Saturday, December 29, 2012

Death Grip: A Climber's Escape from Benzo Madness by Matt Samet

Rating 3/5

This is perhaps a four-star book if it were cleaned up a little. Samet is a surprisingly good writer, and his story is an interesting one, but this book is in need of a good proof-reader. There were quite a few simple mistakes, especially near the end. I don't read a lot of ARCs, so I don't know if that's standard and forgivable. In addition, Samet refers to the past and future in strange places in the narrative, which doesn't always have to be confusing, but in this case, it is.

There are a lot of climbing stories in this book, and therefore a lot of climbing "lingo", which I wasn't familiar with, and were poorly or not at all defined. A glossary would've been helpful, but I also found most of the details of the climbs uninteresting. Sometimes it felt like Samet was "place-name dropping" and boasting, as he kept listing all these climbs (and their difficulties, of course) even if they didn't really add to his story. I suppose other climbers might find this impressive or interesting, but the general public might not.

Samet is obviously a big fan of nature, and his descriptions of it were long and florid, maybe over-described, depending on your taste. Personally I found myself skimming these sections.

Despite all this, I mostly enjoyed this memoir, and I could relate to the author's roller-coaster ride of ever-changing psychiatric prescriptions, as well as his feelings that the medicines cause more problems than they fix. While I was never addicted to "benzos", I've had similar experiences with psychiatrists and psych wards. Samet has a bit of a superior attitude when it comes to his fellow patients, and I think he takes himself too seriously - there is no hint of a sense of humour about himself in his writing. Maybe he just didn't add it in because he didn't want to take away from the gravity of the subject matter, or maybe he just has an inability to laugh at himself. I did admire that he came to fully accept the "darkness" in himself as not something that need changing. Ultimately Samet's story serves as a warning about the psychiatric circus that so many people find themselves hopelessly trapped in. He does paint psychiatrists with a wide brush as sinister beings whose only goal is to keep people on meds and therefore as eternal customers. Surely some are like this, but I think most have good intentions and are just haplessly boxed in by their training. Either way, the message is clear: psychiatric consumer beware.

I didn't learn much about psychiatry from this book that I didn't already know, but other people might. What I did learn was how competitive the sport of climbing could be. If you like memoirs, this is decent fare, with above average writing.

Note: I received a free advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher through the goodreads first reads program. (This has no influence over my rating or review.)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Kill Order (Maze Runner, #0.5) by James Dashner

Rating: 2.5/5

***Alert: Mild Spoilers***

This prequel to The Maze Runner trilogy has a prologue and epilogue that refer to characters from the other books, but have nothing whatsoever to do with the main story of this book. It's just weird.

This is the story of how The Flare began - a virus released as a population control measure after apocalyptic sun flares killed billions of people, but apparently there's still not enough resources left on earth for the people who are left. The story follows Mark (a wimpy teenager who only has any strength when he's filled with rage - but at least he's not a stereotype) and the group of friends (but mostly just an old ex-soldier) he survived the apocalypse with as they try to figure out who released the mutating virus and why. They run across a little girl who seems to be immune, and realize their one final act (since they're infected), should be to deliver her into the hands of the people who released the virus and hope they can use her to make a cure. If you've read the trilogy, you'll know that didn't happen, so all the struggles Mark and his friends went through were pointless.

That's not the only thing that takes away from the attempt at tragic heroism in this book, however. It's also the endless string of impossible fight sequences (how many times can two people fight off hoards of savage lunatics without sustaining severe, immobilizing injuries? Plenty, apparently.) It got to feel like repetitive filler.

This book lacked the character and relationship development of the original trilogy - it was almost all action. I found Mark's "flashback dreams" to the sun flare catastrophe to be the most interesting part of this book, and I almost wish Dashner would've made that the focus of this book. It's a much more interesting story. We don't get much of a satisfying conclusion - Deedee walks through the Flat-trans and we are left with unanswered questions. The Kill Order was just not as inspired or inspiring as the other books in the Maze Runner series.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience by Laurence Gonzales

Rating: 1/5

I made it to page 160 before my "rage-pathway" imploded, which is to say, I could not survive to the end of Surviving Survival. (Note: the narrative ends on page 221 - the rest of the book is appendices, so I actually read most of it before quitting in disgust). This is a poorly written book by a man with no apparent academic credentials. He doesn't use citations to back up his "scientific" arguments, though he does have an extensive list of references at the end of the book to make it seem like his theories correspond to his research. I'm calling bullshit. Having a bibliography is not the same as linking your information directly to a credible source using endnotes. Gonzales further undermines his already questionable authority by making up his own names for neurological and psychological concepts. He dumbs everything down by providing information in a piecemeal way and using the informal "you" when trying to explain things. Some concepts are over-explained, and some are under-explained. His attempt to intertwine multiple stories along with research and theories results in a scattered, interrupted, and confusing narrative with no flow. While certain ideas may be linked in his mind, he has difficulty connecting them together for the reader - at times I would wonder "what does this have to do with the story you're telling?"

I lost all ability to take this author's ideas seriously on page 149:

"Travel is a time-honored strategy for healing. That may be the real reason that ancient people migrated out of Africa: As the human brain grew into the speculative and contemplative organ that it is, our capacity for grief grew as well. I doubt that we had to leave Africa because it was full. Travel may have been an early adaptation to profound grief."

Really. It was grief that made our ancestors leave Africa. Not changes in environment, a growing population and the need for more land and resources, or a desire to explore. No, it was grief. Grief from what exactly? Life? Being attacked by tigers? Please note that the author does not reference any science whatsoever to back up this particular theory of his. It's just a random, uninformed speculation, and it makes me wonder how much of the rest of the ideas in this book are of the same quality and origin.

I picked up this book because I was very interested in the topic of how people recover (or don't) from traumatic, life-threatening events. I don't think Gonzales has more real answers to this question than could fill a long magazine article. His attempts to explain the "science" are unprofessional and muddled. He occasionally tries to wax poetic and inspiring about the people whose stories he's telling (many of whom he'd recycled from his previous book), but to me it came off as exploitive and tasteless. This book was disorganized, completely lacking in credibility, and thoroughly aggravating. The author did justice to neither his subject nor the people whose tragedies he used to elucidate his subject. I hate this book.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Rise of Nine (Lorien Legacies, #3) by Pittacus Lore

Rating 2.5/5

This one was pretty weak. It definitely could not stand on its own as a singular novel - there isn't much of a traditional story arc, it's just a bunch more action following on the heels of the last book. I actually think this story is much better suited for a video game. In that form, the premise of the story and all these crazy powers would be epic. Here, they are just unbelievable. It's pretty ridiculous to have to carry a huge chest of random gadgets wherever you go, but in a video game you get an inventory for these things. Plus, so much of this book is action, written in a sparse way that's hard to visualize. Yep, this could definitely be a very cool multi-player action-rpg. But as a book, it's fairly mindless garbo. Some of the characters are entertaining (I like Six and Nine), but the relationships between them all are rushed, weak, and/or cheesy, now that action has taken over and everything is hurried. It's hard to get attached to the new characters when time isn't taken to develop them, and they are just given a bit of introduction. And having everybody crushing on everybody else (opposite sex only - wouldn't want to stir the pot!) is totally cheesy. I am curious about Five - the only character we have yet to meet. Whoever it is, I hope they can smack some sense into the rest of these emotionally-driven idiots. And I hope the next book is written in third person narrative, instead of this multi-font multi-first person nonsense.

The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin

Rating: 3/5

Good story, but the writing got in the way. The language seemed to ruin the flow in a lot of the book, but especially for the first 150 pages or so. The suspense and mystery were great, the actual facts, when played out, were a bit less. Sometimes I wondered whether Irwin wrote this book to get over his own fear of spiders. This probably would be a very scary book for people with was the ghosts that spooked me out a bit: their eyes. Anyway, an okay book, with a neat glow-in-the-dark cover.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Everfound (Skinjacker, #3) by Neal Shusterman

Rating 4/5

Everfound was more enjoyable than the previous books in the Skinjacker trilogy, both of which I found quite slow for their first halves. It took me those two whole books to really become invested in the characters and their fates.

In my review of Everwild I discussed briefly what makes Mary Hightower a really great villain, and she continues to be so until the (very) bitter end. There's nothing more dangerous than a deluded person on a self-appointed mission, especially if they are able to persuade others of their righteousness by appearing like a saint. I don't know a whole lot about the myth of the Anti-Christ, but I think an interesting comparison could be made here.

Shusterman explores a lot of themes in this trilogy, including friendship, morality and redemption. Many of the characters find themselves on an archetypal heroes journey, but each walk a unique path, discover a different purpose, and end up at a different destination. Not everyone in this series gets justice.

I was a bit weirded out by the mass violence perpetrated on the living world by the dead. It seemed surreal at times, and I had to keep asking myself if it was appropriate for YA readers. I mean, you can legitimately compare Mary to Hilter, but none of the characters in the story seemed to really grasp the full horror of what she was doing, and some of them even afforded her respect at the end. Is it the knowledge of life after death that makes her mass murders more acceptable? Or is it because they knew her personally and couldn't see her as a monster? Or perhaps being removed from the land of the living themselves, Afterlights were too disconnected to value life the way the living do. Maybe, though, it was just a fail on the author's part.

In any case, as a whole, the Skinjacker trilogy is a unique story that explores some interesting themes in a palatable way. Everlost is a fun realm to read about, and Shusterman has created a host of compelling characters. This series is written a little "young" compared to most YA books I've read, so I'd say it straddles both the YA and Children's genres.

See my review of Everlost (Skinjacker #1) and Everwild (Skinjacker #2)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Kiss of Midnight (Midnight Breed, #1) by Lara Adrian

Rating: 1/5

Adrian is not a bad writer in the technical sense, but her characters and story-telling are thoroughly unoriginal. This is an extremely watery copycat of J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series - it lacks any depth, humor or real felt emotion. Gabrielle is an annoying idiot, and Lucan is a pale rip-off. I was so annoyed, I was actually hoping one of them would die. I get that characters in books - and people in general - do stupid things. But a good writer creates sympathy for these characters' foibles by giving them credible reasons for their mistakes. You feel like, under the circumstances, you may very well have done the same thing. Or at least, you can readily understand why the protagonist made their bad decisions. Not so with this book. "I'm stubborn and reckless" is an over-used and never credible motivation in this genre (and urban fantasy, especially YA). Gabrielle and Lucan - and therefore also the author - are maybe the worst offenders I've suffered to read since Rebecca Fitzpatrick's Hush Hush. The only thing going for this book is Adrian's good grammar and occasional interesting turn of phrase. I think I am done experimenting with the paranormal romance genre.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Child of the Morning by Pauline Gedge

Rating 4/5

Child of the Morning is my first novel set in historical Egypt (unless you count The Queen of the Damned, which I don't), and I have no idea how historically accurate it is. It doesn't matter, really. This book was more or less what I expected, full of rich detail and well-written. (Though I don't understand Gedge's use of the word "dull", which she always pairs with antonyms like "gleaming", "sparkling", and "shining" to describe Hatshepsut's adornments).

This book had a slow pace, which fit well with the setting and decades-long scope of the story. There were a lot of day-to-day details that might well have gotten tedious in less skilled hands, but Gedge was able to keep my interest. The story did not become truly compelling until the half-way point, after which I did not want to put the book down. Having said this, I did also enjoy the first half.

Hatshepsut is an intriguing character, but difficult to relate to. She's royal, arrogant, beautiful, good at everything she sets her mind to, and has a fierce belief in herself. Everyone in the book loved her from childhood on, but it took a long while for me to really warm to her and root for her. Eventually, though, I came to feel great sympathy for her, and experienced her hopes, frustrations, joys and sorrows along with her. In the end I was close to rage at her undeserved losses, and broken-hearted by her tragedy. And of course I have to note how much I seethe at stories of great people (fictional or no) who are not allowed to fulfil their potential just because they happen to be women.

All in all, an excellent book. I really enjoyed the author's writing style and attention to detail. She created a strong, passionate main character and filled her world with interesting friends and enemies, gods and temples, intrigue and emotion. I look forward to reading more of Gedge's books.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Fringe-ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable-And Couldn't by Steve Volk

Rating 3/5

To be perfectly honest, I'd have given this book four stars, but I felt like I've already read its contents in various other places before. Not Volk's personal experiences, of course, but the information.

It was a decent book, well-written and interesting. I like his "middle-way", open-minded-skeptic approach. Time and again, Volk makes the point that there are things we just don't know, and that admitting it is much more reasonable than making polarizing arguments in order to convince ourselves and others. Volk goes on to say that dogmatic skeptics (like the New Atheists) are actually just as irrational as believers, emotionally defending their world-view and refusing to heed the very scientific evidence they claim to exalt. The author reiterates this to the point of harping, which changes the book a little - it's not just an investigation, it's a message: All we ever hear are two extremes, diametrically-opposed - God exists, God doesn't; ghosts exist or they don't. Pick your side, uncertainty is not allowed. Except in a lot of areas, uncertainty is actually the reasonable opinion, and we need to be allowed to say "I don't know." How can we learn anything if we think we already know everything? Volk is championing a balanced open-mind, critical-thinking and skepticism without the "deny everything" policy. I think he's right, and maybe that's why I didn't need to hear it in every chapter.

The range of topics this book covered weren't as broad as I expected, and the areas that were discussed didn't go as deep as I would've liked. Volk focuses on one or two examples in each category and sometimes wastes time telling us uninteresting stories about not being able to get information out of certain people. In itself, the investigative journey here is somewhat flat compared to other books I've read in this style. And I'll admit, by the end, Volk did lose a bit of credibility with me by disclosing so much of his personal experience. I can't really explain why, but somewhere in the last few chapters a line was crossed and the author picks up some of the dreaded "Paranormal Taint" for himself. (Side note confession: I snickered every time I read that phrase.) The thing is, the book doesn't suffer much for it, since he's not, in fact, using his credibility to persuade readers of the truth or falsity of anything - besides the idea that not being sure is reasonable.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Insurgent (Divergent, #2) by Veronica Roth

Rating 3/5

This review contains information that may possibly be considered spoilers by some people, but in my opinion is vague enough not to warrant hiding it under spoiler tags.

Insurgent is more focused on action than its predecessor, Divergent, which necessarily had more character- and world-building. Personally I like character-focused books, so I didn't really get into Insurgent as much as I did Divergent.

I wrote a lengthy rant in my review of Divergent about how ridiculous it was to set up a society this way in order to foster peace. I still think that is the case, however in the last few pages of this book we learn that the system seems to have been set up to develop Divergents - people with "flexible minds", who are supposed to save the rest of the world, which has presumably plunged into chaos because they all the people in it are "inflexible". A society in which every single mind is totally rigid seems equally ridiculous (not to mention biologically impossible) to me, and I don't have much hope that Roth is going to come up with a satisfactory explanation as to how the world "outside the fence" came to be that way.

I also take issue with the idea that "human nature" is the ultimate problem to be solved, and that "human nature" can "become" something that is anti-human and self-destructive. In my opinion, it is the systems that humans set up for themselves that can become destructive. Humans lived in balance with each other and nature for hundreds of thousands of years, and it's only our present culture that is destructive. Human nature is not the same as human culture. So I guess what I'm saying is that I totally disagree with the fundamental idea of this book series. Which makes it difficult to review this book. Unless, of course, the ultimate lesson at the end is the point I've just made. It's possible Roth will surprise me and come to this conclusion, so I have to withhold final judgement until I read the third book.

Setting aside my foundational issues, the story is fast-paced, and never boring. Like many readers, I did get annoyed with Tris for not being able to get over herself. She became a lot more like the stereotypical YA protagonists with her emotion-driven recklessness and guilt mongering. Plus, I really didn't get why Four/Tobias wouldn't even discuss going after the information. His reasons were never explained, and it makes no sense in terms of his character. Truly, it seemed like a totally contrived conflict to create tension between the couple. And man, I really hope Caleb can explain himself, because I'll be super angry at Roth if she really turned one of my favorite characters into an immoral sack of crap who'd do that to his own sister. It doesn't make sense in terms of what we have been led to believe about his personality.

I honestly can't give a final verdict on this story, because so much that I find questionable may or may not be explained, rectified or redeemed in the next book. I save my ultimate conclusions until then.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thirteen (Women of the Otherworld, #13) by Kelley Armstrong

Rating 3/5

Here ends Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld urban fantasy series. But not really. Apparently, there's going to be two anthologies of short stories. Armstrong has also left the door open to more novels. This is probably my favorite adult urban fantasy series, and Bitten is what got me into the genre in the first place.

Armstrong put the prologue for Bitten at the beginning of Thirteen to remind us where it all began, but I'm not sure this was the best idea, because it also reminded us what she can do when she has time. Bitten is the best book in the series, and I've kept reading Women of the Otherworld hoping she'd recapture that style. Bitten was more about Elena, the character, about being a werewolf, about character development. The rest of the books in the series were more and more plot-driven. Armstrong is pretty good at coming up with complicated plots. We know she's also good at creating characters and relationships, but unfortunately she hasn't focused on that lately.

Thirteen brings together all Armstrong's main characters and quite a few minor ones in a big fight to "save the world" (i.e. America) by getting caught in between the "reveal" movement and equally radical "anti-reveal" terrorists. The story is told mostly from the first-person perspective of Savannah, with several third-person chapters telling bits of the story that happen to the other women. It's a weird way to write a book. Personally I think it would've been better to write it all in third-person.

I still think Savannah is a YA character, even though Armstrong keeps trying to make her grow up. She's also not a very interesting or unique personality. I just don't get a sense that the author has a deep grasp on who she is the way she did with the rest of her Women. After three books, Savannah should be a fleshed-out character, but I still feel like she's a pale caricature, and so much like every other YA protagonist in the genre. I can't tell if it's because Armstrong was too focused on plot to develop a genuine character, or if she focused on plot because there wasn't much to Savannah.

The plot itself was supposed to be epic, I guess, but I just didn't feel the "gravitas". Even though this was (supposedly) the last book of the series, you knew they would solve the problem, and there was never the sense that anyone was in dire peril. (spoiler removed)

Armstrong has been writing two books a year for quite awhile now (one WOTOW and one YA), and it's a pity. Because she's turned into a bookmill, she's never recaptured the level of writing she had with Bitten. Quantity over quality is the name of the game in this genre, and I really wish some of these writers would resist that. Especially this one, because we've seen how talented she can be.

After this book ends, we are "treated" to a short-story (really an epilogue) about Clay & Elena's return to the Pack. It's odd, because it seems its only purpose (spoiled removed)is to set up some future plot (spoiler removed). As a story on it's own, and considering this is supposed to be the end of the series, it really doesn't make any sense. I guess it is just a hint of what might appear in those future anthologies.

To sum up, Thirteen is kind of a last gasp. It's full of action, lots of people running all over the place trying to stop bad stuff from happening. It's a quick read, and better than Spell Bound, but not a meaningful or satisfying end to a series that I used to get really excited about reading.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Fox Inheritance (Jenna Fox Chronicles, #2) by Mary E. Pearson

The Fox Inheritance (Jenna Fox Chronicles #2) by Mary E. Pearson

Rating: 3/5

This book was very different from its predecessor, but still a good read. Whereas The Adoration of Jenna Fox was more of a philosophically-bent scifi character study, The Fox Inheritance had a dystopian adventure feel to it.

I have a few criticisms of the future world Pearson creates in this book. It's not as different from today as, say, the 19th century is from the present. I would've expected the culture to shift more in 300 years. Although we didn't really get to see much of the civilization, the language should have changed quite a bit. I mean common usage slang changes every decade, but all the characters spoke in exactly the same way. I'd also have expected that in 300 years technology would completely change the way people live. Yes, Jenna is a throwback, and there was a natural disaster that got in the way, but there were also wars - and wars have always been a major impetus for technological progress. Think of how much has changed in the last 100 years. In the next 300 (assuming we survive them), artificially intelligent androids, transportation grids, and "money cards" will probably be just the tip of the iceberg. I'm not sure this kind of half-hearted world-creation would fly in the adult scifi-fantasy genre, but Pearson gets away with it because it's YA.

Aside from the world-building issues, it's a decent enough story. The line between human and machine is even more blurry with the addition of "Bots" with various levels of human aspiration, and the characters of Kara and Locke whose minds are downloaded into bodies that are created from small amounts of DNA (as compared to Jenna, who was 10% original). Locke may not be as compelling a character as Jenna was in the first book of the series, but there's more action here, so that takes the pressure off. (I'm not going to rant about sexism, but I will point out that the male protagonist's book is more action-oriented than the female's. Draw your own conclusions.) I enjoyed Locke's story, but it wasn't quite as poignant or thought-provoking as Jenna's.

See my reviews of The Adoration of Jenna Fox (#1) and Fox Forever (#3)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Into the Woods: Tales from the Hollows and Beyond by Kim Harrison

Rating: 1.5/5

I don't read a lot of short stories, but I've read enough to have an opinion on these ones. They ranged from 'meh' to 'I hate this'. I had to force myself through this collection bit by bit, only stomaching about 1 story a day.

I read Harrison's The Hollows series, and though they've been declining for awhile now, I usually manage to get some enjoyment out of them. Not so much with these Hollows shorts. Reading them together made me realize how alike all of her characters are, and just how much she relies on inner conflict to fill pages. And all the characters struggling with guilt in the same exact way, even Trent (who was way more interesting when he was written as cold and calculating). It's as if Harrison is stuck in her own formula.

The story about Ivy made me grind my teeth - in the middle of her plot, she'd stop and be all "Oh! My feelings!" every third paragraph, basically repeating what she'd said in the last emo eruption minutes before, in ever more confusing ways. Plus, Ivy's issue with love & blood have been covered multiple times in the book series, so I didn't feel like I was learning anything new about her.

"Dirty Magic", the story about Mia, made absolutely no sense at all. [spoilers removed] There's a difference between misdirection and lying. After the last page, I felt like the whole damn story had been a lie, and that pissed me off.

Throughout the book there were quite a few problems with sentence structure that made certain passages downright confusing. Call me a grammar Nazi if you want, but I literally can't help but notice those things. They jump out at me and break the flow of the story. It makes me angry because it tells me the writer/editor is lazy and/or doesn't really give a crap about the reader's experience.

Here's an example: "he knew that despite what Quen said, the means did not justify the ends." The means justifying the ends? That's backwards. If I picked that up on a casual first read-through, why did neither the author or editor notice?

In all fairness, some of the stories were okay. I think the last one was probably the most interesting to me, even if Grace is a bit dull.

All of Harrison's characters try SO DAMN HARD to do the right thing, and feel SO MUCH GUILT when any little thing goes wrong, it's really starting to annoy me. At this point, I'm glad The Hollows is ending*. It was fun, but I'm getting tired of the genre conventions in urban fantasy. I keep reading this genre looking for that thing that drew me to it in the first place, but it's hard to find in the sea of hastily-written, unoriginal fluff books that I keep coming across. I'm not blaming Harrison for all of that, of course. The Hollows was pretty original and exciting (to me, at least) when I started reading the series. I feel like the pressure on an author to churn out a book a year indefinitely is totally detrimental to the quality of the stories, so they're pretty much guaranteed to decline and be lacking in depth of meaning as the series goes on. It's a shame, and sometimes it makes me want to stick solely to trilogies and single novels.

*update: The Hollows is not, in fact, ending any time soon.

All Ratings and Reviews For Kim Harrison's Hollows Series

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green

Rating 4/5

One of the cool things about this book is how it was written - John Green wrote one Will Grayson & David Levithan wrote the other. They are different, but not as different as you'd probably find with an author who wrote them both, because in that case they'd probably be perfectly juxtaposed except in one area to prove some point or another. So the main focus of this book isn't really to compare them with each other. Which is pleasantly unexpected. My favorite thing about this story is that the teenagers were like real teenagers. They swore, had bad attitudes, screwed up, got angry, and struggled with themselves and each other. It's so much better than the bleached out and overly-simplified YA characters I'm used to reading and more like how I remember being an adolescent. They had depth and meaning beyond their roles in the plot. They were flawed like real human beings, not because it's a genre convention. It's hard for me to imagine a high school allowing a musical with these lyrics, or even a character like Tiny (is it really that easy for a gay 16 year old to find so many boyfriends?) I don't know. It doesn't really matter. It's a great book.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Everwild (Skinjacker, #2) by Neal Shusterman

Rating 3/5

Like its predecessor, Everwild is slow-moving, but picks up in the last third. In a book that's over 400 pages, that's quite a lot of reading before you get to the good stuff.

There's a large cast of characters in this series, and a few notables join the cast in this second book, but Shusterman manages to make each character distinguishable. Mary Hightower sinks to new depths in this one, and manages to find a sociopathic skinjacker for a partner. She's an interesting character for a children's series - a villain who believes deeply in the righteousness of her cause, able to sway many because of her beauty and ability to deceive. She's like Lucifer and Glinda the Good rolled into one.

In this book, more mysteries of Everlost are revealed, some of which seem like little more than convenient plot devices. (spoiler removed)

For all the sluggish pace in the first half of the book, Shusterman does know how to write a climax that's also a cliffhanger, and leave you curious for what happens next. I just wish more of the story was as good as the last ten chapters.

See my reviews of Everlost (Skinjacker #1) and Everfound (Skinjacker #3)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Divergent (Divergent, #1) by Veronica Roth

Rating 3.5/5

I have a real problem here. I really liked this story. I mean, I couldn't put it down. But the premise the whole thing is based on is utterly ridiculous. The society in this book is preposterous. No group of people in their right minds would create a societal structure like this for the purpose of maintaining peace. It is a perfect shitstorm waiting to happen. The only reason anyone would design a society like this is if they wanted to study conflict between groups. You're dividing people into "factions" (i.e. cults) according to ideology and values (i.e. politics and religion), and separating them geographically but within a confined area where they have to compete for limited resources. And then you give one group "governmental" control, but allow each faction to do whatever they want within their boundaries. Of course they are going to start hating each other and their overlords!

In addition, this system forces 16 year olds to make an uninformed choice that will seal their fate for the rest of their lives. If they make the wrong choice, they are 'exiled' and forced to join the dredges of society, the poor and homeless. First of all, you cannot categorize people this way. People who have multiple dominant "traits" (there are only five, apparently) are considered "Divergent", which is the worst kind of danger to the state. If they are caught, they are exiled or even killed, just for their test results. In this story, there are only a handful of people who don't fall into one of the five categories. There is no faction for people who believe multiple values are important. You must choose between honesty, selflessness, courage, knowledge or peacefulness. And you must dedicate the rest of your life to a choice you make at a time in your development when you are still in the process of defining yourself. In reality, humans are far more complex than this, and their values shift over time. There is no room for personal change in this society. In effect, there is no room to be human. And yet the creators of this system thought it would keep the peace?

The test which decides the life-long and unchanging "aptitude" of these teenagers is a two-minute long simulation that offers a few choices. You can't always tell a person's intentions from their choices. For example, the first choice is to choose, without context, either a piece of cheese or a knife. According to the test, any person who chooses the knife over the cheese is "Dauntless", meaning they believe bravery is the most important human trait. But what if someone chooses the knife because they are terrified? These 16 year olds are given a choice about which faction they will join, and they don't have to choose the one they are told they are supposedly suited for. But unless they choose the faction they are born into, they have NO IDEA what they are getting into. They don't know what life is like in the segregated section of the city that will now be their home, and they have no clue what kind of horrors await them during "initiation". All they know is the symbolic "trait" that the faction is supposed to honour in their choice of lifestyle. What kind of sick people consciously choose a system that does this to their children?

There is no reason given in this book why the city is walled off from the outside or what happened to the previous civilization. Thus, there's no good explanation as to why these people chose to order their society in this way. The idea behind this civilization is that people are inherently flawed, and this was the best method of treatment - to choose one of five human propensities for evil (dishonesty, selfishness, cowardice, ignorance, or aggression) and order your life around avoiding it. Except there are people in your city who choose one of the other traits and feel free to behave in the other four ways. So what problem is this solving?

Like I said, the scenario in which this story is based is inconceivable. There is no place on this planet where anyone with knowledge of humanity could think this society was a plausible way to create peace. Considering how I feel about this, I don't know how I could've enjoyed the actual story so much, but I did. I liked the characters, even though again we were stuck with a typical brash, stubborn, fierce-yet-self-doubting girl for a protagonist. Clearly, there is a way to do stereo-types in a way that is not annoying, and Roth has figured it out. I liked her friends, I liked the love interest, and the villains (and there were a lot, yay!) each had their own motivation and individual methods. I never felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters here, even though there were a ton. Each of them were different and memorable (which is ironic, considering that there are only supposed to be five types of people in this world). So I guess you could say Roth's world is "richly populated", especially for a YA novel. The story was fast-paced, continuous and exciting. I might've even given this book 5 stars if there weren't all the aforementioned premise problems. Still, this might be the best action-y YA dystopia I've read since The Hunger Games trilogy, and I look forward to Insurgent.

See my review of Insurgent (Divergent #2)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

SecondWorld by Jeremy Robinson

Rating: 3/5

A fast-paced sci-fi thriller about a world-wide Nazi conspiracy. It's completely implausible for many reasons, but if you get over that it's not a bad book. For me the most implausible thing was that so many people were involved in the conspiracy and nobody on the outside found out about it. The science seemed to border on the ridiculous - zero point energy, anti-gravity, cryogenics etc. I could deal with one of these things being real, but not all of them. Or if the story was set in the future, it would be easier to believe they'd been achieved. But I was able to shrug/write it off and enjoy most of the book anyway.

You got your standard military hero, retired Navy SEAL Lincoln Miller, as all-American as cars and beer (look at his name - see what I did there?) You got your tough but sexy romantic interest, Elizabeth Adler. You've got your comedic relief side-kick, The Cowboy. You've got your double-crosser, your international running and gunning, your cryptic antique journal... What I'm saying is this book follows the standard thriller formula, but somehow it managed not to annoy me. There was very little focus on developing a romance between the hero and heroine (absolutely no mention/comparison of ex-spouses or speculative internal monologues about a possible relationship) and I appreciated that these two, unlike many thriller protagonists, were too focused on saving the word to think about boinking each other.

I liked the characters in this book, especially Arwen and The Cowboy. I just wonder, why'd it have to be Nazis? We already know their agenda, we know they're evil, and we already hate them, all of which saves the author from having to come up with his own Big Bad and MO. Kind of lazy, if you ask me. I like my villains a little more complex and morally gray, with motivations that are somewhat understandable even if their methods are reprehensible. Overall, I found this book was enjoyable but forgettable.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rapture (The Fallen Angels, #4) by J.R. Ward

Rating 1.5/5

I shouldn't complain. Nobody is forcing me to read these books. So why do I read them? Curiosity, OCD, and peer-pressure. No I don't have OCD, but I when I start reading a series, I am compelled to finish it, no matter how bad it is (worst example: Hush, Hush). In this case I actually enjoyed the first book, Covet, so that makes it especially hard to quit. In addition, my good friend loves J.R. Ward and I like to be able to talk books with her. So I keep reading these, even though the language and the formula sometimes make me cringe almost to the point of implosion.

For example, this piece of narrative is from the perspective of the book's 30 year old female protagonist, who is a professional reporter: "Eventually, Mels took a break and hit the Au Bon Pain across the way, scoring a piping hot no sugar/no cream and a pecan roll the size of her head. Back out by the crime scene, she ate her sugar bomb and found the walkie-talkie was not her friend."

I've learned to deal with the fact that most of Ward's male characters use this kind of ridiculous jargon, but what kind of woman talks like that? Why can't Ward just write in plain English? All this slang does is make me confused, then annoyed, and takes me out of the story.

I feel like Ward really phoned it in this time. She only really had one new character to introduce (Mels), but she totally failed to make her interesting or original. Furthermore, bull-headed & career-blind doesn't equal "strong woman", and having her eat French fries, burgers and pastries while keeping her beautiful body doesn't make her relatable. And a woman who brushes off serial sexual harassment as an unavoidable common annoyance is not a heroine.

No effort was put into making Matthias in any way likable either, though with so many idiots going crazy for Christian Grey, I suppose Ward felt it wasn't necessary. I really don't get what's attractive about secretive, broody, violent and possessive men. I've launched this criticism at the Brontë sisters as well. I can forgive it in a vampire - after all, that's kind of the definition of a vampire. Buy why do Ward's human male protagonists all act like vampires?

Taken together, I have voted these two characters as the Least Appealing Couple Ward has ever created. I could neither cheer for them, believe in their "love", nor in fact read their scenes together without a sick feeling. Not what the author was aiming for at all.

Ward usually comes up with an interesting plot within the standard "Jim Heron must save a soul from the devil" premise in this series, but there really isn't one in this story. All the action is regurgitated from previous books.

It has never been more apparent that Ward uses an equation to write her books. She just plugs slightly different details into the slots that make up her (always damaged) characters - occupation, past tragedy, hair color... In every book, some of the tension is always created by the question: is this protagonist too damaged, or can he/she be redeemed by falling in lust - I mean love? I have a really hard time with such formulaic writing; it just seems so lazy and clichéd and uninspired.

So that's probably the best word to describe this latest offering of the progressively worsening Fallen Angel series: uninspired. I'm not sure how the next one could be much worse.

All Ratings and Reviews For J.R Ward (Black Dagger Brotherhood and Fallen Angels Series)

You are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier

Rating 2/5

Jaron Lanier has a message for us.

(this is the actual author photo from the book jacket. Caption added by me of course.)

I wish I was a gadget. Maybe then I could understand this book. That said, I'm not really qualified to review it, but I'm going to anyway, because I deserve to have an opinion after suffering my way through this book.

You Are Not A Gadget wasn't written for me. In fact, I think it was written for Jaron Lanier and a few other very smart people of the computer science elite. If you're not already familiar with the conversation surrounding programming (especially as it applies to the internet), you won't get much help from Lanier. There's no glossary, and he regularly explains concepts in terms of other unfamiliar concepts, if he bothers to explain them at all.

Lanier appears to be an expert on everything - computer science, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, philosophy, music, economics, ad infinitum - because he writes with such authority. He's also apparently had more jobs than a hooker gives out during the course of an entire career. I've no doubt his IQ approaches genius levels, but the problem with geniuses writing books is that some of them seem to forget that 99.9% of their readers are not going to also be geniuses. This book is called a "manifesto", which connotes its subject is very important to the author, and so presumably he wants people to understand what he's saying. But he doesn't bother to spell things out in language that most people could easily understand. I mean, I'm no slouch. I graduated with honours from my high school and university and even won a creative writing award. But I had a heck of a time following Lanier's train of thought from hypotheses through analogies to conclusions, because a) I didn't understand most of his references, b) he often uses unnecessarily complicated language (which tells me he places more priority on sounding authoritative than being understood), and c) he assumes his reader has entered the conversation familiar with the topic. There is also a glaring lack of end-note type references that would back up any premises, facts or theories Lanier puts forth.

It's clear Lanier has a sense of propriety towards the internet and computer programming. He had a vision of what the computing world would've accomplished by now, and WE'VE FAILED HIM. Not just programmers, but users too. We've bought into the idea that the "hive mind" way of producing programming and content (through collective effort like Wikipedia), is the best way of doing things, and because of early program designs and internet structures, we are close to being stuck with these things FOREVAH. He has some interesting ideas, and some really wacked out ones. He says we're obsessed with pre-internet media and our content has been reduced to mash-ups of stuff from that era. True creativity is being thwarted because can nobody retain credit for their products - because productivity comes in contributions to the hive instead of individual authorship, media is circulated in context-free fragments without reference to the original, the structure of the internet fosters anonymity, and because it's tough for people to get paid for original content that's available in digital form (eg. piracy). All this leads to the devaluation of individual humans. I'm not going to argue that these things are going on. What Lanier has failed to do, however, is make me give a crap about it. He calls himself a humanist, but he sounds more like an individualist to me. (Yes, I did choose to use the hive-created Wikipedia articles for these links out of spite). I'm not an expert in these ideas, but it seems to me that Lanier assumes individual humanity is of more importance than collective humanity, and his whole argument is based on this premise. I'm not sure I agree. Lanier believes individual or small group efforts are superior to hive efforts, and that we're losing something by having a system that supports the latter more than the former. He seems to blame the lack of creativity in our culture on the structure of the internet. To me, that's like blaming alcoholism on the chemical structure of alcohol.

Poor Jaron. He had dreams, and we've destroyed them by co-opting his internet and using it to make captioned photos of cats (and authors) without any credit or money given to the persons who took the photos. This just isn't how he wanted things to work out. And Virtual Reality was supposed to be a huge thing by now!

My uneducated answer to Jaron Lanier is this: SO EFFING WHAT. Nobody gets to decide the path of humanity's (and humanity's collective creations) evolution. We are "locked-in" to having two arms and legs, but nobody's complaining about that. Or wait a second, you sort of ARE. Lanier talks about how virtual reality (if only someone would make it affordable, lament, lament), can give us extra appendages, or turn us into a blob. I'm sure being part cloud is as mind-blowing as he makes it sound. Does anyone else find it ironic that Lanier is against "cybernetic totalism" while at the same time is fascinated with digitizing his whole physical experience? Lanier is afraid these dreams of his will never come true because the internet and program design constraints are grinding creativity to a halt. And we haven't even been able to invent smell-o-vision yet!

Necessity is the mother of invention. Obviously, as a group, we haven't yet needed to change things the way Lanier wants to change them. Therefore, the collective intelligence of computer-using humanity is inferior to the individual intelligence of Lanier. Maybe he IS a visionary. He certainly envisions a lot of things. Some of which (like the Songle idea) seem ridiculous and untenable to my non-genius yet still critical-thinking mind. I guess there's nothing for Lanier to do but keep stroking his disgruntled and disappointed individual ego (I can imagine it's hard to contemplate giving up attention to yourself when you're an awesome unique creative inter-disciplinary genius) and wait for the hive to decide it doesn't like being a hive anymore. Or maybe the hive keeps on hiving, and someone can make crappy YouTube feature called Last Individual Standing: The Singularity vs. Jaron Lanier.

I honestly don't care.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Across the Universe (Across the Universe, #1) by Beth Revis

Across the Universe (Across the Universe, #1) by Beth Revis 
Rating 2/5

It wasn't entirely terrible, but it just wasn't plausible. The way the ship is set up with some kinds of technology but not others is one of many things that didn't make sense to me. You have food dispensers in the walls but are weaving fabric and making clothes by hand? Why would you use air tube elevators instead of regular ones? Why are you still farming with tractors? Never mind that, why and how are you farming for centuries in the same soil on a spaceship? And then there's the issue of how someone could be dreaming or even conscious while in cryostasis. Or how a ship flying through the vacuum of space "slows down". Science fiction is meant to be scientifically reasonable given what we currently know about science. You have to at least attempt to explain something that happens in the story that flies in the face of that.

This book was about a handful of people running back and forth between a few key locations to have repetitive conversations. The only two characters I actually liked met with bad ends. Finally, the bouncing back and forth between Elder and Amy's perspective was annoying and sometimes confusing because their voices weren't distinctly different - I couldn't always remember whose chapter I was reading. I didn't much care for either of them.

The basic idea of this book is interesting: trapped on a spaceship during a centuries-long trip to colonize a new planet. It had a lot of potential. Unfortunately the execution was poor. Neither the characters, their actions, nor the "world" they lived in was believable enough for me. I won't be reading the rest of the series.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Jenna Fox Chronicles, #1) by Mary E. Pearson

The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Jenna Fox Chronicles #1) by Mary E. Pearson 

Rating 3.5/5

I liked this book a lot. Even though it takes place in a post-event future, I hesitate to call it a dystopia. There is very little "world-building", and aside from the biotech integral to the story, not much about this future is described. Which leaves us in a bit of a murky world that is hard to distinguish from the present. However, this is an introspective type of story, told in the first person of a (somewhat necessarily) self-absorbed teenaged girl whose sphere of living starts off extremely constricted and controlled and only gradually widens. Thus, the scope of this story doesn't call for the world-building that's so important in the dystopian genre. 

It wasn't hard to guess very early on what had happened to Jenna. What's pleasantly surprising is how much more to the story there was after the "reveal". This book explores issues like identity, technology, and ethics from a particular subjective perspective (Jenna's) without becoming overly moralistic. But it's also a relatable coming-of-age story with a likable imperfect protagonist. 

I wasn't that keen on the final chapter which leap-frogged into the future to briefly let us know that everything turned out well. There were also a couple of under-developed characters that didn't seem to fulfill their potential to impact the plot. I also think the Fox family dynamic was over-simplified. They were way too functional for a family who had gone through everything they had. But, this is a YA novel, not Jonathan Franzen. 

Overall this was an easy to read, thought-provoking story that's of above-average quality for the YA genre.

See my reviews of The Fox Inheritance (#2) and Fox Forever (#3)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Everlost (Skinjacker, #1) by Neal Shusterman

Rating 3/5

Everlost was shelved in the Young Adult section of my library, but to me it felt like a children's book. Yes, the main characters were 15, but they could've just as easily been twelve. Yes, the world of Everlost is a bit spooky, but so is Scooby-doo. I would say this is a book for kids aged 10-14. The writing style was quite juvenile. That's not a criticism, I think kids need creative books like this. I just think I'm too old to really get much out of them. Age-appropriateness aside, I found it difficult to get into this story, which didn't really pick up until the last third or so. I didn't find any of the characters especially compelling until introduced to the McGill, who is a worthy, complex villain. I thought the way things wrapped up at the end was very satisfying, while leaving a lot of room for further developments. I'm undecided about reading the other books in this series. It's a well-written, if slow-developing, children's book, and I haven't been a child for a long long time!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rating 4/5

Gripping and suspenseful, with echoes of other English classics like Jane Eyre. I'm actually surprised I've never read this before, besides the fact that I didn't know anything about it (unlike everyone else in the universe, apparently). I'm not the kind of fan that loves the moody broody heroes like Heathcliff and Rochester - their so-called "passion" sometimes ranges into the abusive and I find it in no way attractive. Mr. de Winter has hints of it in his character, but I found him a lot less violent and thus more sympathetic than similar leading men. This made it a lot easier to root for a happy ending. 

The second Mrs. de Winter is sometimes criticized for being "spineless", but, like the moody hero, her character is a convention in the genre and I actually think it is done particularly well. She's a teenage girl, used to being dismissed, who's been thrust into a new role in a new world with a set of unfamiliar rules. I think du Maurier captures the voice of a self-doubting, self-absorbed, naïve and frightened adolescent very effectively. And while the feminist part of me cringes a little when the turning point of her identity development comes at the behest of a man, the romantic part of me (for whom I read these books in the first place) experiences her triumph with satisfaction. 

This book is also memorable for many characters that create a visceral and emotional response with what seems like very little work. I haven't loathed anyone as much as Mrs. Danvers since I read David Copperfield.

Genesis by Bernard Beckett

Rating 4/5

I'm trying to figure out what the message is here. That evil is ineradicable? That violence is inevitable given complexity? That a perfect utopia is impossible because the world never stops changing? I read about the theory that ideas are subject to evolution in On the Origin of Tepees: The Evolution of Ideas, and I think it's fascinating.

I read Genesis cover to cover in a few hours. Considering the way the "story" is presented (as a kind of oral exam/presentation transcript reminiscent of Socratic dialogues) I think it's rather amazing how it held my attention. It's also kind of a story within a story - while the protagonist is telling the story of her people's history, we also get to know her story. Less than half-way through I was able to predict the twist revealed at the end, but that wasn't the only way this book messes with your mind. While I was reading I thought of calling this book a philosophical treatise or manifesto disguised as a YA dystopia, but now that I'm finished I'm no longer sure just what the author was aiming for. Maybe just another, somewhat fresh and unique exploration of common dystopian themes (control, consciousness, humanity, artificial intelligence, evil, etc.)? In any case, it was an excellent read, and well-written - for such a short book to cover so much ground in a thought-provoking and engaging way is a rare feat.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson, #2) by Patricia Briggs

Rating 2/5

I have mixed feelings about this series. On the one hand, I feel compelled to read it, and I'm not sure why. Maybe just curiosity? Because I don't like Mercy that much and I have a lot of problems with the story-telling. I will admit the third quarter of this book was compelling, but is 25% really enough to justify the other 75%? Logic says no. I REALLY don't get why so many people think these books are so great. There's so much telling instead of showing, and so many genre clichés. So I ask myself, why do I want to read the next one?

See my review of Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson, #1) by Patricia Briggs

Rating 2.5/5

Meh. It started off alright, but became convoluted and overburdened with too many characters and too much explaining. And the plot conclusion was disappointing, I just didn't believe that the "perp" would go to those lengths for that motivation. I mean there had to be an easier way to achieve his goal without involving so many other people in a giant conspiracy. Mercy reminded me of every other female protagonist in this genre - prideful, stubborn, reckless, self-blaming (Rachel Morgan anyone?) It's sad that all the heroines in this genre are the same woman with different paranormal gifts. I MAY try the next book in this series to see if it improves, but first I need to get over my disappointment and read something I know will be good.

See my review of Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson #2)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Lion Among Men (The Wicked Years, #3) by Gregory Maguire

Rating 2/5

Finally done with this. Maguire has a nice way of putting words together, but unfortunately that didn't help in any way to create compelling characters or even a real story in this book. I kept finding myself bored and questioning what the point of it was. This series has declined so sharply I can only imagine the fourth book is well and truly unreadable. A Lion Among Men was very close to that itself. I gave it two stars instead of one because there were some nice passages - a few noteworthy sentences here and there and even a couple instances where my interest was sustained for more than a page. But as a whole, it was tedious and pointless.

Friday, October 12, 2012

12.21 by Dustin Thomason

Rating 2.5/5

Not bad. The quality of the writing was good, but it was sometimes a bit dry. The story was interesting, if slightly more slowly paced than I would've liked for this kind of book. It kind of took a lot of the "thrill" out of what I otherwise would have called a "thriller". Also, the romance aspect seemed really forced. I guess it's an expected convention in this type of book, but it was done poorly and i could've done without it entirely. The ending seemed a bit anticlimactic and too "feel-good" for me - I mean the world changed drastically and a whole lot of people died, but it's all good because our protagonists saved the day (eventually) and fell in love? I like my doomsday books a little more doom-y.

Monday, October 8, 2012

One Second After by William R. Forstchen

One Second After by William R. Forstchen 
Rating: 1/5

I didn't make it past chapter 3, the writing was so unbelievably horrible. I couldn't read a single page without having to back-track because of some confusing arrangement. Incoherence, grammar problems, verb tense mix-ups, run-on sentences, commas out the yin-yang, you name it, this book has it. It's also a slow-starter, clichéd and cheesy. Despite the extremely interesting premise, this book fails in every way and I just couldn't give it any more time. The fact that this substandard book has an average goodreads rating of 3.9 makes me sick to my stomach. Does good form count for nothing anymore?

The Postmortal by Drew Magary

Rating: 4/5

This book is has two main characters, the protagonist and the ever-degrading world in which he lives. Some chapters are devoted to the former, some the latter, and some are a mixture of both. As such, it's not your typical novel, but I don't have issues with that. It does create a flow problem, however. I found myself pushed out of the story at the beginning of almost every chapter. I'm also not convinced the over-populated, electricity-laden future America the author has created is entirely believable in every detail. I did like the dark feel and originality of this book a whole lot. I also like that the protagonist's journey was only mildly redemptive, not over-cooked. It seemed to fit.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies, #1) by Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies, #1) by Isaac Marion
Rating 5/5

Isaac Marion is a terrific writer. He's good with characters, words, metaphor, plot, story, and message. This book's simplicity allows its heart to shine through. There's not a lot of realism in the post-zombie world he's created, but in the sentiment. Even for a misanthropic cynic like me, who is almost pathologically uninspireable, this book was moving and hopeful. I mean, no, I don't believe "love" can save us from our zombiehood, but it was nice to imagine for a second that it could.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Feed by M.T. Anderson 
Rating 2.5/5

I can see why this book has awards and accolades, but personally I found it kind of boring. It touches on a lot of issues about our culture - technology and privacy, consumerism, American-style fascism, the degradation of the planet - and imagines a world (or rather a country) where each of these things are taken to an extreme. I think this is in fact a pretty good book for young adults (and possibly grown adults who don't think about the consequences of their culture and lifestyles), but for me it was kind of lack luster.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Partials (Partials, #1) by Dan Wells

Rating: 3.5/5

Dan, Dan, Dan. You know I love you, but who told you to make your protagonist a teenage girl? Was it your publisher? It was your publisher wasn't it. "You'll sell more copies if you write for that demographic." And you probably will. But is it really worth undercutting what might have been a truly excellent series?

I really liked this book, except for the parts that I didn't. Wells seems to have done some homework for his new demographic and covers all the basics, but without enthusiasm. Multiple love interests - check (sort of). Determined, smart and reckless teenage heroine - check. But her relationships are absolutely flat and her feelings about them are barely noted (compared to other books in this category). And the lack of sheer horror about the Hope Act, even by those characters who do protest it, is a dead giveaway that Wells does not have a clear idea of women's perspectives. Add to this all the predictable, canned dialogue, and I just can't give this book more than 3.5 stars, even though I love dystopias and liked the plotting and pacing of this book.

I am intrigued by the Partials, their society and how they work. Although neither a pandemic viral apocalypse nor artificially created human look-alikes are new ideas, I don't think I've ever seen them placed together before. At first it looked like Wells might not have done any scientific research to make his virus plausible, but eventually things were explained well enough for me. It's hard to remember while reading this book that it's set about 60 years in the future - aside from a few new pieces of tech (Partials notwithstanding), the world we are shown seems like it ended in 2012, not 2065. This doesn't jive with the exponential rate of technological increase we've seen over the past century.

There are a few other plausibility issues with this book, a lot of them centering around the behavior of the human survivors. I have a hard time anyone could accept the Hope Act (constant forced pregnancies) as the only chance for the survival of the human race, and never tried to do what Kira and her friends eventually did. If you're desperate enough to turn women into breeding stock - which is so horrifying and brutal I can't believe all those women agreed to it - surely they would try anything and everything else you could think of? I have a few more nit-picky things I won't mention, but which I also just can't bring myself to overlook. Side note: we get it Dan, kudzu is everywhere.

I'm probably being more critical than I would normally be because I like Dan Wells' John Cleaver trilogy so much. Partials could have been so much better if he'd only stuck to what he was good at, a young man's perspective.

See my review of Fragments (Partials #2) by Dan Wells

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn


Ok so technically this book had a lot of unbelievable elements, talking gorilla aside. But again, that's not really important. I think I liked this a little better than Ishmael, because there was a lot less weed-pulling with Julie than with Alan, and more getting to the point. It also gives somewhat of an idea of how things could be changed - through information dissemination and experimentation ('inventiveness'). I still think it's not possible, but trying to change minds and the way we live seems like the only worthy endeavor in the world, even if it is futile.

On another note, I find it interesting that every negative review of a Daniel Quinn book I've read is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of at least one of his basic concepts. People are so resistant to change they are too panicked to even pay attention to his complete line of thinking. Sad.

See my review of Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit also by Daniel Quinn

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Deadlocked (Sookie Stackhouse, #12) by Charlaine Harris

Deadlocked (Sookie Stackhouse, #12)  by Charlaine Harris 

Rating: 3/5

I actually liked this one better than the last several books in this series. Once I was able to swallow the bile raised by Harris' lazy, unimaginative writing, that is. I did enjoy the mystery and sped through this book in one night. That's pretty much the only way I can stand reading this series - if I go really fast I don't get as stuck on its faults. I did think this was hilarious: "I drove to Shreveport without noticing the blue skies, the shimmering heat, the big mowers, the eighteen wheelers." (p137). Really? If you didn't notice these things, how do you know they were there? LOL I did appreciate the lack of all the repetitive re-introductions and descriptions of things & people that have appeared in almost the exact same form in every book so far. I'm not sure why certain characters made random, unnecessary cameos - filler? Anyway, considering the paltry time and effort required to read this book, I gave it a generous 3 stars. If it had been more involved I think I would've been more resentful at its poor quality.

See my reviews of 
Dead Until Dark (#1), Dead in the Family (#10) and Dead Ever After (#13)

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Story of B: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn

Rating: 3/5

I won't nit-pick about the details of Quinn's theories, because I can't argue with the over-all message that our culture is self-destructive. I'm one of those people who thinks it's too late, however, and unless the author's further books can spell out the HOW, my cynicism isn't going to change. As a work of fiction, this book is pretty weak, but that's not why I read it, so I don't care.

See my reviews of Ishmael and My Ishmael

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn

Rating 3/5

I can't disagree with the message of this book, in essence that our "civilized" way of life is destroying our world and will, if unchecked, result in our own destruction. This isn't news to me. But I'm with the protagonist, highly doubting enough minds can be changed in time for us to do something about it, and also in having no clue how to go about changing minds. I don't even know if reading this book could actually change anyone's mind, but I think the best use of it would be for young people who haven't given the subject much thought.

I understand why the message was presented in this format (though I haven't figured out why it had to be a telepathic gorilla) - some people might need to be led step by step like the protagonist. However at times I did feel like the author's theory and explanation could've easily and more efficiently compiled in an essay, without the sometimes condescending & repetitive dialogue. But I suppose it may not have reached its widest possible audience in such a format.

The "facts" and reasoning were not flawless here, and the whole Genesis bit was oddly drawn out and might possibly be alienating to some fundamentalist types (atheist or Christian), which is counter-productive. Still, it would be ridiculous to argue with the main point - if we want to survive, we must become sustainable. I mean there is no way around that, knowing what we know (scientifically) it's just common sense.

This book does leave me with questions, though, and maybe they're addressed in Quinn's subsequent works. The main one I have is why some of the Leavers suddenly became Takers in the first place. There is no attempt to explain why, after 3 million years of living in peace with nature, some humans just up and decided they were going to be the masters of their own domain from now on. How did that paradigm shift occur? Why did, to use the author's metaphor, Adam decide one random day to eat that apple? What provoked it when everything was supposedly going along just fine? This I don't get.

Anyway, it was a decent book, and if it makes somebody out there realize The Big Lie, good on it, though from my perspective it's always been pretty obvious, and I didn't really need to hear it from a gorilla. RIP Ishmael.

See my reviews of Daniel Quinn's My Ishmael and The Story of B

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Speaker for the Dead (Ender's Saga, #2) by Orson Scott Card


Brilliantly woven, I mean, really. I'm not sure about the science, but it was good enough. Whether or not the "piggies" could have that level of sophistication of abstract ideas, I'm less convinced. I'm also not a big fan of the underlying assumption that it is every intelligent species' right to conquer and plunder as many planets as they can, bending 'lesser' species to their will. I'm still giving it five stars though, because it was a superbly crafted story.

Ender's Saga Reviews:

Ender's Game (#1)
Speaker for the Dead (#2)
Xenocide (#3)
Children of the Mind (#4)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1) by E.L. James

Rating: 1/5

My curiosity overrode my usual literary snobbery and so I read this book. I will admit I loved to hate it and laughed my way through this train wreck. It's the most unintentionally hilarious unintentional parody I've ever read. If I'd known you could just write down your own drawn out, elaborate sexual fantasies without regard to credibility, sense, story, plot, or writing ability and make a shitload of money, well, I'd have a shitload of money. and for anyone who finds this book liberating or empowering or whatever, please take a moment to realize the author didn't even have the guts to type the word vagina or penis, not once. Oh my. Maybe it was too UNNERVING.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Blood and Ice by Robert Masello

Blood and Ice by Robert Masello 

Rating: 2.5/5

*sigh* What started out as a nice, easy, fun read started to fizzle about half-way through and totally kerplunked at the end. This is my second Masello book, and he really seems to have trouble with endings.

The romance between Michael and Eleanor was completely ridiculous, cheesy, forced, implausible, unnecessary, late ... choose your adjective. The author spends so much effort making the vampire thing scientifically reasonable, but can't be bothered to make credible relationships between his characters. Most of the book was relatively enjoyable, but when you get such a lame ending, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. Tragedy was a major theme in this story, so it's a shame the book loses its integrity by selling out with happily ever after.

See my reviews of Masello's The Medusa Amulet and The Romanov Cross

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3) by Kristin Cashore

Rating 2.5/5

In hindsight, I wish I had re-read Graceling and Fire before I read Bitterblue. It's been so long, and I have a terrible memory. I know the blurb on this book says you can like this book without reading the others, but I'm not sure that's true. I found the first half pretty boring and pretty much lacking in plot. I also found Bitterblue's character confusing. She's been queen for how long and doesn't know a SINGLE THING about her castle? I know she's been sheltered, and that explains her ignorance of the city, but it's like she'd been kept in a box until she turned 18, and they'd just let her out at the start of the book. The storyline in this book was unnecessarily chaotic. Don't get me wrong, I love complexity, but there were quite a few "straw men" in there that should have either received more attention or been left out entirely. I think the killer for me, though, was Bitterblue's relationship with Saf. I feel like there was nothing there except an adolescent crush, and no real compatibility (which, I might add, she seemed to have aplenty with Giddon - what a missed opportunity that is). I still enjoyed the second half of the book, even though in total I was disappointed. I waited so long for this book, which at one point looked like it might not even get written. I mean I applaud Cashore for struggling through her writer's block and getting it done, but you can tell it lacked the inspiration of Graceling and Fire.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Witching Hour (Lives of the Mayfair Witches, #1) by Anne Rice

Rating: 3.5/5

It's hard to rate a book that leaves you with powerful feelings at the end, but was not that great most of the way through. In fact I found it very difficult to get into this story at all, and it took me probably 300 pages to feel like I wanted to finish it. Something about the history at the beginning felt very tedious, though I did become much more interested in it in the middle, when it actually meant something to characters I'd come to care about. Regarding the end, I can see why Rice had to write it that way, but I hated it. I hate Rowan for what she did, and I hate Michael for being such a beautiful idiot. I have a feeling I will either read the next book right away, or it may be a very long time before I can bear to deal with it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Rating 4/5

I can see why so many people love this book. I found the first half a bit tedious, but by the end I was hooked. There are so many memorable characters in this story, ones you hate from start to finish, ones you don't like but come to love, ones you love all the way through, and ones you think are alright and then learn to loathe. The funny thing about it is that, though David is a sympathetic character, his personality actually pales in comparison to the ones he meets throughout his life. It doesn't matter though. This story sends you through a roller-coaster of emotions and ends on a satisfying high note. I usually enjoy tragic endings, but this happy one worked for me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

Rating 4.5/5

This is Henry Miller meets Anne Rice meets (insert popular thriller writer here). This is Werewolf Existentialism 101, and it's great. The ending left me a little dry - I was expecting a complete tragedy - but otherwise this book reminded me why I read in the first place. It's been awhile since I read anything that agreed with both my sensibilities and my soul. I'll definitely be picking up more Glen Duncan in the future.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Medusa Amulet by Robert Masello

The Medusa Amulet by Robert Masello

Rating: 3/5

****spoiler alert****This review contains spoilers*****

Sometimes I just need to read something fast-paced and easy, to take a break from the stuff I usually read, and this book was a good pick to do that. At first there were some things that annoyed me, but I was able to get over much if it by reading quickly. I thought the fantastical elements were kind of weirdly out of place in what would otherwise have been a standard historical mystery, but I was willing to accept that.

The author went one step too far, however, when he brought Hitler into the mix. My ability to suspend my disbelief totally snapped at that point. I also had to wonder why, at the end of the book, the amulet had the power to heal, instead of just stopping aging. I honestly thought that when Sarah looked in the mirror she would've gotten stuck on the brink of death rather than fully restored. I think the author took a cheesy road to a happy ending rather than pursue the lesson to be learned. But, it's a book written for a wide audience who probably wouldn't have liked a tragic ending. Oh well.

The book served its function for me, giving me a break from the two more difficult and very long books I'm in the middle of. I'm sure I will forget the entire thing in a month, but it was fun.

See my reviews for Masello's Blood and Ice and The Romanov Cross

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cold-Blooded Kindness: Neuroquirks of a Codependent Killer, or Just Give Me a Shot at Loving You, Dear, and Other Reflections on Helping That Hurts by Barbara Oakley

Rating: 3/5

This book was pretty interesting, part true crime and part behavioral science. I had to knock off a star, though, because it seems like Oakley wanted to write about pathological altruism so badly that even when she discovered her subject was actually a pathological liar instead, she tried to find a way to tie in the altruism angle anyway. I don't mind her talking about her original intent with the book, but for heaven's sake, change the title. There was NO cold-blooded kindness in Carole Alden's story, just masterful manipulation and its fallout. I'm a big reader of social science, so I'm surprised to find myself saying this book would perhaps have been better with less science exposition and politicizing about research. Still, Carole is a fascinating case study in how much chaos one person can cause.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Graphic Novel by Seth Grahame-Smith

Rating: 1/5

I'm now convinced that someone involved with this comic absolutely hated the original Austen novel. Lizzie's personality is essential to Pride & Prejudice and they slaughtered it. In addition, both the dialogue and the artwork was lazily done, and as a consequence, confusing, even for someone familiar with the original story. Which is a shame, because I might have found it quite amusing if it had been done properly, with respect and more effort. Disappointing.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pride & Prejudice (Marvel Comics) by Nancy Butler

Rating 4/5

Well that was delightful, not unlike the original novel. I'm glad they kept so much of the original dialogue intact, rather than changing to contemporary language. It would not be Austen without her particular witty banter. The format and length of the graphic novel takes something away from the experience & emotional involvement, but other than making it 3 times as long, I can't see how it could've been done any better :)