Reading Sarah Mlynowski's Don't Even Thing About It, I couldn't help but be reminded of the third season Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, "Earshot."
B...moreReading Sarah Mlynowski's Don't Even Thing About It, I couldn't help but be reminded of the third season Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, "Earshot."
Both start with the premise of a character or characters developing ESP and the consequences of it. And I have to admit that I really feel like "Earshot" did a better job with the concept than Mlynowski's novel did.
Don't Even Thing About It centers on a group of teens in the same home room, most of whom develop psychic powers as the side effect of their annual flu shot. Some of the students use the powers to cheat on tests by sitting near the smartest person in the class while others use it to find out if that person they've always had a crush on feels the same way about them. Of course, there are some for whom having these new found powers is not good news because now everyone in a certain group of people knows your deepest, darkest secret -- as in the case of Mackenzie, who has been cheating on her boyfriend Cooper with the hot guy who attends a private school in her building.
Like the Buffy episode this very clearly reminded me of (and there are other cases of genre shows featuring characters developing the ability to read minds), there is some amusement gained by certain characters getting inside the mind of the authority figures in their life. One girl learns just how attracted to each other her parents still really are, much to her chagrin. There's also the case of Cooper, who in addition to being cheated on, finds out that his parents' marriage is on the rocks due to his father's cheating ways and his mother seeing a divorce lawyer.
The idea of being able to read one other people's minds and the novelty of it wears off a bit quickly in Don't Even Think About It. There's a great deal of teen angst generated from the idea, but it starts to feel a bit repetitive by the third or fourth time we circle back to certain dilemmas or issues faced by the various characters. One intriguing side effect of the vaccine is that those who develop the ESP powers also have their eyes start to change purple.
And just as things are getting interesting as we get into the consequences and side effects of these powers, the novel comes to an abrupt end. It feels like things are just getting interesting or possibly being set up for a second novel or series of books. Whether or not these materialize remains to be seen.
What I keep coming back to is how I was a bit disappointed overall with Don't Even Think About It. It has an interesting premise and the final few chapters lead me to believe there could have been more to it than the standard teen angst that I waded through in the middle half of the book. I've read other books by Mlynowski and enjoyed them for her authentic, realistic and humorous take on the young adult genre. Unfortunately, those assets aren't as abundant in this novel.
I received a digital ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Andy Weir's The Martian starts off with a memorable (and not quotable in polite company) opening line, establishing that our hero and narrator Mark Wa...moreAndy Weir's The Martian starts off with a memorable (and not quotable in polite company) opening line, establishing that our hero and narrator Mark Watney is a bad situation -- and one that isn't likely to get better any time soon.
Watney is the first man marooned on Mars. Believed dead by his fellow research team, Watney has been marooned on the Red Planet and is outlook is looking fairly bleak. No one will be coming back for a good long while and his radio is dead. But instead of giving up, Watney determines how he can and will survive on Mars, using the supplies left to him and his own ingenuity.
The details of how Watney survives are told via his journal. Watney relates how he overcomes the need to create water and food (it's interesting to watch how he breaks down exactly how many calories he needs per day and then goes about trying to find a way to get to that calorie level, for example) as well as how he keeps from going crazy. Seems that his fellow crew members brought along digital copies of bad 70's TV and Agatha Christie novels that were left behind when they had to abandon the station.
The promotional material for this book describes The Martian as a cross between Castaway and Apollo 13. That isn't far off and should Hollywood ever get around to making a blockbuster adaptation of this book, it's easy to imagine Tom Hanks in the lead role.
Weir's story works well when centering on Watney and his struggle to survive until help can come. Eventually the novel does shift focus to Earth and how various NASA scientists and crew members figure out that Watney is alive and determine if and how he can be helped and/or saved. These sections don't work quite as well as those focusing on Watney on Mars. The characters aren't as well drawn as Watney is and as the novel moved toward its conclusion, I found myself growing less interested in these sections and more curious about events on the Red Planet.
That isn't to say that this isn't a good book. It's a very enjoyable, entertaining first novel from Weir and one that makes me curious to see what he'll offer us next.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. (less)
To paraphrase a famous quote from Forrest Gump, short story collections are like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're going to get.
That's...moreTo paraphrase a famous quote from Forrest Gump, short story collections are like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're going to get.
That's the great thing about a collection of short stories -- if you come across a story you don't care for you, there's generally another chance (or five) that the next story or a story later in the collection will be more your speed or taste. Since the start of 2014, I've immersed myself into two short story collections -- one that had been languishing on my to-be-read shelf for far too long and the other as part of the Book of Apex, Volume 4 Blog Tour.
Thanks to the hard work of Andrea from The The Little Red Reviewer, I was given access to a digital copy of this short story collection. The collection covers the best of fifteen or so issues from the on-line Book of Apex and is edited by Lynne M. Thomas. The stories selected here represent the cream of the crop from her first several issues editing the magazine and they run the gamut from sci-fi to fantasy to horror. Given that I enjoy each of these three genres and that I recognized several of the names included in this collection, I was eager to sit back and enjoy the stories.
Stories run from a couple of pages (or in my case, clicks on the Kindle screen) to close to novella length. The varying length of each story makes the collection an intriguing one. Among my favorite stories from the collection were:
“The 24 Hour Brother” by Christopher Barzak -- In a way, this reminded me of the story of Benjamin Button, only with a slight twist. What if you had a sibling who was born, grew up and passed away in a day. That's the premise of this one and there were a couple of details that stuck out for me -- one is that at one point the brother eats dinner with the family and then casually watches a police drama on television. This made me ponder that if I were to live for a day, what is the one show or single episode of a show I'd most want to watch or have shown to me. Of all the stories in this collection, this one has kept me coming back to it and turning it over in my mind long after I've read all the others.
"Blood from Stone" by Alethea Kontis -- I may be biased toward this one a bit since I met Ms. Kontis once at a book club meeting (she probably doesn't remember it). So I feel a bit like I'm supporting a friend by picking up her books or reading one of her short stories. Luckily, I've yet to be disappointed by her writing, though this is one is a nice change of pace from what I've previously read. But like her fantasy novels that put a contemporary spin on a classic story, so does this one put an interesting spin on the horror story. I can't say too much without giving away some of the fun twists and turns of the story. Trust me -- seek it out and read it. You'll probably like it.
"Erzulie Dantor" by Tim Susman -- The good thing about a short story collection is you can read them in any order you want. I'll admit I read this one first, not because I'm familiar with Mr. Susman's work but because of a guest post that will appear on this site later this week. Susman's story is one of the more intriguing of the lot, a bit of an examination of mythology of another culture and its practices. An intriguing little story that I'm glad I read first in the collection. Another favorite.
"Winter Scheming" by Brit Mandalo -- This was particularily interesting to read around Valentine's Day. Brit is haunted by a past relationship and, well, if I say more I might give away some of the fun of this one. The thing with short stories is that it's far too easy to give away too many details and possibly ruin some of the fun of reading them for yourself. I am trying not to do that.
These four stories were my favorites from the collection and have made me curious to see what other treats Apex Magazine will offer in the future. The good news is that if you're intrigued by any of my reviews, you can easily follow the link above and read the original stories for free on their site. And after you do, I recommend that purchase this entire collection and put it on your e-reader. I'm glad I did and I think you'll be glad you did as well.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was given a digital review copy of this collection in exchange for an honest reviews.(less)
When I first heard that Alastair Reynolds was writing a Doctor Who tie-in novel, I was equal part curious and skeptical.
After reading Stephen Baxter'...moreWhen I first heard that Alastair Reynolds was writing a Doctor Who tie-in novel, I was equal part curious and skeptical.
After reading Stephen Baxter's Second Doctor tie-in, I wasn't sure the melding of a big-name genre writer with the universe of Doctor Who could be very successful.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised that within twenty pages of Reynolds' The Harvest of Time that not only had he captured the spirit of the Jon Pertwee era on the printed page, but that I was also enjoying the book immensely.
Set at the height of the Pertwee era, The Harvest of Time takes place before the on-screen events of "The Sea Devils" and finds the Doctor and UNIT trying to fend off an alien invasion brought about by the Master. But instead of the season eight cliche of the Master bringing a group of aliens to Earth and rapidly losing control of the situation, Reynolds makes this alien invasion one unintentionally triggered by the Master. Seems that our favorite Time Lord villain was sending out a signal to himself across the timelines to help his present self escape his Earthly prison. However, his signal is picked up by an alien race who has already destroyed one world and has now set its sights on Earth and gaining the Master as part of their nefarious plot.
Harvest of Time feels like a story that could have been made during third Doctor's tenure -- assuming they had the budget and special effects technology that help bring the new series to life on our screens. All of the UNIT-era regulars are on hand and it's clear from Reynolds use of them that he is not only a fan of classic Who but also a fan of the Pertwee era. And while this novel feels like it could easily take place during that era, it still has a scope and scale that simply couldn't or wouldn't work as well on our TV screens. Examining the nature of time and the implications of time travel, the story is one of the most entertaining novels -- tie-in or otherwise -- that I've read this year.
It even made me year to dust off some of my old third Doctor era DVDs and give them a viewing (again). It also made me want to run out and read more of Reynolds' non-Who offerings.
Easily the best of the big name genre author tie-in novels, The Harvest of Time gives me hope that the editors of this line would be willing to try this experiment again with some other more recognized authors. And hope that Reynolds might have another Doctor Who story in him because if he does, this is one fan who'd love a chance to read it. (less)
After a five year absence, Greg Iles is back with the first of a trilogy of novels centering on his prosecutor turned best-selling novelist turned sma...moreAfter a five year absence, Greg Iles is back with the first of a trilogy of novels centering on his prosecutor turned best-selling novelist turned small town mayor Penn Cage.
The good news is that Natchez Burning is not only one of the longest books of Iles' career, but it's also one of the best -- and it was certainly worth the wait.
When former nurse Viola Davis returns to Natchez, her arrival stirs up memories, undercurrents and long-buried secrets in not only the town but also in Penn's father, Dr. Tom Cage. When Viola dies, apparently the victim of assisted suicide, local district attorney Shad Johnson can't wait to bring Dr. Cage in on charges.
Staunchly believing his father to be innocent, Penn's world is undermined when he figures out there are a lot of secrets his father isn't telling him -- not just about Viola, but also about how and why she left town so many years ago. But Penn isn't the only one looking for answers -- his fiance Caitlin and local journalist Henry are also digging for answers that certain members of the community and those in power would rather stay buried. And they're willing to go to any means necessary to keep the truth from coming to light.
Iles takes us back to the small town of Natchez for his most explosive novel so far. Weighting it at 800 pages Natchez Burning is part thriller and part character study. Reading as Penn tries to determine if and how his father is involved in the situation gives the novels its drive and page-turning quality. While the book is a thick one, it doesn't feel like one with the pages rushing by and you may get the feeling that the story is over far too soon.
And since this is the first of a trilogy, while some issues are resolves, there are still undercurrents, secrets and issues enough to make me eager to pick up the next installment, whenever Iles delivers it. I'm hopeful that it won't take five years this time between new books from one of my favorite authors.
Natchez Burning is easily one of my favorite books I've read this year and I'm eager for more. Welcome back, Greg Iles.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of Natchez Burning from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review. And also in the interest of full disclosure, when I saw that I could get an ARC of this novel, I couldn't click fast enough to try and get my greedy hands on one.
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)