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.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Injustice: Gods Among Us Vol. 1 (A Graphic Novel)

Pro: My God…YES.
Con: Batman, you bitch.
The Bottom Line: I’d like the world to know RIGHT NOW that I side with Superman. Granted, I’m sure things get nastier later, but as we start out, I’m with the Man of Steel.
As per usual at work, I find myself faced with a lot of things I want to read. On one particularly slow morning, I thumbed open the first volume of Injustice. I knew all about the video game and the central plot surrounding it (tyrannical Superman + half of the Justice League vs. Batman + everyone else), but was curious as to how it all went down. This graphic novel provides the answers.
It starts with the Joker (as, let’s face it, all good, terrible things do), and for once, one of his nefarious plans makes it to fruition. Only this plan was against Superman. Hence the reason it succeeded. But what followed was a domino effect, complete with plenty of surprises in interesting little twists to moi, the girl who, while I may claim allegiance to geekdom and be a DC person, has never read a graphic novel in her life. (Don’t judge, I only ever saw all the movies and every single animated episode – and that shit was good. Er, the animated stuff, not all the movies. We all know about certain of those movies…)
Alas, this is the story of how Superman fell and how he took a good chunk of the JLA with him. And you know what? I’m with him. Given the dance that Batman does with all his enemies all the time (though, to be fair, that’s pretty much every hero and villain in every graphic novel), Superman’s actions had me going, “Oh YEAH! FINALLY someone does it!” And it made sense. I see both sides – what Bats is getting at and what Superman is aiming for. But in the end, I’m not all about protecting mass murdering psychopaths who literally have zero inclination to fix themselves. And in the end, pretty much every Gotham bad guy should have been handed the death sentence 20 times over and Bats ought to realize this. But, my ideologies aside, I’d absolutely be Wonder Woman in this scenario – except without the pining after Superman part.
It won’t take you long to read – at all. I picked this up at the library around 4:45, got home a wee bit after 5, and was done by 6 after plenty of interruptions by my dog and a bouncy ball. Unfortunately, now I’m waiting for the second volume to be available, and this stuff is addictive. Fun writing, quality artistry, and a solid story all come together very nicely for sheer enjoyment. This is the kind of thing that, if done right, really ought to be the Batman vs. Superman movie, but we all know Hollywood is dumb, so right now we’ll just leave it in the hands of smart videogame developers and talented graphic novelists.
Works for me.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Zoo (A Book Based on or Turned Into a TV Show)

Pros: Freaky, but intriguing, concept.
Cons: A few holes and a weird reason, but oh well.
The Bottom Line: It’s hard not to get at least a little weirded out while reading this book, and I was certainly a fan of the moral of the story.
Zoo is my first James Patterson novel, although to be fair I don’t know how much of this book he actually wrote. Given that Patterson is cranking out a novel practically every other month and that every single one of them has someone else’s name on it as well, for all I know most of this book was crafted by Michael Ledwidge.
But oh well. It’s a good story with an interesting premise, interesting bit of pivoting between third and first person point of view, and quite the satisfying ending.
The story in a nutshell: Animals are on a killing spree. They’re killing humans, and no one knows why. Only Jackson Oz seems to notice the pattern, but it may be too late before anyone believes him.
Oz is the only character to get the first person treatment. I’m not sure how this worked out between Patterson and Ledwidge, but it actually works. We get to be inside the head of the one guy who seems to know what’s going on while stepping back to view everything else, only peeking on occasion into the heads of other folks as well as animals.
This book keeps you on your toes in that you don’t know what’s causing the animals to attack. I mean, you quickly gather that it has something to do with scent, but beyond that your little mind is going to be boggled. When it’s finally revealed it seems kind of strange and I’m still not entirely sure that I’m buying what they’re selling. Especially when lions in the middle of Africa are freaking out – it seems like the ones way out in the wild would be the animals to not go berserk. The other hole includes the resolution to solve the problem (or at least, begin to solve the problem), and it starts to go away in a matter of a few days. But given that the issue is not just exterior but also involved in our sweet, sweet human skin, I don’t understand why it would. They would still smell us and that’s a problem. And with the thing so deeply embedded into every animal at this point….well…
…For the sake of the story, I hit the “suspend disbelief” button and went on my merry way.
Because it’s quite the unique ride. You want to know what’s happening. You get edgy every time an animal steps onto the page. I started to get a weird sort of feeling reading about dog packs and loyal dogs switching just like *that* and attacking their owners – all the while with my dog nestled against my leg all happy and snoozing. Meanwhile I’m sitting there thinking, “I just hope your little amygdale doesn’t get any bigger.”
I also really did enjoy the writing itself. Very descriptive, tense, and compelling, which made the book hard to put down. While I also don’t think the government could actively black out information about all the animal attacks given the sheer number of people with cell phones that have video capabilities and the insane, never-ending power of the internet (these days I know stuff before I ever see it on mass media just through Twitter alone), I was willing to overlook that, too.
So Zoo has its holes, but it’s too thrilling and different to ignore. And I think the moral of the story is pretty on point. We screwed up, but hey shit happens – except then we keep screwing up. The sad part? This does not surprise me. Not in the least. Because if there’s one thing that is true in life, it’s that humanity is f*cking stupid. There is a slice out there of folks that I know would follow the rules and be intelligent about the whole thing, but lets face it, most people would die just like they did in the book, some of which I would not feel sorry for. So the ending really worked for me, and in fact I probably would have been disappointed if suddenly, ah-ha! they came up with a cure for the whole thing and we all lived happily ever after.
I do feel sorry for the dogs, though.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Scratch Beginnings (A Nonfiction Book)

Pro: A very interesting read. Surprisingly fast, too.
Con: None

The Bottom Line: Adam shows that it is possible to scrape your way up from the bottom – it’s hard, and it sucks, but it is possible.

One day at work, a girl asked for this book for one of her school classes. Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream. I think if that subheading hadn’t been there, I might not have given it a second glance. After all, I get people asking for all kinds of books all the time. But with that subheader coupled with the picture of some guy standing on the side of the road with just a duffle bag made me wonder – what is this book about?

It’s about just that – Adam Shepard heads out to a random city with only the clothes on his back, a sleeping bag, and $25 to his name. He can’t use family and friends for help. He can’t use his previous history to help him get a job. He’s going in on a blank slate, or at least as blank as any person can be. He becomes another homeless person lost in the masses. But his goal is to have $2,500 saved up, a functioning vehicle, and a place to call his own at the end of one year. Is it possible these days? Can hard work and sheer desire get you to a better place in life like we’re all taught to believe?

Published back in 2008, it’s not terribly old so a lot of it should still easily apply. I found this book really hard to put down as each chapter brought something new into Adam’s life. This is a look into a place that we never see. The world of homelessness. The places they can go to get help and food and shelter. What it’s really like and the reasons it’s not what many people think it is. I learned about places that hooked places up with quick and easy labor (easy as in quick to acquire for the location, not always so easy on the workers), but paid like garbage because they’re essentially the ones doing the hiring so they can get away with paying the person a lesser cut than normal. I didn’t even know places could do that (restaurants aside – and let’s face it, people shouldn’t have to rely on tips to survive, but that’s a whole other ball of wax).

And before you jump on the “Oh, well he’s a white guy anyway so he’s got an advantage” wagon, Shepard acknowledges at the very beginning of the book that he is not in the same sort of position that many others are in. He’s not a single mother, he’s not a person of color – he doesn’t have added disadvantages and he is well aware of this. But this also isn’t a book saying, “Hey, anyone can do it!” It was his own sort of documented social experiment – a personal one. He wanted to know what it was like in the dredges of society. He wanted to know if people really were getting screwed day in and day out. He wanted to know if it was possible to get out, to get up, and for at least one person to, in essence, live the American Dream.

But I’m not going to tell you if he did or not – you need to read the book for that.

I think it’s the kind of book any person could read. It’s interesting and insightful. It has funny and poignant moments like any story of human interest. Adam has his setbacks, too, from struggling to find a job to breaking his toe and facing the money-eating world that is the hospital (he didn’t know about free clinics). It’s a reminder that if you think you have it tough, there’s always a lower rung you could be on (though most of us don’t like to think about that). Ultimately, it’s a good story, a real story, and one that might have you appreciating what you have just that much more, or perhaps working a little bit harder or budgeting a little bit better to improve your own lot in life.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

The District 120 Reading Challenge

Wait...I thought I was District 150? And no, that's not any sort of Hunger Games reference/pun/whatever.

Anyway, that's beside the point.

My workplace (re: bookstore) has issued a reading challenge. Given that I need to read more books in general, I'm all for it. The challenge includes a long list - 50 items to be exact - that is actually quite handy. Each one describes the type of book we should try to read, which means we can either go out and find something that matches (and in some cases, you kind of have to), whereas in others you can simply pop in any number of books that you already intended to read.

The official challenge operates on the fiscal year - basically from tax season to tax season - so it started back in April. For some strange reason it's only just recently made it's way to us, so I've already lost several months to the year-long time frame it offers. I'm going to see if I can't go ahead and finish within that time frame (ending 4/30/2016), and will go ahead and include books that I've read recently after the start date (5/3/2015), but if it doesn't work out well I'm going to go ahead and give myself until October. Why? Because A.) that's when I'm obviously starting all this and B.) I have absolutely not read that many books as of writing this. I think the total is currently at 6.

So without further ado, here is the list I'll be working off of. Feel free to join me or just follow along.

  • A book you can finish in a day
  • A book with more than 500 pages
  • A classic romance
  • A book that became a movie
  • A book published this year
  • A book with a number in the title
  • A book written by someone under 30
  • A book with nonhuman characters
  • A funny book
  • A book by a female author
  • A mystery or thriller
  • A book with a one-word title
  • A book of short stories
  • A book set in a different country
  • A nonfiction book
  • A popular author's first book
  • A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet
  • A book a friend recommended
  • A Pulitzer Prize-winning book
  • A book based on a true story
  • A book at the bottom of your to-read list
  • A book your mom loves
  • A book that scares you
  • A book more than 100 years old
  • A book based entirely on its cover
  • A book you were supposed to read in school but didn't
  • A memoir
  • A book with antonyms in the title
  • A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit
  • A book that came out the year you were born
  • A book with bad reviews
  • A trilogy
  • A book from your childhood
  • A book with a love triangle
  • A book set in the future
  • A book set in high school
  • A book that made you cry
  • A book with magic
  • A graphic novel
  • A book by an author you've never read before
  • A book you own but have never read
  • A book that takes place in your hometown
  • A book that was originally written in a different language
  • A book set during Christmas
  • A book written by an author with your same initials
  • A banned book
  • A play
  • A book based on or turned into a TV show
  • A book you started by never finished
And there you have it. There are a few that I foresee problems with - such as the book I was supposed to read in school but didn't. I was that kid who read everything, no matter how dull or annoying the book ended up being (like The Scarlet Letter or Ellison's Invisible Man) and for the life of me can't think of a single book that I was supposed to read but skipped out on. So I might have to improvise on that one. A book to make me cry will be tough, too. Only 3 books in my life have made me get all teary-eyed, and you never know what might do it.

Still, there it is, and that's what I'm doing. Tally-ho (and all that).


Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Whoops! I completely forgot to mention this. Last month I reviewed Stephanie Garber's amazing book Caraval for the web blog I curre...