking forward to October. Normally it takes much longer for the next book in a series to come out, but Scott Sigler either had a huge chunk of it done or he's in the writing zone – either way, I'm glad!


Saturday, April 9, 2016

If At Birth You Don't Succeed (A Memoir)

Pro: Hilarious.
Con: Only if you don't like to laugh. In which case I worry for you.

The Bottom Line: I recommended this book at work before I was even halfway through – and I wanted to write this review then too because I was having such a great time.

The first time I'd ever heard of/saw Zach Anner, he was dressed in a suit and leading around another man in fishnet tights, handcuffs, and a gag. The group he was with all intended to see Fifty Shades of Grey in full Fifty Shades garb. Several men I was already familiar with, including Josh Flanagan, Aaron Marquis, and Chris Demaris (which now sort of makes them like the sex dungeon Three Musketeerm, and, sorry Chris, but I'm pretty sure you're D'Artagnan). I will admit I'm an avid Rooster Teeth fan, so I didn't have any idea who Zach was, aside from their friend. I was amused, and then moved on with life.

It wasn't until about 7 months later Zach appeared in a series RT was doing called Buff Buddies. And that's when I discovered just how freaking funny Zach is. So when I heard he had a book coming out, I signed myself up. Not that there's anything I had to actually sign up for. Though I did have to order in the books myself because someone upstairs is a moron and didn't order any for my store. YOU DON'T OWN ME, BUYER PERSON.

I'm sorry, I'm getting off track.

Zach Anner is, at this point, an internet celebrity. Born with cerebral palsy (the sexiest of palsies, I feel I ought to add), he's made his way through the world despite some rough times, but shows that with a solid attitude and the help of friends and family, you don't have to let a disability define you.

The book is divided up into separate parts with a few chapters within each part. Though ultimately a memoir, it doesn't necessarily read in chorological order. This isn't a "I was born, here's my childhood, here are the obstacles, here's me into adulthood, yadda yadda" autobiography. Rather, it's a series of stories from Zach's life, some slightly more serious than others, but each one showcasing an important point in his life, from hosting his own show on Oprah's TV channel to discovering the kind of person he is or wants to be.

All throughout the book Zach's injected his humor and wit, and it's all so well done that quite frequently people would look over at me while I sat there and giggled at something on the page. I actually tried to take my time with this book so I wouldn't finish it too fast. I managed to stretch it out to about four days – here's hoping Zach does indeed plan to write another one at some point because he's got some excellent stories.

You also learn a lot of interesting things about walks of life most of us never experience. How they treat you on a reality TV show. What it's like to be disabled while on a reality show. What it's like when things go wrong because the European outlets fried your wheelchair battery. Or the simple fact that just because you're disabled doesn't mean you can't still do a lot of cool stuff. Zach's traveled to a lot of great places, from Disneyland to Berlin to Canada, and here I am with a fully functioning body and I've never even been out of the country.

But it's not all sunshine and roses. Zach lets readers in on some of his less than perky moments, such as an incident involving razors (trust me, not in the way you think), or when he hit a low point and decided to go on random trip to anywhere just to get away and see something different and it completely failed on him. Still, he imbues these things with what he's learned, so that we might in turn learn from him.

Whether you end up loving this book for it's hilarity, inspiration, writing, or all of the above, it's definitely worth a read. And if you don't know who Zach Anner is, trust me, after this you're going to want to find out.


P.S. Dr. Phil is a dick. Though I feel this should surprise no one.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

None of the Above (A Book Set in High School)

Pro: A solid look at an issue you may not have heard about
Con: No one ever punches Bruce in the face

Bottom Line: An excellent story and the kind of book you feel may help some folks and enlighten others.

Our Children's Lead decided to make a list of LGBTQ books to display for teens one day. But when we needed that space for other books, we had to take it down. Have I mentioned that I'm no longer a Children's Lead at work? I'm a Merchandise Manager now. And guess what?

When I had some empty display space, I put that sucker right back up.

I kept walking past it and finally paused to read just what this one was about. And of course, we all know what happens when I do that. I basically just end up reading the book.

Kristin Lattimer is a track star. She's got a boyfriend. And she's about to be named Homecoming Queen. Life is pretty awesome and she's feeling so great she's decided she's going to take things to the next level with her boyfriend. Except things are not what she expected. At all. Her concerns bring her to the doctor's office where she discovers something she never, ever expected. She's intersex – on the outside she looks female, but she has male chromosomes as well as a few additional "parts." Handling such a life-changing fact is hard enough, but even the people you trust can betray you as suddenly the entire school knows – and the result is not pleasant. Kristin isn't sure anymore about who she is and if she can keep going with her once normal life.

Fun fact: this is I.W. Gregorio's first novel and was inspired by a patient she had that was, in fact, intersex, otherwise known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). She wondered about how that girl's life may have played out, and decided to create a novel that examined such issues.

Frankly, I think she did a damn fine job. It doesn't surprise me at all that, even in 2016, people would flip out in ways that a lot of Kristin's classmates did over her condition. Which is some serious bullshit considering she was born that way and was basically at the mercy of her body and the way it handled itself before birth and so on. (here's a super quick link of info for you if you like about AIS). It's annoying to read about even if it's fiction because that kind of crap happens all the time in real life. I'm one of those folks that just thinks, "How do you people not understand by now? Biology is weird. Shit happens. Get over yourself – and why do you care about someone else's super-personal issues anyway?"

But I digress. Kristin is female, despite her XY chromosomes stating otherwise. But she has a really hard time coping and figuring things out. She worries that her running scholarship might be taken away, as the thought of her being male gives her an unfair advantage (as other athletes with AIS are mentioned in the book had similar issues – real people, by the way). She's turned on by people she never believed would turn on her. But luckily she finds comfort in unexpected places, and in the end, simply needs to figure out how to turn off the rest of the world (a difficult feat for most teenage girls) and focus solely on herself.

I admit, as I read, I was a little hard on Kristin about her handling of the situation. Not so much about the AIS – that's a pretty big twist in your life – but about how people treated her afterwards. How she basically folded like a wet paper cup under people's eyes and assholishness. I'm the type that, while I wouldn't ever say I'm outgoing, didn't take people's stupid shit either. I once had some guy try and make fun of the cheap brand of jeans I was wearing and I stared him dead in the eye and said, "Yeah. So?" with a look that clearly said, "They're pants, asshole. Who the fuck cares what brand they are?" Not a peep out of him after that. But Kristin was high on life in every way possible before people flipped like a dog suddenly gone rabid, so it's more understandable that she would want to bail. Though I still wish things would have turned around sooner so she would go back to school that that "Yeah. So?" attitude and put a few people in their places.

And Bruce needed to get slapped in the face by Vee or something. I always desire comeuppance when it comes to awful people.

Give it a read. Even if you're not in high school like I am. People have tough times everywhere, and maybe it can give you some insight into the kind of world other people have. Besides, it's 2016 – there's no need to be a jerk.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

After the Red Rain (A Book with a Color in the Title)

Pro: A solid post-apocalypse book all around.
Con: Only if you want more...because I don't know the plans for that.

Bottom Line: A great book - and no, I didn't forget the picture. There's a special one at the bottom.
As for right now, I need to read 35 books before October in order to complete the District 120 Reading Challenge. Some of these are going to be tricky. But until then, here's a book with a color in the title! Funny thing, I'd picked this one out a long while back and it suited that particular slot perfectly. I'm only just now getting to read it. I was not disappointed. The interesting thing is that it was created by three people - Barry Lyga (author of many books), Peter Facinelli (Hollywood actor), and Robert DeFranco (producer). How that happened I have no idea. But I'm glad it did.
This is the future. Where man has covered the world in concrete, metal, and glass. Where there were once people – too many people – and the Red Rain purged billions from the planet. Deedra lives in one of the megacities that still function, living from day to day assembling parts at a factory and occasionally scrounging the wasteland for useful and interesting thing.
And then she sees Rose. A bizarrely beautiful boy who seems to come from nowhere, and who doesn't know exactly who – or what – he is. His abilities are like nothing she's ever seen before, and he begins to change the way she sees the world and her future. But when the Magistrate's son is murdered, all signs point to Rose. Can she save Rose? What's more – do she and Rose have a chance at saving a dying world?
Honestly, that's really only the tip of the iceberg. After I read this book I decided that the blurb didn't do it justice. What Rose is, what he can do, and the way he thinks are so different from everything else in the story, the whole murdered Magistrate's son thing is a drop in the bucket compared to all the other stuff going on. This isn't your typical dystopian formula either. I know, it sounds an awful lot like: Girl meets boy, boy is pretty, boy changes how girl thinks, girl and boy take on establishment. Yeah, no. Deedra thinks Rose, while pretty (not handsome, mind you), is quite strange as he sticks out like a sore thumb in every way possible. She has no idea what to make of him and when he brings things up that make her think, it actually takes a while for her to consider them or change her mind in any way. And that's a good thing. It's more realistic since people brought up believing something their entire lives don’t just change their minds overnight. As for taking on the establishment, there's none of that. Maybe in the future, but I honestly have no idea if the authors are going to write more or not.
And that's another funny thing about this book; I'm okay if there aren't more. Which is weird since it's sort of a cliffhanger in the end in that they state they should warn people about the big bad thing that is supposedly coming, I'm possibly a terrible person in that I'm cool if they were to just run off together and find their own little place of peace away from all people and live happily ever after. Though there really are a lot of questions that beg asking, such as how Rose came to be, Deedra's backstory, and what exactly was up with the guy in the very beginning who found Deedra as a baby – and just where exactly he was working because…ew. (I wonder now – was he in a big bad?)
I realize I'm kind of rambling, but sometimes it's tough to review a book when you don't want to give anything away at all. I just want you to read it. I want you to see what Rose is for yourself. What he can do. The way he sees the world (which is beautiful and I love him for it). Discover what the Red Rain was, what the big bad thing is, and step into a brand new dystopian world where half of it isn't sunshine and roses (a la the Capital in The Hunger Games or the Domes in Under the Blue Sky or cities in Divergent). This is a place where the entire world sucks and even Deedra is convinced that there's no way to change it and it's going to keep on sucking until she dies. The characters are interesting and complex, the world a fascinating place even in its demise, and the plot is weird and unique and occasionally violent.
So go forth and read this book. Even if you're tired of dystopia by now, I think it's different enough to be a bit refreshing for you. The funny part is that while reading this, I have little bookmarks that look like they're tiny plants growing from the book. I didn't realize until I was finished with the book just how appropriate it was.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Book of Phoenix (A Book Set in the Future)

Pro: Vastly interesting and hard to put down
Con: Strangely abrupt ending

The Bottom Line: A very cool book with a ton of science fiction elements, but without the usual science fiction feel. I only wish the end were little better...

A long time ago I read Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death for a completely different reading challenge, if I remember. When I saw (at work, as usual) a brand new book with Okorafor's name on it, I got all exited and immediately picked it up.

Before the story of Who Fears Death, there was Phoenix. She was grown and raised in New York's Tower 7. Only two, but with the mind and body of an adult, she doesn't fully grasp what's around her and what might be outside the tower walls. She does, however, love another human in the group of strange creations within the tower - a man named Saeed. But when he sees something so terrible he takes his own life, Phoenix questions everything - and ultimately breaks out of Tower 7. What she discovers during the descruction is only the beginning of her journey.

There's a lot of cool stuff going on in this book. Frankly, I'd love to talk about every bit of it, but I don't want to spoil anything for you. From what else lives in Tower 7 to what happens even just right after her escape and then beyond. I love all the ideas Okorafor puts forth. All the different Towers, all the different experiments that are contained within them, Phoenix's ability, and all the places she does throughout the book and the people she meets. Okorafor is able to fill even the smallest of roles with such life it's amazing. They may be on the page for only a few moments, but you can visualize everything perfectly, grasp the emotions fully, and are constantly on the edge of your seat as you wish for Phoenix to escape the massive group that controls the Towers and maybe find some measure of peace somewhere.

The creativity here, people, is just sparkling.

Given all that, I was disappointed with the ending. Or maybe not disappointed so much as going, "...Aw," in deflated fashion and sitting back in my seat for once. I understand how Phoenix could finally snap, yet people she knew and loved were still on the ground when she performed her (final? still not even sure of that) act which eventually led to the kind of Earth that the people of the world of Who Fears Death live in. And whenever I think of massive effects of what she did, I also think, "You just killed a lot of people who were in no way involved with any of that." Still, I will grant that the idea was pretty cool anyway - given my penchant for post-apocalyptic settings.

If you're looking for something a little different in terms of science fiction, I highly recommend giving this a look. From all kinds of varying elements involved to a story that spans the globe, it's well worth it.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Gift to Remember (A Book Set During Christmas)

Pro: A cozy read
Con: Too long, not really my cup of tea.

The Bottom Line: If you want a Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan-esque type of story, then this could be for you.

I quickly realized, as Christmas was coming up, that there was a slot in the Reading Challenge for a book that takes place during Christmas. So after digging around I decided since I'd never read a Christmas romance book, I'd do that. But then I couldn't decide which I wanted, so I ended picking up two. Surprise.

A Gift to Remember by Melissa Hill sounded cute and fun. Darcy Archer works a bookstore, is a bit of a dreamer, and has a pretty cozy little life - until she runs over some poor guy out walking his dog. When he wakes up, he has amnesia, and Darcy takes it upon herself to help him remember who he is - and the possibility is pretty impressive. Is Darcy right? And moreover - is he Mr. Right?

I liked the premise - let's face it, Darcy sounds like me. And her customers definitely sound like some of the idiot customers we get. And it also reminded me of While You Were Sleeping. After a large chunk of Darcy narration, you suddenly split off into first person with Aidan (the memory loss guy), so you get a chance to try and piece things together along with Darcy. It had it's cute moments (though most of those were dog-related) and the atmosphere was lovely...but ultimately this wasn't the book for me.

It went on for far too long. Darcy spends the vast majority of the book musing about everything. From wondering about Aidan's apartment acroutrements to watching all the storefronts fly by while she rides her bike. For a 405 page book about figuring out who a guy with amnesia is, there's not enough actual meat to make it interesting. Darcy goes and does things for Aidan. Darcy goes home and muses about things. Darcy goes and does other stuff. Darcy eventually sees Aiden for a few pages. Darcy leaves to go do more stuff. I was beginning to get impatient. Because she's busy off doing all sorts of other things for him, there's rarely any interaction between the two. And given how giant the leap was from the end chapter to the epilogue, I was disappointed.

I guess I should have known better as on the book it says, "a novel" which in my brain typically means the book is shelved in fiction rather than romance, so the romance is going to be at a minimum, but I've read other non-romance books with more romance in them. Still, I know that this is the sort of novel that plenty of people love, and though there were other elements involved that made me kind of twitch, but it was a matter of suspending disbelief and moving on. In terms of figuring out who Aiden really is, it's predictable, but only if you're already used to looking at the least common denominator, which after years of R.L. Stine, I am. So the surprise wasn't really a surprise to me at all. Still, points awarded for doing a very good red herring job that I'm sure many other people have and will fall for, and there's no shame in that at all.

For a cozy, read-by-the-fire book with a cup of cocoa an dnothing better to do, go for it. But if you want more kissing and more interaction between your leading lady and gentleman, you may want to look elsewhere.


P.S. Er, can we also stop with the obsession with Jane Austin? Yes, that's Darcy's namesake, and yes, she wishes for that kind of romance too - just like so many other romance characters. There are other people to choose from, you know. Just saying.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Injustice: Gods Among Us Volume 2 (A Graphic Novel x2)

Pro: A very good companion to the video game; well done!
Con: It bugs me when artist styles change mid-way through something.

The Bottom Line: If you need a new graphic novel series to get in on, or if you liked the video game and want to see the starting points, here you go.

Obviously this is the second volume to the Injustice series. Based upon the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game in which Superman is a totalitarian ruler and the goal is to knock him back to earth (so to speak), these graphic novels give you all the back story in great detail on how all that came to be. Made by the people who brought you Mortal Kombat, it was bound to be good.

At this point, Superman and his team are slowly but surely weeding out bad guys who are still (for some reason – stupidity I guess) are being themselves, such as warlords attacking their own people and generally being terrible as they are in the real world. Batman keeps trying to work on contingency plans in the hopes of stopping Superman in his descent into total domination. Personally, I was all for Superman’s design, although I know it will turn out poorly. Superman’s father said it best when he pointed out that Superman was trying not to lose anyone else, and by doing so, would essentially stow away the world into a box to keep it safe.

And we all know how much we humans like being tucked away into boxes without a say in things.

At one point Kaliback decides to make an appearance and attacks all over the world, thinking that because Superman is fighting so hard to bring peace everywhere that he’s not going to fight back properly. Not sure what flawed logic Kaliback is using, but it backfired in every way possible. In fact, it put Superman on a killing spree, which again I supported. Let’s be honest, I don’t know how you’re going to defeat Darkseid’s forces without straight up killing them. I guess I’ve just never been the one to be merciful to enemies who show absolutely zero mercy at any time ever. Guess that’s why I wouldn’t make a good hero. But constant killing probably didn’t do Superman’s psyche any favors. I was with him up until he started killing other heroes.

Now it’s not cool.

I’m interested to see how this story progresses (seeing as I haven’t played the game), although unfortunately my library doesn’t have the Year 2 volumes yet, so I guess I’ll have to wait. Or cheat and find all the cutscenes on YouTube, but even then I’d still probably end up reading the graphic novel. I wonder how many there will be in the end.

My only small peeve is when the artist gets switched up right in the middle and their style is completely different than the people before them. It’s kind of jarring and it took me a moment to realize I hadn’t actually skipped anything – the art style was just different. I realize that when working on graphic novels with a base as huge as DC, this sort of thing is going to happen, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. So really I’ll just have to suck it up and move on. It wasn’t really that it annoyed me a great deal, it just took me aback for a bit.

Otherwise, it’s been fun to read, and a nice change for me since I typically don’t hop into graphic novels very often…or ever.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Tricky Twenty-Two (A Book With a Number in the Title)

Pro: Something to entertain for a few hours
Con: Same old, same old

The Bottom Line: I don’t know why the formula doesn’t change for these books, but it doesn’t, and that’s sad.

It’s been a handful of days and I’ve already pretty much forgotten the plot of the book. From a combination of it being the same as most of them these days to….well, that’s pretty much it, really. So I’ll go look it up real quick and plop it in here for you.

Ken Globovic (aka Gobbles) is the head honcho of the Zeta frat house. After making bail for the whole beating-up-the-dean-of-students thing, he’s on the run. Except as Stephanie snoops, there are a lot of weird things going on at the Zeta house, unexpected flocks of geese notwithstanding. Meanwhile, a slew of killings is going on that seem to have stranger connections than Stephanie first thought. And while Ranger keeps asking for her help, suddenly Joe Morelli is pushing her away. As always, things are never right in Stephanie world – until the end, of course.


At this point I’m wondering if Janet Evanovich is stuck under contract for X amount of books or what. Even so, I don’t see why that wouldn’t give her room to change the characters up or make them grow. That’s really the biggest problem with this series. The formula is the same, same, same. Lula makes sassy jokes, Stephanie’s stun gun never $@&#! works (cripes woman, BUY A TASER!), her cars get demolished (except Big Blue, surprise, surprise), Stephanie’s skips make her look stupid, etc. The plot was different, but still leaves you making that, “Um…okay…?” face. I’m even getting bored with Ranger. You think he’d at least drag Stephanie’s ass to a shooting range, give her better gear (although she’d probably screw up and it would end up being used against her), and tell her to get her shit together before she’s killed. Heck, Stephanie doesn’t even blanch when she starts getting weird stuff in the mail. Yeah, okay, you’re used to weird stuff, but maybe you should tell somebody. Common sense.

So again, meh.

I think it’s interesting to note that I took a peek at other folk’s reviews to see what other readers had to say, and many pointed out things I hadn’t paid attention to at all. Several even question who the actual author of the book was given that there were several discrepancies that Ms. Evanovich should have known given that this is her universe, after all.

As for me? *shrug* I’ll probably keep reading them. Maybe because I’m a sadomasochist when it comes to this series. Or maybe it’s because at this point I’m so far entrenched I want to be there when it all finally ends…which hopefully it does. Because at this point I’m numb to pretty much everything from the “love triangle” to the whole car-blowing-up thing. I really only get frustrated with the never-ending stupidity. But given that the books come out with long intervals in between, I can handle it.

…That and I needed a book with a number in it.

Still. If you’re considering reading any of the Stephanie Plum series, I encourage you to go back to my Stephanie Plum September posts and figure out which number you’ll decide to stop reading. Because trust me, you really don’t want to continue on to where I am now.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Death Cure (A Trilogy)

Pro: A thrilling end to a thrilling series.
Con: Trust issues, a few questions, and one death

The Bottom Line: If you want dystopia but feel wary about this since it’s teen – read it anyway. These kids go through stuff that would break most adults.

Let me put this in perspective for you.

I didn’t ever intend to read this series. Nothing against James Dashner, but it just wasn’t high up on my already massive reading list. But then I saw The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials in theatres. And I wanted to know the end. Like, now. So I went to two different libraries on the opposite sides of town to get both books. This book wasn’t available, so I put a hold on it, figuring that by the time I finished the first two, I’d be able to pick this one up and read it. That is, until I looked at the queue and saw that I was 30th in line. NOPE.

So I bought the book. I don’t do that. I don’t buy the third book in a trilogy if I don’t have the first two. But that’s how badly I wanted to read this book. That’s how much I wanted to know just wtf is happening to these kids and how it’s all going to end. Now I do.

Thomas is finally free of WICKED, but there are prices to be paid. He doesn’t know who he can trust, how he’ll stay clear of WICKED, is still ignorant of his past (although maybe that’s for the best), and the world seems to be falling down around him – figuratively and in some cases, literally. He wants nothing more than to make WICKED pay for what they’ve done. But how can he? And at other times he still finds himself asking – should he?

I had trust issues throughout this book because I kept thinking, “How do I know this is for real? That these people aren’t a part of WICKED’s plan?” Eventually you have to be like Thomas and hope that for once something isn’t fake. That there are people that want to help, and that it is possible to have something go right for once.

Just like the previous two books, there’s a ton of stuff happening almost every day for poor Thomas and his crew, and things just never really get any better or easier. I sort of wished this more in the second book than this one, but it still applies – how no one completely went off on any of the WICKED people. Just simply yelling at them about what they’ve been through, how awful, sick, and twisted WICKED is. I don’t care what they were trying to accomplish – the way they were doing it…WICKED is not good. Adults would sneer and look down on Thomas and his group, and no one ever snapped back that they’d been through way more than any of those people, and all of it much more horrific.

It’s all interesting and exciting and comes together in the end, though I was kind of confused as to Teresa and her group’s escape (was it an escape? Fake? Did they decide to escape after getting their memories back? I don’t get it). I was also surprised at the lack of reaction to someone’s death near the end. Especially given Thomas’s attachment and despite previous events…I don’t know. It was just like, boom, it happened, bummer, moving on.

But no matter what, it was a really good ride. Will I have to reread it when the movie finally comes out in the future? Hell no. This story will stick to my mind like glue for a long time to come. And the only thing I ever saw coming? The truth of where the Flare came from.


Future Movie Thoughts (in case you’re interested)

I do look forward to the movie. I’m very, very curious as to how they’re going to handle things, from the plot itself to character deaths. I’m sure other folks who have read these books can make guesses as to who might bite it in the end – and who we hope they might change in order to survive to the end.

But I will say one thing – I’m still glad they changed what the Flare does to a person. Because going mad in that fashion is frightening and terrible…but what the movie version does to people is far, far worse. I’ll live with Dashner’s Flare and lose my mind. But if the movie’s Flare takes root in my brain – and body – that’s when I eat a bullet.

I do know that there is a prequel that Dashner put out after this was complete - but I'm still dubbing this a trilogy and counting it for my reading challenge. So nyah nyah,

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Scorch Trials (A Trilogy)

Pro: Keeps you reading, 100%
Con: Not really.

The Bottom Line: How more of these kids aren’t dead or suffering from severe PTSD or simply breaking down, I’ll never know.

Once I was done with the first book, it was time to dive into the second. I’d already seen both movies, so now I really wanted to know how The Scorch Trials compared to its film counterpart.

Holy cow, are they different. But let’s talk book first.

Thomas and the other Gladers are out of the Maze. They’ve been rescued – or so they thought. Turns out the Maze was only the first phase of the trials. Now they have another to face; the burning wasteland of the Scorch, an area of the world where sun flares have fried everything to a crisp, and where a nasty disease called the Flare eats away at people’s brains until they’re psychotic, ravaging maniacs. Good times. And if Thomas and the others survive – who knows? Maybe WICKED keeps its promises, maybe it doesn’t. Thomas doesn’t know what to trust anymore – or who to believe.

Wow this book was violent. I mean, stuff happens to these kids that only happens in horror stories. WICKED puts them through some awful, awful things in order to get what they want, ultimately justifying all that suffering with a promise of a cure for the Flare. Yeah right. I certainly don’t believe it, myself. I have my theories of what’s really going on, but even so, Dashner keeps you on your toes so you never truly have any idea of what’s happening, who to trust, what’s real, and what might happen next. In the end, all you have is Thomas to hang onto, and he’s as baffled and beaten as the rest of them.

There are so many twists and turns and weird crap happening that I truly cannot recall a time I’ve ever been so off balance by a book. I mean, yeah, I have theories, but in the end they’re weak and only vague guesses at certain pieces of the puzzle. When it comes to the big picture, I’m pretty well left in the dark. Heck, as I write this, I’m 1/3 of the way into the final book, The Death Cure, and I still don’t have any new ideas. I like it. I like that it’s totally new and not cookie-cutter stuff that makes it super predictable. I like that I’m so in the dark and Dashner does so many different things I can’t even cheat and skip ahead to discover anything because stuff can change in their world at the drop of a hat.

I do still think that the overall experiment is absurd since WICKED has no control, and by doing so they’ve put themselves in a position to be royally screwed by losing all their subjects, but I’m too well entrenched to let that bother me. So instead I just think, “You guys are fucked up,” and move on.

I paced myself with this book – and I use that term loosely. I finished this book over two days. Partly because I’d wiped myself in reading the first book the day before, and partly because I actually had to go to work.

Movie Comparison (if you’re interested)

Now if this set of book to movie changes make readers mad, I wouldn’t be too surprised. The movie is pretty much nothing like the book, and I think they may have pulled a bit from the third book into the second movie (and I only know that because of my cheatsy sneak peeks in the third book to where I saw mention of the Right Arm). But there are tons of things they left out – but again, in many ways I can understand.

The truth is that if all of Dashner’s horror were left in the movie, that sucker would be rated R, hands down. There are hanging dead people. Kids that lose heads in what’s probably the shittiest way to have it done (no, really, they literally have their heads removed from their bodies). There are more monsters, both human and non, Thomas gets the shit kicked out of him on what seems like every page, and so on. And all the kids reading these books wouldn’t get to see the movie, and the parents that saw it would flip out with, “Oh my God – what are you reading?

That aside, there were a lot of other changes. They stuck with a lot of original shifts simply because they don’t translate well to the screen. The Scorch isn’t a purposeful trial in the movie the way it is in the book. I think they pushed along the plot more in the movie so you know earlier what WICKED is hoping to achieve, which is also fine, otherwise moviegoers might leave frustrated and confused, and then have to piece it all together a year later. I hesitate to say that it’s dumbed down; more like a lot of the tests that WICKED runs in the books are etched out entirely and we move forward to Thomas and Co. seeking escape, safety, and answers.

Oh – and I like what they did with the Flare in the movie. If you’ve played The Last of Us, think final stage of infected folks. If not, go look up cordyceps fungus. I’ll wait. Yeah, that’s kind of what they went with in the movie, and I’m totally cool with it. It’s creepier by far, and while I’ve got nothing against Dashner’s Flare, I’m bored with crazy/rage-induced viruses.

Ultimately, I’m okay with the movie and the book. The movie is almost like its own story, which is fun, and which makes me wonder how the final movie will go. Until then, I’ll discover the rest of the story in the final book.

Looking forward to how it all plays out.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Maze Runner (A Trilogy)

Pro: Good stuff
Con: Some slight far-fetchedness

The Bottom Line: If you want serious post-apocalyptic stuff or if you liked the movie but haven’t read the book yet, read the book.

I don’t often jump on bandwagons. Occasionally I’ll read a book to see what the hubbub is about, but not too often. My personal reading list is already too long. But after I saw The Maze Runner’s movie trailer, I decided.

That looks kick-ass. I want to see the movie first. Then I’ll read the book.

Mind you, that doesn’t happen often. …At all. But that’s what went down, and here we are.

Thomas doesn’t remember anything. Just his name. So it’s pretty disturbing when he is pulled out of a metal box and into the Glade – a place where dozens of boys currently live raising animals, tending fruit trees…and every day heading out into the Maze. The Maze always changes, and at night gruesome creatures lurk its twists and turns. The goal? Find a way out. But with the arrival of Thomas, things change, and the very next day a girl arrives in the box with a note: “She’s the last one ever.” That’s when things go from bad to much, much worse.

There is a LOT of stuff going on in here. You’re right along with Thomas for the ride as you try to figure out what’s going on, why these boys are here, and how they’re going to get out. The movie only puts you slightly ahead of the game, as it’s not entirely the same as the book (surprise). You wonder about who put them in there and the purpose of such a terrible place. And what’s more – what happens when they actually do get out. Thomas is constantly thinking, constantly questioning, and you’re doing the same thing with him.

All the characters are nicely fleshed out, and you quickly come to like guys like Newt, Minho, and Chuck. Dashner is skilled with his descriptions, as crazy as some of the things he describes are, you’re still able to picture them in your brain, though you’ll still find yourself wondering just how the Maze got built, what’s up with the Cliff and it’s long fall down, and how all these kids were supposed to figure this stuff out.

I mention a bit of far-fetched stuff, though maybe it's not really that. More like small things that popped into my head such as, “This experiment is terrible – not in a horrific way, but just as typical experiments go, the design is awful,” or “So Grievers have spikes that come out of their body – and yet people have zero problem with jumping on these things?” Or how they figure out how they’re supposed to get out of the Maze – that’s so convoluted and disjointed, no one would ever actually make those connections without prior knowledge (which is the purpose for a certain batch of chapters, I suppose, but if that never happened, the test would fail, and I guess everyone would die, but then you’re out of a solid batch of people, but what do I know?).

But those are easily set aside and you can let yourself be swept along in the insanity. I wanted to know how it compared to the movie and to see if I could glean any extra information from the book that I read the entire thing in pretty much one sitting. Got it at the library around 1pm, finally finished the book around 6:30 or so. Even when you want to put it down, it’s pretty hard to do.

Movie Comparison (if you’re interested)

So I might as well do a bit of comparison-ing. I liked both the book and the movie. The movie worked out well in the way that Warm Bodies worked out. There are a lot of things in the book that simply wouldn’t translate well over to the big screen and were perfectly fine to cut out. This may bother loyal followers of the movie, and I can understand, but the movie stands very strongly on its own two legs, and in fact, some thing that they changed I like better. Mostly because they make more sense (particularly the escape).

There are several characters that are cut out as well, but again, that’s something I’m okay with because you can do what needs to be done with the number of people that the movie uses, especially when other characters, while familiar and perhaps even close to you (so to speak), don’t really have much to offer other than dialogue and another body to fight or die. Other changes are small and okay – at least to me – such as certain deaths near the end, the map room, or the fact that Alby wasn’t a total jerk in the movie.

So go read the book or watch the movie. Either way, you’re going to have an interesting time.

After that, gear up for the Scorch.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

When a Scot Ties the Knot (A Book Set in a Different Country)

Pro: It's an enjoyable Highland romance - what else do you want?
Con: Nah.
The Bottom Line: Fun romance to read in the tub with some chocolate. Or whenever.

It started out as a joke. One of my co-workers requested I make an entire recommendation shelf devoted to romance books with giggle-worthy titles. The prank was that another co-worker's name would be on the recommendations - which he would never make. As I scanned various titles (including Wallbanger, and Sex Becomes Her), this one did indeed make me giggle, so I added it to the shelf. (Please note, I do enjoy romance and know that it's a huge industry. Our prank wasn't to make fun of that - but just to get a reaction from someone.)

To be fair, the reaction we got was pretty great.

But as I read up on the summaries of these books to at least make some sense in the recommendation (fake though they were), this one did happen to catch my interest. And I already knew Tessa Dare was an accomplished romance author. So I ended up picking up a copy from the library.

Maddie doesn't want to be out in English society. She'd rather stay away from balls and dancing and social gatherings. Instead, she aspires to be an accomplished artist and enjoys the quiet solitude of her own company. But when the pressure is on, she thinks up a quick lie that spirals out of control. She creates Captain Logan MacKenzie, a sweetheart she met while away (as her family hoped she might). For years their "correspondence" goes on as he is away in the military. Until finally she realizes she can't keep up the charade and conjures up his death. Which is fine, since he's not even real.

Until he is. And he's on her doorstep. And he's mad about everything - and ready to collect on the marriage and everything that comes with it.

I wanted to know just how the hell this guy showed up. How did someone she create become real? So I read. And it made sense. I mean, why not?

Each character's motivations work well. Logan wants a place for his men, Maddie can finally stop feeling like a fraud. Except she's not too keen on consummating the marriage and making it official. Marrying a stranger isn't exactly appealing, especially when his desires don't include her in the least. So her goal is to try and find the letters and destroy them. Then he'll have no proof over her and she can get out of this little debacle.

I had a good time reading this and I found it different in that there wasn't ever a bad guy. No clear-cut antagonist beyond Logan and Maddie's reservations around one another. Which is interesting. I kept waiting for someone to pop up and cause trouble, but it never happened. I guess it's because I'm used to those sorts of things in romance. There wasn't ever really a huge misunderstanding between the two, either - another barrier that tends to crop up in romances. I mean, there was one small one, but it wasn't anything major and was resolved pretty quickly. So it felt different, but that was all right.

It's a fun little romp if you need a good bit of romance to keep you entertained. It's your classic timid English girl and sexy Highland scot pairing, but that's always enjoyable to read - especially when the setting is out and about in the wild open world of Scotland, complete with beautiful vistas, lochs, and the occasional bog for our hero to pluck the heroine from. Enjoy.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dinosaur Lords (A Book Based Entirely on It’s Cover)

Pro: Interesting concept
Con: …Are we there yet?

The Bottom Line: “Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones,” reads George R.R. Martin’s tagline. Oh if only, Mr. Martin. If only.

I first saw the cover for this book a long while back on Twitter and made a mental note. Dinosaurs and fantasy coming together? Hell yeah I’m in. So when I finally, finally saw it in the store, I picked it up. I had high hopes. I mean the tagline alone was a huge lure. After all – Victor Milán has created a story with people fighting on dinosaurs with swords and armor. How could I not like this?

Unfortunately there’s a lot in here that just didn’t work well for me. And I hate to emphasize this but…a lot. And it really bums me out because I really hoped to have a great time reading this. Instead, I almost quit 30 pages in and decided if I wasn’t interested enough by page 100, I was going to stop altogether. The book held on – albeit barely – and I made it to the end. But I was left disappointed and don’t intend to continue with the series when the next book comes out. Because yes, it does indeed end in clearly-there-will-be-more-books fashion.

When it comes to the plot, one could describe it as Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones – however, both of those things are infinitely better. One half of the book is political intrigue that isn’t very interesting and that features characters that are equally uninteresting. There's Jaume, the best soldier in the land who follows orders even if they’re terrible and he knows it. Melodia, a princess who sounds like she could kick ass but seems more like she’s all bluster and never really does anything. Her father the emperor who is the biggest idiot in power I've ever seen, and Falk, the bad guy whose bad guy-ness isn't even hidden (which sort of ruins the whole "intrigue" bit) and despite being skilled and powerful is a total lapdog to his mom and a servant despite complaining about it all the time. Their story is slow and features zero mystery or surprises.

The other half of the book features Rob, a dinosaur master that lords hire and then shit on, something I didn’t understand (why would you be an asshole to the guy in charge of handling all your dinosaurs? Shouldn’t that be a position of honor? And actually, now I'm starting to question the title...) and Voyvod Karyl, the brooding super-badass who’s the most interesting character of the group because he isn’t an idiot and the gods clearly have designs for him. Their job? Teach a bunch of people to learn how to fight in order to defend themselves. Rob and Karyl’s ventures take multiple wholly uneventful chapters that could have easily been skipped for the sake of time and jumped forward to more interesting events.

Despite all the dinosaurs thrown at you, both in getting you to read the book and actually in the book, their inclusion is a bit of a letdown. Warriors don’t ride meat eaters as we all would expect, and the reasoning for this (which I’m sort of assuming) isn’t all that great. Instead, they’re on hadrosaurs. Go look that up. I’ll wait. True, they’re bigger and more dangerous at running people over than horses, but it’s still not all that impressive. You could take just about every dinosaur out of this book and replace it with an animal we’re all familiar with and it wouldn’t cause much of a ripple.

An issue that cropped up early on that gave me a few red flags is simply the sheer number of names and point of views thrown at you in quick fashion. I feel like there should be some kind of fantasy rule of thumb that says don’t put more than 10 characters on the page within the first few chapters. If I remember right, even if I skip over the Prologue, Milán dumps at least 6 or 7 different POVs by page 40. He’s certainly fine with throwing dozens of names at you in Tolkien fashion. People have multiple names/titles, and so do some of the dinosaurs. The first chapter flings you into the middle of a battle that is confusing as hell for a multitude of reasons, this being only one of them.

Now, at the beginning of the book, Milán makes it clear; this is not Earth, nor any version of it. And yet throughout the entire book we get people speaking in what is very clearly Spanish, likewise we get words that are very clearly echoes of today’s peoples – i.e. Frances (hm, French perhaps?), Anglysh (gee, English, maybe?). This totally defeats the purpose of us not thinking in terms of Earth. And I get that maybe Milán is using Spanish as his fantasy language, but that doesn’t work for me. You can’t just chuck a real language into a fantasy world. It’s distracting and totally takes you out of said fantasy world. “But Nicole, the entire book is in English!” Yeah, you’re right. It is. But when it comes to that sort of thing, I always think in my mind that the book has been translated into English so I can read it. What about Spanish readers, then? They’re not getting anything fun or special when characters just break into the language that's already on the page. Readers are supposed to decipher fantasy words through context or be told what they are later or have them purposely left to mystery. I know enough Spanish that I could read just about everything. And if he's not using Spanish as his fantasy language then...what the heck is the point? I simply don’t understand the logic behind it.

There are other, smaller points I could get into, but I won’t bother. Just know that overall, it was really disappointing. It holds so much promise and numerous possibilities, but it just fell flat. I wish Milán success, and I’m sure there will be some fans that enjoyed this and will read his second book. I just won’t be one of them.


P.S. Truth strikes once again - don't judge a book by its cover.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Empress Game (A Book by a Female Author)

Pro: All the good things you want in a space opera.
Con: It’s the first in a trilogy and it just came out. FRUTT!

The Bottom Line: If you like space opera or Dune, this is something you’ve been waiting for and I suggest you pick up yesterday.

Rhonda Mason was a part of the Seton Hill Creative Writing Program. So was I. Rhonda’s gone and gotten herself published and on the shelves. And every now and again when that happens, I like to pick up one of my fellow graduate’s work and take a look-see.

Ms. Mason does not disappoint.

The Empress Game deposits us into a galaxy controlled by councils made up of people from numerous planets. But there is a seat open on one of the main councils – a very powerful seat. That of the Empress Apparent. The only way to win that seat is through ritualized combat, and certain individuals have decided to bring in someone who knows how to fight and who can win. Kayla Reinumon is that ringer, but what everyone else doesn’t know is that she’s exiled Wyrd royalty. It’s cheating, and they all know it. If they fail, they die. If they win, everyone might just get what they’ve always wanted.

That’s the book in a nutshell. A terrible nutshell. Trust that I really don’t do this book justice. That’s because the setting is huge on a scope of Dune or Star Wars. Thousands of planets and peoples with all manner of technology and politics and plans. But the scope doesn’t get exhausting. You’re zeroed in on specific characters at all times, and focused on what they’re doing because it’s so danged important. You get a taste for the galaxy, but don’t drown in it.

When it comes to the story, characters, and, well, everything, this book made me mad. Why? Because I couldn’t freaking read fast enough! I’m becoming an impatient reader, and when something is good, I admit, I start cheating. I sneak peeks ahead to see if someone is going to kiss someone else, if someone dies, or what someone’s super-important backstory is. I totally cheated with this book. Several times. I just wanted to know! But the only way to get it all is to actually read it like a normal person. It’s just one of those books that make you lament that you have to go to work in the next ten minutes or that dinner is waiting for you on the table. “Just spoon it into my mouth for me, will you? I need to finish this chapter.”

All the characters are likeable. Kayla was a very strong woman with her weaker moments, just like any person would. Malkor was, in a way, sort of the stereotypical badass with a soft n’good side, but I really don’t care. I love those guys no matter where they show up or how stereotypical they might be these days. When a man sticks around with you even though there’s a possibility of nanites eating your face, that’s a winner.

There’s plenty of excitement with the occasional downtime, which gives the pacing a good feel. The fight scenes are well-executed, and you get a little bit of everything. Swords. Knives. Hand-to-hand combat. While a few plot moves are predicable, on the whole you won’t really know what’s coming. And the bad guy is excellent in the way that he’s not even a bad guy you love to hate. You just straight up hate that guy because he’s one sick sonofabitch.

My only peeves are that now I have to wait for more books. Going in I really didn’t know if there would be more or not, and given that I hate waiting, was really hoping that it would be a standalone, but alas – total cliffhanger. And the other peeve?

Let’s talk about “frutt” for a second. “Frutt” is a made up word clearly meant to replace “fuck.” Now, I don’t care if cursing is replaced, but I swear every time I saw this word my brain immediately read it as “fruit.” No joke, while writing this, I even spelled fruit first. It does kind of bug me, though, when fuck is replaced with another f-word (let’s not talk about “frack”), or when swearing elsewhere is a-okay, but for some reason in the galaxy “bullshit” made it in, but the highly versatile and fantastic to say “fuck” did not. If you’re gonna go, then go all in. Don’t pansy out on one swear word for whatever reason. Frutt that.

But if you want to watch a woman kick tons of ass, need a new galaxy to explore, and maybe even sneak in just a touch of skin (go Kayla, whoo hoo!), this should end up on your next To Read list.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Alive (A Book Published This Year)

Pro: All the things.
Con: …Only if, in subsequent books, we don’t get to learn the full backstory.

The Bottom Line: If you like a nasty little packaging of horror and science fiction, then this book is for you.

I debated at first where to put this book. I considered putting it as the Book Set in the Future slot, but when I finished and given what I’d learned, I didn’t think that worked quite right. Luckily I spotted the one listed above and decided that would be better.

Describing this book is going to be tough, as Scott Sigler himself makes a request in the very back of the book urging us reviewers not to reveal too much. And I might take that to the extreme since there’s so much going on, I really don’t want to reveal a lot of things, which makes it tougher to talk about, but I’ll do my best.

A girl finds herself in a coffin. She’s twelve, and it’s her birthday. Not the best way to start the day. After panicking and realizing no one is going to come for her, she manages to break out where she finds other coffins – and her name. M. Savage. She soon discovers other things. She’s not twelve. Today is not her birthday. And she’s not the only one trapped alive in a coffin that somehow is and isn’t a coffin. After releasing other boys and girls, they all realize the same thing as Em – nothing what they thought is true, and they can’t remember any of their past. That means it’s time to find out, and that is way easier said than done.

This is the bare bones of the story, the very start of a rabbit hole that goes in a horrific circle and gets nastier each and every time. I’ve read Scott’s work before – his adult novel Infected. I never got to the rest of the series, though I was able to do some quick skimming. Scott is very good at providing readers with a wonderful blending of science fiction and horror, and there’s plenty of that here. In fact, I picked this book up at work (surprise, surprise) in the teen section, thinking, “Guess everyone’s writing teen now,” (which is true)…only to open it up and wonder how the hell this made it to the teen shelves. I mean, Hunger Games has its nasty moments, but given what the characters in this book saw in some of the rooms they passed by – yeah. No. This is some Saw-style Clive Barker type stuff. Which is why, if you’re an adult in the teen section, frickin’ go for it, man.

Piecing things together is pretty hard for a while given the information that Scott provides you. He makes you think one thing completely given all the Aztec imagery, and then suddenly, BAM – if you’re paying attention to the details you realize you’re somewhere utterly different and it’s really bizarre. I don’t feel I’m giving anything away with that Aztec bit because it’s pretty clear with the carvings mentioned and some of the names that popped up that Scott went for the Aztec inspiration. But it works because like I said, it makes things all the more confusing.

While the concept overall (once you realize where they are) has been done – and I’d list books or movies, but then I’d be giving it away – the other details, as well as the whole Aztec bit, make it very different. So does the darkness and the characters. It’s a new spin on an idea that’s been used, and that’s okay. Borrow and modify, as they would say in the art world, and oh boy, does Scott modify.

There are questions left behind, but then this is also the first book in a trilogy (grumble, grumble), so for those questions to be answered, you’ll have to wait for the next two books. I’m really hoping they get answered because if the next book just focuses on where they were headed at the end of this book and the trials they’re facing there without touching on the history of this book, well, that would be irritating. But I don’t think that’ll happen. People are acting too weird, there’s a lot still going on behind them, and there’s still the question of that one girl…

It’s a solid read with a strong female character who has to fight with things that are and what she hopes aren’t a part of her. The visuals that Scott paints are strong – if this were a movie it could be super tense and extremely freaky in several areas. I’m digging what’s going on here and I look forward to the next book (tentative release date of April 2016).

In short, people like Scott Sigler make me jealous. Jealous of his writing skills and his ability to come up with such wild stories. Perhaps someday. Until then, I’ll keep on reading and immersing myself in this world – horrific though it may be.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Nimona (A Book with a One-Word Title)

Pro: Fun and funny
Con: I would have gone for graphic novel dimensions for larger images
The Bottom Line: If you want something fun to read that’s a little on the unexpected side, this is a good bet.
This is yet another book I saw while at work and took a peek inside. I found a girl with the ability to turn into a dragon, a bad knight turning good, and a purposely stereotypical hero with flowing, golden locks.
Sign me up.
Turns out that Nimona is a webcomic created by Noelle Stevenson that, happily, has been collected and turned into a book – or rather, a graphic novel. The title is the name of one of the main characters, a girl who is actually a shapeshifter. And if there’s one thing I love, it’s a damn good shapeshifter, and Nimona certainly knows what she’s doing.
She pops into the life of Lord Blackheart in order to be his sidekick. Because good villains need good sidekicks. Although Blackheart is kind of an odd villain – he has a thing about killing people, and his plans are always getting foiled (so, like most comic book villains). Nimona hopes to help him change that, though soon things are getting a wee bit out of control – including Nimona’s abilities.
And that’s just the story in a tiny nutshell. There’s a lot going on in here that some people might not expect from a web comic (though to be fair, we should all know better these days). I liked the blending of science and sorcery – one minute people are swordfighting and the next someone sees a laser gun on the ground and snatches that up for extra firepower. It’s a neat story, too. Definitely not something I’ve ever come across. I also enjoyed the snappy dialogue and the art itself. The interesting juxtaposition of bad guy vs good guy even though bad guy isn’t really bad and good guy works for a group that sucks is always a neat twist, though not everyone can pull it off. Stevenson does so easily.
Okay, so basically I liked everything about this. It was simply a really fun read that has snicker-worthy moments as well as serious moments and an ending I didn’t see coming. At all. The copy I got was from the library and in hardcover (didn’t know it was available in hardcover). While it’s pretty sizable, I wished it was larger – like hardcover graphic novel size. Some of the panels are pretty small, which is a shame because Stevenson’s drawings are so much fun. I’m sure it worked out much better online because she could upload large images and readers just had to scroll through to read them. Here they’re kind of compacted which also occasionally shrinks down the text to quite small.
But that’s the publisher’s decisions so, eh. What can you do?
If you go searching for this book, you’ll actually end up in the teen section (at least at Barnes & Noble – other bookstores may have it placed elsewhere). When in doubt, just ask. It’s worth it.

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