Many young adult novels create worlds in which young people are forced to grow up too quickly or often have more sense than the adults in their lives....moreMany young adult novels create worlds in which young people are forced to grow up too quickly or often have more sense than the adults in their lives.
Laurie Halse Anderson's "The Impossible Knife of Memory" could easily be placed in that category, except for one thing. Her utterly relatable and authentic characters who inhabit the pages of her novel.
Hayley Kincaid and her father have spent the last several years on the road -- he working as a truck driver and she accompanying him. Her father is haunted by his time spent in the service and the road helps him keep one step ahead on the demons -- or at least the consequences from his being haunted. When her father decides it's time to settle back down in the town he grew up, things quickly began to unravel for Haley. Haley blames her father's ex-girlfriend for certain things that have happened and has a difficult time fitting it at school because she's forced to not only care for herself but also to care for her father.
That doesn't stop her from attracting the attention of a quirky boy in her classes and the two starting a reluctant friendship that deepens into something more.
Anderson infuses Haley and the characters in her world with a sense of utter authenticity. Anderson also doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the up-hill battle Haley faces and the consequences of it. The novel is utterly compelling, readable and, at times, moving. You won't always love or hate any of these characters but Anderson does a nice job of helping us understand what drives and haunts them.
Anderson wisely doesn't wrap up everything with a tidy bow at the end. She does give us some closure in the novel and hope for the future, but she still leaves some things up to the reader to fill in the blanks,
Anderson's young adult novels are among the cream of the crop -- and this one is another example of why.(less)
I'll have to admit I was about ready to give up on Red Rising after wading through the first hundred or so pages of the novel, but solid on-line buzz...moreI'll have to admit I was about ready to give up on Red Rising after wading through the first hundred or so pages of the novel, but solid on-line buzz and a glowing review from Entertainment Weekly made me determined to muddle on and see if I could find out what all the buzz was about.
And now that I've finished the book (the first in a trilogy of novels), I can sort of see what all the buzz was about. In many ways, Pierce Brown's debut novel feels like it's taken a lot of ingredients from other popular novels -- dystopian future, a hero who must reinvent himself and embrace his destiny, lost love, a winner take all, no-holds barred contest - and blended them all together like a stew. And while all the ingredients are good, I still don't feel like everything blended together well enough to leave me feeling satisfied when I got to the bottom of the bowl.
Darrow is the lowest of the low in the future dystopian caste system on Mars. He's a miner who endures day after day of back breaking labor in an attempt to get ahead a bit. His lifespan is expected to be short, but Darrow takes comfort in the love of his wife, Eo. But when Eo speaks out against the ruling class on Mars, her final act before being hung is one of defiance. Darrow is devastated (her death is made even more brutal by the fact that due to Mars' lower gravity, he has to pull on her legs to complete her sentence and allow her to die without further suffering) and vows to find a way to get back at those who took the light of his life from him.
This leads to his own trip to the gallows and his apparent death. But instead of dying, he's taken and turned into an upper crust elite with the goal of leading a rebellion from the highest levels and overthrowing the powers above him and getting his revenge on those who took Eo from him. Along the way, Darrow learns that much of that Mars he knew is built lies and deception, designed to keep the lower classes down and give them just enough hope to keep toiling while the upper castes reap the benefits.
What Darrow endures to become one of the higher castes is interesting, but there were times reading this first installment I wished Brown would spend a bit less time on the world-building and a bit more time developing his characters and moving the plotline forward. At times, Darrow is difficult to like, making some portions of the book less interesting to read than others.
And yet, this book is garnering a lot of glowing reviews from the on-line community, I kept reminding myself. And there are a few twists in the novel's last third as well as a pick-up in the intensity of developments that I could almost see what everyone else seems to love about this book.
It's enough to have me interested in a second installment and curious to see what happens next. But it's not enough for to me really rave about this book and feel completely satisfied with it overall. It feels like it's a few ingredients short of a complete meal. (less)
If the world were going to end in six months, how would you react?
Would you start crossing items off your bucket list? Or would you try and connect wi...moreIf the world were going to end in six months, how would you react?
Would you start crossing items off your bucket list? Or would you try and connect with a higher power? Or would you continue on in your chosen career, finally able to move up because a lot of other people had taken the first two options?
Detective Hank Palace is taking that third option, finally getting ahead in his police career because everyone else above him took another path. He's a detective by default and while he's good at his job, there's not really a lot of pressure to solve many cases. For many, being caught and locked up for a crime is a death sentence since, again, the world is going to end in six months when the Earth collides with a giant asteroid.
The sense of impending doom has also led a lot of people to take an early exit on this life. When Hank is called in on an apparent suicide, he begins to suspect the set-up may look too much like a suicide and may actually be a cover-up for murder.
Ben H. Winter's The Last Policeman is a fascinating combination of a gritty, noir mystery and an end-of-the-world sci-fi thriller. Winter drops us into the world of Hank Palace and allows us to live in it along with him -- seeing a variety of responses to the end of the world coming and there being little, if anything, that can be done to stop it. (There's no Bruce Willis here to jump on a shuttle and take out the asteroid before it collides).
It's the world-building that sets the first two-thirds of this novel apart from other noir mystery novels. But it's the last third that offers up clues as to something more going on and also that drag down the novel a bit. The central mystery works well enough and is nicely resolved, but there's something in the novel's final third that seems a bit off from what we've read until then. And while I understand that we can't exactly root for a last-second miracle and that the world-view of this novel is a bleak one, I still felt something was missing from the last third of the novel that kept a good book from being a great one.
Interestingly, my local community has chosen this novel as it's "community read" for 2014. Certainly some of the ideas and questions raised by the novel -- just how would you deal with the end of the world coming? -- are intriguing ones. One idea that Winters puts forward is how everyday things would shut down or quickly become a luxury or a memory. For example, McDonald's are shut down but there are local squatters who take over the local franchise and keep things going even if you're not technically eating the famous fries and a Big Mac. There's also the question of quantities of certain items slowly beginning to dwindle down as the supply chain is interrupted or else suspended entirely.
All of these are interesting issues and ideas. And yet it never feels like Winters is bringing the central mystery to a halt to have Palace spend a paragraph or two thinking back to the good ol' days.
And while I wasn't a huge fan of how it ended, I was still intrigued enough by Palace and his world to want to pick up the next installment in this proposed trilogy and see what happens next. (less)
Katie Heaney has never had a boyfriend. She's never had a boyfriend. She's had crushes on boys since kindergarten and while she's kissed a few toads,...moreKatie Heaney has never had a boyfriend. She's never had a boyfriend. She's had crushes on boys since kindergarten and while she's kissed a few toads, she's never quite found her prince.
Katie's lack of a significant other is the subject of her memoir, Never Have I Ever. Katie turns the harsh light onto herself to look at everything from those first crushes we have upon entering school to the dating scene in college to the world of on-line dating. She tells each story with honesty, wit and humor (if necessary). Katie not only puts her crushes under the microscope for examination, but also herself. The end result is an entertaining memoir that isn't cruel to either her dates or herself, but is instead a journey into understanding who Katie is and why she's willing to wait for that perfect person to experience all the highs and lows of a relationship.
Along the way, she sprinkles in a few wry observations that had me chuckling out loud including
"It isn't true that letting people copy your homework makes you popular, but it definitely doesn't hurt."
"Middle school is three years spent worrying whom to sit and stand with."
As I read this, I couldn't help but think of this as the anti-thesis of Chelsea Handler's My Horizontal Life. Katie never seeks to demean or put down her potential dates and she doesn't offer any excuses for her behaving poorly (she doesn't). Instead, she allows the story to unfold in a conversational tone. (Reading the book, I couldn't help but want to hear the audio version to hear these stories told in her own voice. Alas, the audio book is read by someone else). And while some of the assessment of on-line dating and those who on-line date may seem a bit harsh, at first, I chalk it up to these experiences being closer to the time of writing.
There were many times reading this that I felt like I'd found someone who understood the trials and tribulations that can come from dating -- or not dating, in this case. Reading Katie's struggles, I was reminded of my own while single. I'm pleased that she had the courage to write this book and to put herself out there for the world to read about.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of the this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
This year's Big Finish extra release explores one of the more controversial and debate-worthy characters from the original run of Doctor Who -- The Va...moreThis year's Big Finish extra release explores one of the more controversial and debate-worthy characters from the original run of Doctor Who -- The Valeyard..
The Doctor is recalled to the station and asked to defend the Valeyard on a series of charges. But has the High Council stacked the deck against the Valeyard even before the trial begins and does that answer tie into the "true" identity of the Valeyard?
For years, the Valeyard was declared off-limits by the BBC for further explanation. But with the series continuation, the question of if or when the series might be allowed to delve into the Doctor's darker side has been one that has cropped up from time to time (especially after the Dream Lord made his appearance in series five).
"The Trial of the Valeyard" is geared directly at hard-core classic Who fans, full of speculation and piecing threads together along with winks, nods and Easter eggs galore for long-time fans. I'm not sure if writer Alan Barnes was aware of how things would play out with the 50th anniversary special and the Doctor's regeneration order, but if he wasn't, he and Moffat must be on the same wave length or drinking some of the same Kool-Aid.
And yet for all the answers and connecting the dots, Barnes still leaves us with new questions about the identity of the Valeyard and just how the revelations here could or should play out within the establishing continuity of the show. With the recently released "Night of the Doctor" bringing some of the Big Finish continuity into the official canon of the series, I can't help but wonder if some of the ideas put forth here might not be included in future installments.
If they are or if they aren't, this is still a fun audio adventures with plenty of rewards for the obsessed Who fan in me. (less)
If you're expecting D.C. Pierson's novel The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To to address and resolve all the issues related to the title charac...moreIf you're expecting D.C. Pierson's novel The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To to address and resolve all the issues related to the title character and his sleeping disorder, you're going to be sorely disappointed by this book.
However, if you approach this book and view the title as a hook to get you interested in the story of the friendship to two young, geeky teenage boys and their trials, tribulations and first loves, then you're probably going to love this book. I know I did.
Darren Bennett is a bit of a loner, constantly doodling in his notebooks, textbooks and anything else he can find. One day, Eric Lederer notices the drawings and the two begin their friendship -- one that includes developing the outline for an epic franchise of space fantasy films. It also involves avoiding Darren's older brother and his bullying friends, falling for the same girl (though dating her at different times) and, oh yeah, the secret that Eric doesn't sleep and never has.
Despite having a sci-fi element to it, Pierson keeps his novels and characters ground, interesting and utterly relatable. This is one of those books that had me losing sleep just wanting to spend a few more minutes in the world of Darren and Eric. Of course, it's the girl who comes between our two heroes that leads Darren leaking Eric's secret and the inevitable complications that arise from it.
Pierson's writing is enveloping and this entertaining, charming story has earned a spot on my favorites shelf and it will likely remain there for a long time. I picked up this one in the hopes of scratching a book off my to-be-read pile and discovered a real gem. (less)
Being a bibliophile (aka literary snob), I generally like to read the book (or short story as the case may be) before I see the movie. But in the case...moreBeing a bibliophile (aka literary snob), I generally like to read the book (or short story as the case may be) before I see the movie. But in the case of Fantastic Voyage, it isn't necessarily that simple. The novel is a tie-in into the movie and it's likely the book wouldn't exist without the movie. But a quick clicks of the keyboard quickly helped me discover that Issac Asimov's adaptation of the 20th Century Fox blockbuster hit the shelves a few weeks before the movie opened, so I felt comfortable in my decision to read the book first and then see the movie.
And I think it all worked out for the best.
My research leads me to believe that Asimov had to be talked into adapting the movie's script for the printed page and that he agreed to do it if he could be allowed to at least bring some put some science in the science fiction of the plot and premise.
And you can certain see Asimov trying to put some credible science into the concept of miniaturizing a top-secret, top-of-the-line submarine with five people inside down to the point where they can be injected into the body of an injured man. The man in question is a high ranking scientist who is defecting and could help keep the balance of power in check for both sides during the Cold War. The Enemy (they are always capitalized by Asimov) try to take him out on the way to the top-secret installation where he will reveal his secrets to our side and help us either keep up with our Enemy and maintain the balance of mutually assured destruction.
Just as the film spends the first half hour or so setting up the situation and the characters, so does the book spend its first third or so setting up the background. As I said before, it's interesting to watch as Asimov attempts to reconcile the fantastic premise with real-world science of the day and to speculate on if this could or would happen in the future. The concept of shrinking down people to go inside a person and help break up a clot in a near inoperable place is a fascinating and intriguing and it was apparently very influential. Most genre shows worth their salt will feature a story with character shrunk down a bit -- in fact, Doctor Who did it at least twice that I can think of during the classic series run.
Interestingly, Asimov's book inserts a bit more drama to the situation by emphasizing that this is a race against time -- not only to help break up the clot and help reduce any permanent damage to said scientist but also because there is a limit to how long the sub and crew can be miniaturized before the process wears off and they began to revert back to normal size. There's also the intriguing idea that the passage of time will FEEL different to our heroes in their miniaturized form as opposed to how time is really passing for all of the normal sized people on the outside. The movie does give a nod or two to this, but it doesn't feel quite as pressing and weighing on everyone as much as it does in the novel.
There's also the angle of a saboteur being on board the ship and wondering who it might be. Again, the movie brings this up, but it's not quite as pervasive as Asimov makes it out to be in the novel. Of course, it could be that reading the novel takes a bit longer than watching the film and that allows time for these ideas and turns of events to sink on the reader, rather than just being another obstacle to overcome on-screen.
And while the mission is fairly straight-forward on the outside, once inside the body of the scientist, things go a bit awry. Both the movie and the novel have to come up with a crisis point every few minutes or pages to keep our heroes on their toes. And it's probably a good thing because it would be rather dull if they just zipped right to the clot, broke it up and got out again without any complications. It'd also make for a shorter book and movie.
Honestly, I have to say that I enjoyed the novel more than the film. The film is good and I can respect and admire how ground-breaking and spectacular the effects were for the time. But there are large parts of the film that feel like stretches of Star Trek: The Motion Picture -- we're supposed to sit back in awe and wonder of what's unfolding because holy cow, this is fantastic and amazing. And while I'm all for stunning visuals, I still think there should be a plot driving these visuals.
It's also interesting to see that Asimov expands the ending a bit more -- he gets out two love-crossed heroes together (sort of) and we get confirmation the mission was a successful one. Watching the movie, I guess we can figure that it worked because our heroes remove the clot and escape before they revert back to regular size, but the movie doesn't confirm this for us. Instead, everyone is shaking hands and congratulating our heroes on a job well done and ignoring the fact that we left one guy behind for dead and the sub breaking up inside the scientst. After putting so much emphasis on why we had to get out in time, the movie seems to say -- well, it's OK cause those white blood cells took care of it all. Asimov at least attempts to explain why it's OK in his version of events.
One thing I find interesting is that outside of Asimov's Foundation trilogy, this is probably his best known work. And while part of me wishes that his Robot novels were better known, I still can't help but think this book is a good entry point for readers who want try some Asimov but not necessarily feel like they want to take on his Foundation series just yet. It's a good entry point book. And the fact that you can go out and see the movie after you're done reading is probably another good selling point.
Is this great Asimov? Probably not.
Is it good Asimov? Absolutely.
It also intrigued me enough to make me want to pick up Asimov's Fantastic Voyage 2: Destination Brain and read it. I've read that it's less a sequel to this on but instead more of a re-telling with Asimov trying to put better science into the science fiction. (less)
Isaiah and Rachel are from two different worlds with one thing in common -- a love of fast cars.
For Rachel, driving fast is a way to escape the pressu...moreIsaiah and Rachel are from two different worlds with one thing in common -- a love of fast cars.
For Rachel, driving fast is a way to escape the pressure her seemingly perfect family places on her to "replace" her deceased older sister. For Isaiah, fast cars are a potential way to make enough money to continue to survive and keep just under the radar of the foster care system.
Isaiah and Rachel's paths cross at an illegal drag race one evening and before long, the two are thrown together and have a smoldering interest in each other. The pressure on them both amps up with the organizer of the race blames Rachel for cops breaking up the race and costing him money, leading to Isaiah taking on her debt. Now the two have six weeks to come up with $5000 or else they face disastrous consequences.
Katie McGarry's Crash Into You chronicles Rachel and Isaiah's lives and budding relationship. What could have been your typical bad-boy meets good-girl who reforms him story becomes something more thanks to an emphasis on flawed but believable characters and the external pressure each party faces. It's not just the judgement of family or friends these two star-crossed lovers have to fear, but also the pressure of figuring out how to survive together, all while facing the pressures of their respective lives.
From my understanding, this is the third book in a series of novels by McGarry. I haven't read the first two installments of the series but I had no issue following the story told here. There may be some nuances and Easter eggs to other books and characters that long-time fans will pick up and simply went over my head. But the book is not less enjoyable for that and fans who haven't read the first two will be able to enjoy this one.
If you're like me, you're probably familiar with Nick Offerman from his role as Ron Swanson from the hilarious series Parks and Recreation. And having...moreIf you're like me, you're probably familiar with Nick Offerman from his role as Ron Swanson from the hilarious series Parks and Recreation. And having had some good luck with reading books from other funny people closely associated with other comedies (Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey, Ray Romano), I picked up Paddle Your Own Canoe with a couple of expectations.
One is that the novel would be funny. And the other is that while it said Nick Offerman on the cover, the book would really be written by my favorite Parks and Recreation character.
Well, you know what the old adage about assume says, don't you?
That's not to say that Paddle Your Own Canoe isn't amusing at times. It has some genuinely funny moments and stories about Offerman's upbringing in there. But those moments are buried in between essays by Offerman on a variety of subjects and viewpoints that either differed with my own views so such a degree that I found myself wanting to debate the book or else they didn't interest me because they went too far afield to hold my attention for long.
As for my assumption that Offerman equal Swanson, I can say that while the two share some traits, they are radically different people. I suppose it would be similar to me assuming that Henry Winkler is exactly the same as Fonzie and being shocked to not see Winkler in the famous black leather jacket were we ever to encounter each other in real life. (Which is highly unlikely considering that he lives in Hollywood and I live in Music City).
It all adds up to a book that has some humorous moments, but it's no where nearly in the same stratosphere at Fey's Bossy Pants or Seinfeld's SeinLanguage.
I will also admit there were times reading this book that I felt like I was doing myself a disservice by not listening to it as an audiobook, hopefully read by Offerman. Comedy is about timing and I wonder if the book might have been more amusing with Offerman delivering the jokes and anecdotes. (less)
Podcast novelist (and self-proclaimed future dark overlord) Scott Sigler burst onto the horror scene a couple of years ago Infected. If you've read (o...morePodcast novelist (and self-proclaimed future dark overlord) Scott Sigler burst onto the horror scene a couple of years ago Infected. If you've read (or listened to) Sigler's original novel, I need only say two words to make you shudder involuntarily -- chicken scissors.
With that moment, Sigler created something iconic, memorable and utterly horrifying. And it feels like in many ways, Sigler has been chasing that moment, trying to find that same horrific peak that had this reader glued to the page.
Part of what made that moment work so well wasn't just the horrific use of the chicken scissors. Part of what made it work was that Sigler had created a character in Perry Dawson that the readers had some investment and relationship with. We cared about what happened to Perry because we'd been included in his apparent descent into madness as a virus from outer space ravaged his body and Perry fought back, desperate to win back control.
It's that emotional investment in the characters that's been missing from later Sigler works and is, unfortunately, lacking in his latest novel Pandemic. And for a novel that weighs in at close to five-hundred pages, not having a character or two that we can like, identify with or have some type of investment in their fate means there are large stretches of the story where you're just waiting around to see how dies next.
And make no mistake -- Sigler isn't afraid to kill of characters. He's more than willing to create a few dozen and find ways for them to shuffle off this mortal coil in interesting and horrific ways. And there are some genuinely page-turing moments of horror in Pandemic as humanity struggles to fight back against an alien virus that wants to conquer our world and wipe us all out.
But unlike the masters of the horror genre (Stephen King, Richard Matheson), Sigler's downfall is that we don't have any characters we can identify with. Both King and Matheson are masters of putting an ordinary, flawed person into a horrifying situation and allowing the reader to see how he or she reacts to the situation unfolding. Sigler had that with Dawson, but has been struggling to find that type of character in each of his novels since.
Reading the novel on the printed page, I kept wondering if Pandemic might be more effective as a podcast novel -- unfolding episodically and with time between each segment to allow certain events to sink in a bit more and to forget about other threads that never quite held my interest.
And while Pandemic is an improvement over the second novel of the Infected trilogy, it simply doesn't come close to the raw, page-turning power that the original installment had. Infected had me losing sleep, eager to read just one more chapter and to see what would happen next. Pandemic has a few such page-turning moments but they're a bit more scattered across a huge page count.
Pandemic is a good novel that could have been great.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of Pandemic as part of the Amazon vine program in return for a fair, honest review. (less)