With a more coherent and more believable premise than, say, Veronica Roth's Divergent series, Legend establishes an Orwellian police state (something...moreWith a more coherent and more believable premise than, say, Veronica Roth's Divergent series, Legend establishes an Orwellian police state (something that feels akin to the society of Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang), whose boundaries are defined no less violently. It's one of these episodes of violence that centers the moral system of Lu's world -- once this crime is committed, the lines are very clearly drawn. But it is an act that is hard to stomach, and that seems shocking even with romantic/violent predecessors like Divergent and The Hunger Games. Does it work to ground this created reality? Do the stakes from here on out seem more real? It does. They do. But it also demands that every other event reach that same level of realism -- the romance can't be stilted; the politics must feel genuine; the alternatives that the main characters fight for must feel, in short, worth it, otherwise the violence that Lu asks readers to go along with -- this one violent act in particular -- becomes theater with no real pain, and no real consequence, to make it seem honest. It short, it risks becoming a melodrama about revenge. I enjoyed Legend, but it's asked me to root for a certain kind of humanity after an extraordinarily inhumane act was displayed. I'm not so lovestruck as yet to follow blindly.(less)
Including creatures from the show's past, several ingenious plot twists, a few enjoyable winks to time travel, and with writing that feels true to the...moreIncluding creatures from the show's past, several ingenious plot twists, a few enjoyable winks to time travel, and with writing that feels true to the established characters while adding its own freshness and originality, "The Silent Stars Go By" is a perfect novel for fans of Doctor Who. (less)
This sixty-page short story is a brief but enjoyable distraction that adds really nothing to the Doctor Who cannon, though it does do a good job of co...moreThis sixty-page short story is a brief but enjoyable distraction that adds really nothing to the Doctor Who cannon, though it does do a good job of contextualizing the adventure with those from the television show. My one question is how (view spoiler)[the central cast would have fliers for children who have gone missing while they are yet to witness the abductions (hide spoiler)]? I may not have been reading close enough to have noticed the time travel necessary for that to happen being made explicit.(less)
Continuing Divergent's storyline of faction rivalry and confused romance, Insurgent adds conflicted family allegiance to the massive plot, giving Tris...moreContinuing Divergent's storyline of faction rivalry and confused romance, Insurgent adds conflicted family allegiance to the massive plot, giving Tris and Four more reasons to distrust, fear, or forsake almost everyone they encounter in author Roth's dystopian Chicago. What's striking is how violent this series remains, with conflicts played out in large scale gun battles and the psychological effects of murder remaining a central conflict in the book. The series is still about identifying boundaries, familial and personal, to the end of creating individuals who better understand their role in a fractured society, but the tones remain dark throughout. The Divergent series is vivid, original, and frighteningly realistic (see also: acceptably cinematic) in its violence -- which either makes this story a stunning parable of modern times, or a set that points too sharp a finger when singling out the ills of our own failures of character.(less)
The perfect conclusion to a Young Adult trilogy that very rarely feels as if it were designed solely for young adults. The triangle is resolved, some...moreThe perfect conclusion to a Young Adult trilogy that very rarely feels as if it were designed solely for young adults. The triangle is resolved, some relationships reach their natural conclusions, and the novel ends with a perfectly wry concluding line. The Hunger Games are a brilliant set of books for any reader.(less)
Starting off as what seems like a parable on the perils of cliques, Divergent takes, by novel's end, surprising and violent turns to successfully esta...moreStarting off as what seems like a parable on the perils of cliques, Divergent takes, by novel's end, surprising and violent turns to successfully establish not only a believably fragile romance, but a shocking take on Chicago (and therefore America) at the edge of extinction. Without seeming derivative, Divergent captures some of the strong characterization and accessible family portraits of The Hunger Games, while finding enough distance from that influence to say something new about the creation (and elimination) of boundaries within the search for individual identity. Readers may see the ending coming, but they probably won't guess much of what happens along the way.(less)
However unnecessary to making The Hunger Games enjoyable as a stand alone novel, Catching Fire manages to be a sequel that visits familiar territory w...moreHowever unnecessary to making The Hunger Games enjoyable as a stand alone novel, Catching Fire manages to be a sequel that visits familiar territory while creating entirely new appeal. Existing characters are given greater depth, while new ones are vivid and believable. Even scenarios designed to mirror certain events in the first book are recreated here in a way that sacrifices none of the tension for the repetition. I would not have thought a sequel could be as satisfying as its predecessor, but Catching Fire, though dependent on The Hunger Games, is an addition that mirrors the original while revealing more intricately cut sides to its evolving storyline. Brilliant.(less)
Balancing superior characters with a just-short of sci-fi plot, Predicteds is highly recommended for YA readers seeking strong and sympathetic female...moreBalancing superior characters with a just-short of sci-fi plot, Predicteds is highly recommended for YA readers seeking strong and sympathetic female characters, realistically complicated and quirky adults, and for an honest portrayal of the complications, truces, and stop-and-start relationships that teenagers suffer through the years in which they come to learn themselves better. Most admirable is Seifert's characterization of central character Daphne as self-reliant and strong willed, yet wholly believable as a young woman who can fall for a boy without either sacrificing her integrity or belittling the equally as complicated emotions of her would-be partner. Similarly, Daphne's friends throughout the story move realistically across the spectrum of young adult friendships: sometimes Daphne and Dizzy are inseparable and others completely at ends. Yet natural interactions like these across the book never take a turn toward the unbelievable or overly dramatic. Seifert seems on the verge of finding in future novels the opportunity to explore even more complicated themes with equally as thoughtful characters. I very much enjoyed this book.(less)
Honestly, a person doesn't read Doctor Who novels expecting much beyond a day or two of escapism. But Dead of Winter is unexpectedly better than that...moreHonestly, a person doesn't read Doctor Who novels expecting much beyond a day or two of escapism. But Dead of Winter is unexpectedly better than that average, offering a burst of growth for the genre, while capturing the strange meta-consciousness of the Matt Smith-era scripts and translating it -- widely successfully -- into book form. Simply put, this is the kind of Doctor Who novel fans deserve to see more often.
The form here is brilliant: first-person remembrances, epistolary passages, subtle references to the larger historical context, and characterizations that not only feel true, but stretch the cast with emotions and experiences that reach beyond the show and make believable humans of these people. There are also several twists of plot to rival Steven Moffat's.
Viewers already know that Human Nature was rewritten into a successful episode for David Tennant, and fans should hope for the same with Dead of Winter and Matt Smith. The book is easily the best written and best plotted of the Doctor Who books I've read precisely because it treats itself as a novel first and not just an attempt to parrot an already successful show. A less-attentive author might feel fans would be just as happy with less, but James Goss has here accomplished something very special: a novel centered around Doctor Who that finds much more human experiences to talk about.(less)
If you judge by the spin-off novels, Rory Williams seems to be a more popular character these days than either Amy Pond or the program's namesake. The...moreIf you judge by the spin-off novels, Rory Williams seems to be a more popular character these days than either Amy Pond or the program's namesake. The latter two are fairly well characterized in "The Way Through The Woods" (except for a couple jarring and completely out-of-character pop culture references about role-playing games and the like), but Rory's clueless everyman is so easy to imitate (and offers such a better vantage than does The Doctor or a TARDIS-savvy Amy), authors apparently all want to have a go with him. You also notice pretty soon that however well written, The Doctor as a character is hardly present here. What keeps the novel afloat then is it's use of the conventions of time-travel: jumping into segments of a non-sequential story midstream, keeping the reader just out of pace with events, etc. Despite the nitpicking, this was a simply plotted but well told tale that you could imagine working as a show, and it's better than many of the episodes from the early days (faint praise here!). If you're a fan, it's worth the cost of admission.(less)
The Map of Time appears at first to be a collection of only loosely connected segments with no overriding theme or predictable approach to (whatever)...moreThe Map of Time appears at first to be a collection of only loosely connected segments with no overriding theme or predictable approach to (whatever) the subject at hand. Is it a novel of Time Travel? A period romance? Is there larger meaning in its oddly related pieces? The third section, with the help of a few very clever clues placed earlier in the book, finally brings to light the novel's purpose amid a whirlwind of ingenious overlap and crafty surprise. One downside to this construction, however, is that certain concepts pooh-poohed in the first two-thirds create suspicion upon their reappearance. The reader isn't sure who to trust, or for that matter, who is even real. The result is a book that could go one way or the other: its remarkable plotting, populated with terrific characters (Jane Wells steals every scene she's in), makes you wish you felt a greater sense of gravity at novel's end, but at heart, The Map of Time is escapist fare -- well done, but questionably memorable. One saving grace with this edition, however, and what might just push it to four stars here, is that the inclusion of H.G. Wells's original novel, The Time Machine, gives the reader the opportunity to appreciate how skillfully Felix Palma has recreated the tone of the era, and something of Wells's tenor. Then again, at 116, Wells's Time Traveler has put more than one love-letter to bed, even ones as attentive as this.(less)
This short story is a brief but valuable introduction to the eerie tone and uncomfortable tension that characterizes the Chaos Walking series. It's al...moreThis short story is a brief but valuable introduction to the eerie tone and uncomfortable tension that characterizes the Chaos Walking series. It's also a refresher for those who haven't reads the series all the way through, and reminded me of how grim The Knife of Never Letting Go felt while reading it.(less)
For what it is, The Glamour Chase is fairly entertaining. The beginning started surprisingly strongly, with some nice depth added to Rory's backstory...moreFor what it is, The Glamour Chase is fairly entertaining. The beginning started surprisingly strongly, with some nice depth added to Rory's backstory -- which was undermined, sadly, in the bi-polar way in which he was praised then belittled, then praised again by those around him. The second half felt muddied, to me, and what was missing from this novel that the television show captures, I felt, is how well The Doctor engages those around him. In this novel that dialogue seemed perfunctory, though that may have been an attempt to capture Matt Smith's brilliant characterizations. There were a few lines that I had a hard time imagining the characters speaking, and far too many contemporary references to brand names and popular culture that pulled me out of the story each time they cropped up. The Glamour Chase is a good, brief escape overall, but less satisfying for having glimpsed some genuinely intriguing interactions buried beneath the tropes. (less)
If you spread the pieces of The Native Star over a table, this escapist novel seems to have everything: a cross-continent journey; a giant mutated rac...moreIf you spread the pieces of The Native Star over a table, this escapist novel seems to have everything: a cross-continent journey; a giant mutated raccoon; a small amount of romance; fun, if archetypical, characters (which equals here a somewhat predictable outcome); and a love of the magical/mechanical gadgets and the overlong, multi-syllabic, faux-19th century descriptions on which the genre of Steampunk survives. Together, these pieces never seem to reach much depth, but the goal is clearly like that of bad television: enough of a story to help you pass a few hours, and if you really want an escape, the promise of similar stories to come. Enjoyable enough, for what it is, I just wish enough here felt like something more. (less)
Wholly satisfying, The Passage manages to do something new with the notion of vampires, combining the bleak, apocalyptic landscape of The Road with th...moreWholly satisfying, The Passage manages to do something new with the notion of vampires, combining the bleak, apocalyptic landscape of The Road with the Christian overlay of Stephen King's The Stand. Driven by character as much as by plot, Cronin's bleak world is populated with a well defined, believable cast who carry the story well, even though episodes that feel slightly too arranged and overly cinematic. Probably most satisfying is the novel's ending, which sustains the sense of wonder held throughout the story, and leaves readers a multitude of avenues for their imaginations to travel. (less)
The first half of a two-part story, and the third of novels set around a future-based academic time-travel department at Oxford, Blackout is my second...moreThe first half of a two-part story, and the third of novels set around a future-based academic time-travel department at Oxford, Blackout is my second favorite of the bunch behind the incomparable Doomsday Book. Where Blackout frustrates is in its pacing, with a heady amount of over-talking and thoughts broken off mid-sentence. These tricks heighten the suspense, but in a way that can be frustrating and bothersome rather than enjoyably prolonging the mystery. The Oxford characters also vary between believable shock and ridiculous over-thinking, again in a manner that seems to draw out the story in a way the plot doesn't need. But the story does give readers an incredible sense of what England survived during the Second World War: the sacrifices made by everyday citizens seem incredulous to a selfish and outright spoiled American mindset, and imagining any kind of similar response happening today -- department stores holding bomb sales, the conscription of civilian vessels at Dunkirk -- is impossible. 9/11 has changed America irreparably and, in ways we don't stop to question, we have surrendered something invaluable about ourselves and collective self-worth to the process. As enjoyable as it is on the surface, Blackout's publication has something to remind us about how a nation can unify around a central purpose and not, notable here, eat itself alive.(less)
Propelled by a curious mystery, and an enjoyable subplot involving The $20,000 Pyramid, “When You Reach Me’s” heart is best expressed when speaking th...morePropelled by a curious mystery, and an enjoyable subplot involving The $20,000 Pyramid, “When You Reach Me’s” heart is best expressed when speaking the honest emotions of early childhood, enacted in the subtle gestures and expressions of characters throughout the book. Stead also populates her story with nods toward the coming adulthood many of the children will find – carefully and simply entered into the story to leave the reader to imagine the rest. A novel filled with charm and an obvious love for the simplicity – and the great mystery – of human affection, “When You Reach Me” is irresistible, imaginative, and as thoughtful as a friend.(less)
The Knife of Never Letting Go has one perfect creation, and that is Manchee, the lead character’s dog. Knife can be recommended for Manchee alone, bec...moreThe Knife of Never Letting Go has one perfect creation, and that is Manchee, the lead character’s dog. Knife can be recommended for Manchee alone, because, as is not uncommon with dogs in literature, his is the soul that lives long after the book is through. But Knife is also a young adult novel of well-paced suspense, of excellent revelation, and of the kind of science fiction that marries the unknown to the slightly familiar, making it read like a novel in translation, if the translating were done by, say, you.
Knife isn’t frustration free: Todd can seem criminally obtuse at times, in a manner that propels the plot but not necessarily your patience, and the long-awaited Explanation is coincidentally delayed one time too many. There’s a problem too in that the highs and lows of this novel, being so great, will be difficult to sustain over a series. Lines have been crossed; lives are lost. Some characters are perfectly realized, and others drawn so heavily with the brush of archetype that they aren’t left much room to move as human beings. A second novel doesn’t even seem necessary, to be honest, because we have been through the ringer quite enough in Book One. Nevertheless, the thinking seems to be that if it’s not a Trilogy, it’s not YA. I’m hopeful Book Two sustains the thrilling story and breakneck pace – without throwing the emotional honestly and genuine feeling of these characters under the rush of hooves – because Knife is, in places, absolutely magical. I gasped, laughed, and cried for this book. The rest had better be worth it. (less)
An apocalyptic novel, an environmental warning, Flood is not a feel good fiction. It is not really a feel anything fiction, because its cast is probab...moreAn apocalyptic novel, an environmental warning, Flood is not a feel good fiction. It is not really a feel anything fiction, because its cast is probably the best educated, most startlingly unconcerned, group you could ever hope to have watching the world sink under the gush of all this additional water it seems to have found. The five or six men and women central to the novel have survived a strange few years, separated from the world we know as hostages. Upon their return, and at the beginning of that world's collapse, they maintain the separation, however intentionally, and decide that with nothing better to do, they may as well take notes.
Scenes can break away from social ramifications or from contemplation about the emotional impact of living through such events abruptly, sometimes with as easy of a contrivance as an ellipsis. The hostage group, as we come to know them -- or know their observations on climatological change, anyway -- soldier on, decade after decade, on a rapidly flooding planet. They seem more interested in the event than in their own lives -- certainly more than in our lives -- and the relationships that come about because of the Flood are always a distant second in immediacy.
Maybe the hostages have adopted distancing as a coping mechanism. Maybe that same mechanism has helped them to survive on an unfriendly Earth. But I get the feeling that their resolve is a strange evolution of those who would suggest that through any crisis, one must simply Get Over It, and, say, get back to teaching children to discern longitude from the stars. Useful, yes, but not really heartening. It's as if everything you knew about British stolidity was hyper-bred and released on a gigantic, jiggly, earth-shaped petri dish. It is a cold world that Flood creates, which doesn't make it a bad novel. It's more a book for those who want the science of the apocalypse without any of the human drama. Also, the ending is a pretty good set up for the sequel, Ark.(less)
Brilliantly suspenseful, though of course not nearly as violent or as satiric as, say, Battle Royale. The characters are vivid, sympathetic, and for t...moreBrilliantly suspenseful, though of course not nearly as violent or as satiric as, say, Battle Royale. The characters are vivid, sympathetic, and for the most part honestly drawn, though the humanity of the Careers seems coldly distant. The novel's story is set in a world that is believable enough without becoming a futuristic caricature that distracts from the Games themselves and Katniss, Peeta, Prim, and Gale deserve to be permanent fixtures in any reader's collection. The only portion of this book that played flat for me was the set-up for a sequel, which felt, coming at the end of a survival novel, wholly unnecessarily. YA is apparently written in threes. (less)
First off, if you're a music fan, this P.S. version includes a list of twelve songs Ellis calls the "soundtrack that inspired the book." All these son...moreFirst off, if you're a music fan, this P.S. version includes a list of twelve songs Ellis calls the "soundtrack that inspired the book." All these songs are easy enough to find at the Zune Marketplace, on Amazon MP3, and for free on MySpace.
"Slippi" - Animal Collective "Murray Ostril: They Don't Sleep Anymore on the Beach" - Godspeed You Black Emperor! "Ladyflash" - The Go! Team "The New Sound" - The Capricorns "O.K." - Talvin Singh "Dirge" - Death In Vegas "Nightly Cares" - Mum "Marconi's Radio (Again)" - Secret Machines "Section 8 (Soldier Girl)" - The Polyphonic Spree "Odin's Gift to His Mother" - Brain Donor (Julian Cope) "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts" - Wolf Parade "Zouave's Blue" - Xinlisupreme
It's pretty good stuff. Now...
* * *
"Crooked Little Vein" is a darkly satirical, wildly explicit, barely serious crime novel that I found to be ridiculously humorous in places – and I am no big fan of humorous novels or those that purport to be. The plot is straightforward enough, and there is an attempt, all too obvious in places, to summarize the politics and issues of contemporary America, but, really, the novel works best as a genre-influenced joyride that is as much like a work by Hunter Thompson as it is one by George Orwell. Warren Ellis himself is not entirely unlike Andrew Vachss given the political wit of Mark Twain and a bit of the technolust of William Gibson. This isn’t a novel you read seriously, or approach too deeply, but it is great entertainment while it lasts. (less)
The Time Travelers (renamed from the less appropriate title, Gideon the Cutpurse) is a well-paced, and seemingly well-researched story that mixes a li...moreThe Time Travelers (renamed from the less appropriate title, Gideon the Cutpurse) is a well-paced, and seemingly well-researched story that mixes a little bit of science-fiction with a lot of interesting periodical history and behavioral speculation about the mid-18th century. As the novel’s heroes Kate and Peter do their time traveling, readers are introduced to some fun etymology — defining the origin of ’straw men,’ for example — and a few enjoyable science-fiction concepts, like how the travelers might communicate with their temporal peers across the centuries. All the characters are well defined, the story is thoroughly and convincingly plotted, and best of all, there’s a cliffhanger ending that raises the stakes for all involved. Great fun!(less)
This first novel in the Young Adult 'Monster Blood Tattoo' series starts slowly - almost too slowly for a new series - but picks up to a nice clip a f...moreThis first novel in the Young Adult 'Monster Blood Tattoo' series starts slowly - almost too slowly for a new series - but picks up to a nice clip a few dozen pages in. By the end of it, young Rossamünd, fresh from Madam Opera's Estimable Marine Society For Foundling Boys And Girls, has made several new friends and a surprising number of enemies, all before starting his new position as a Lamplighter for the Half-Continent Empire.
Remarkable about this series premiere are the supplements offered to flesh out Cornish's created world: There is a very extensive and elaborate glossary, numerous illustrations, and about a dozen area maps. All this, found even in the paperback version of the book, is enough for the most lore-crazed fan of Lord of The Rings, and the mix of European culture, imaginary beasts, and general steampunk weirdness offer some needed originality to the Potter-heavy universe of children’s publishing. Very enjoyable, with some surprising emotional revelations for characters major and minor, and a nice take on the idea of how a little cultural demonization can make monsters of us all. (less)