Wednesday, March 23, 2016

read: Zoe's Tale (4 stars)

Zoe's Tale (Old Man's War, #4)Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting and fun story re-telling the events of The Last Colony using the first-person perspective of Zoe. Her perspective, as a young woman, is based more on relationships (not emotions, as other reviewers are fond of writing) than politics (as was her father's in The Last Colony). This, along with her unique position as a revered figure for the Obin, gives the author a chance to explore life in the colony and the culture of alien races a bit deeper, though probably not deep enough.

The book clocks in as the longest entry to date in the Old Man's War series, probably due to Zoe's rambly, snarky (like her father), teenage, angsty take on things. Mr. Scalzi does an admirable job of capturing just enough of that attitude to carry the story, without sending it over the edge into unbearableness.

I can understand, but disagree with, the view that there's nothing new here, that everything was wrapped up quite nicely in previous book. But I'll grant the author his reasoning and opportunity to pull back the curtain a bit and add depth to the story. Plus, I'm pretty sure he's correct in how difficult it was to write this.

Recommended if you are a Scalzi completist or a YA-enthusiast.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

read: Star Wars: Before the Awakening (4 stars)

Star Wars: Before the AwakeningStar Wars: Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anyone aching for more details about the new Star Wars characters will enjoy this book of three separate stories. You must know, going in, that these aren't so much profiles as vignettes. This is light reading, even for something marketed as young adult (almost middle grade). We get personalities, not details; attitudes, not deep history. But they are nicely written and well plotted, with only a couple of flaws (every old ship seems to be 'venerable'). Recommended.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

read: The Handmaid's Tale (4 stars)

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that everyone is supposed to have read, but there's a good chance you haven't. But you think you know the story. This is bleaker than that--a haunting tale of subjection and powerlessness that seems without end.

If you have the opportunity, the audio book read by Claire Danes is the way to do this. It's a first-person narrative and she does an exquisite (Audie Award-winning) job of bringing it to life.

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Monday, February 29, 2016

read: Mug Shot (4 stars)

Mug ShotMug Shot by Caroline Fardig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked the first book in this series, but liked this even more. The characters and plot are engaging and the writing is smooth. The first-person narrator is plenty funny and likable and concerned about the stuff a real person would be concerned about. She is not a Stephanie Plum clone.

I can easily recommend this book to anyone in it's intended audience.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

read: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (3 stars)

Star Wars: The Force AwakensStar Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a real soft spot for books associated with movies and TV shows. I like to read novels made into film (usually before seeing the film). I like novelizations of films. I like tie-in books. This goes back at least as far as 1977 when, after going to the theatre to see Star Wars the first two times, I bought, devoured and enjoyed the novelization of it, attributed to George Lucas, but actually written by Alan Dean Foster.

Flash forward (mumble) years and there's a new Star Wars movie and a new novelization by Mr. Foster. I had to read it. I had to get it as soon as it came out. But something's wrong here. Everything from the screen is on the page, but not much more. And it's written so clumsily and sloppily that it's almost a chore to get through. Granted, the author was not working from the final cut of the movie and probably didn't have a lot of time. But he has some experience with tie-in novels of all sorts. I expected much more.

I also expected a bit more editing. Consider this gem, which is definitely not even the most egregious: "Hurrying to the cockpit as BB-8 rolled into the copiloting position, he hurriedly activated the controls." That's a lot of hurrying. There's also a lot of "as so-and-so does this, such-and-such does the other thing." Also, a lot of fancified language used for both narrative and dialog that does nothing to enhance the story, but often knocks the reader out of it. Why "aural receptors" or "bipedal shapes"? Is "raptorish" a word?

But the biggest gripe I have with the writing is the uninhibited head-hopping and viewpoint jumping that takes place. This is third-person omniscient at its worst. We are inside Finn's head, even when he is supposed to be the anonymous "trooper". In the next sentence, we are inside Kylo Ren's head, behind "preternaturally intense" eyes (hidden by the mask) considering "the trooper". It's just too much.

All in all, I am disappointed. If you've seen the film, skip the book. You already know everything. The one, tiny tidbit that I got from the book that was hinted at even more lightly in the film is the barest insinuation that other characters begin to recognize that Rei might be someone they have heard of before. Consider, '"It is you" Ren murmured.' (when Rei takes up the light saber). Otherwise, you have been warned. 3 stars. Because… Star Wars.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology (4 stars)

Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses AnthologyShadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These are some pretty good stories. Be aware, though, that there are only four of them. The bulk of the book is for writers - first drafts, transcripts or brainstorming and critique and the like.

I haven't yet read through the supplementary material, though I've listened to a bunch of it on the Writing Excuses Podcast. Good stuff.

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

read: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (5 stars)

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm giving this book 5 stars, not because it's so perfect, but just because it's so fun. Also, the audio book voice performance is sensational. The story follows the misadventures of down-on-his-luck, recently laid off tech-drone Clay, who finds a job to tide him over at an odd little bookstore in San Francisco.

He doesn't understand any of the owner's weird rules for 'selling' books, nor the few odd customers that occasionally appear during his graveyard shift (and they are about the only customers). And how does the store even stay in business? Then things get mysterious and weirder and some sort of secret society is involved. Clay is thankful that he at least finally meets a girl and she's relatively sane, despite working for Google. What follows is an suspenseful adventure exploring the collision of the old knowledge of the printed word and the new digitized world and a search for balance between the two.

If you like books and stories and mysteries, you should find this one utterly charming.

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