The only thing I can't believe is that I never read this book until now. Wow. A proper noir detective novel complete with the dangerous dame who comesThe only thing I can't believe is that I never read this book until now. Wow. A proper noir detective novel complete with the dangerous dame who comes into his office with a mysterious case, but all with magic and demons and pizza-loving fairies.
I usually like to savor books, but this one sucked me in and refused to spit me back out until I was done. I'm now going to go buy all the others in the series and read them ravenously....more
The book is set in the near future; 2025, to be exact. The United States has fractured into several pieces after a war which we apparently lost. TechnThe book is set in the near future; 2025, to be exact. The United States has fractured into several pieces after a war which we apparently lost. Technology, however, has marched on, and this novel is very firmly in the Cyberpunk genre, with which I'm not at all familiar, having only read one genre piece before now. One that I didn't really enjoy.
The book takes place over a four-day period (approximately; I'd check, but the book is at home and I'm not) in a combination of the cybernetic "Gestalt" and the real world, which often feels more alien--to me, at least--than the online world.
Dr. Catherine Farro--"Shroud," online--is a security expert who works for a large retail store chain based in Colorado, which is now a province of Canada. She spends most of her days floating in the hyper-saline solution in what amounts to a sensory deprivation tank, jacked directly into the network through an implanted connection in her skull. In her off-time, she is a soft, pale, 40-year old paraplegic. But online, she is respected...and perhaps feared. The world of security in this future is cutthroat and unapologetic. Script Kiddies trying to breach OmniMart's firewall security are as likely to be killed--brain-fried by Shroud and her team--as arrested. They knew the risks going in. Them's the breaks.
But one Friday, a concerted attack by an unbelievably fast, powerful intruder fries all but one of Shroud's team, literally scrambling their brains in a way she has never heard of before. And the brains of the security team of an upstream company, as well. That night, the same intruder takes out the night shifts, as well. She vows revenge and, having to immerse herself in the real world for the first time in a long while, she sets off on her quest to find and punish—permanently—the hacker who murdered her teams.
I'm not going to give any of the plot away. Suffice it to say that it is a good story, told well, and I'll not spoil anything else. What I've already said you could get from the blurb on the back cover or on the author's web site.
I enjoyed the book. It was really a page-turner. The plot pacing is well done and somewhat unrelenting, but interspersed with a necessarily sizable amount of exposition, which he does quite well. Only once or twice did I catch myself thinking about it; the exposition that was done meshed well with the storytelling and served to flesh out the world in which Shroud lives and works rather than being an infodump. That's hard to get just right, but I think Strickland does just that.
Another thing I really liked was the first-person POV. Again, this is often very difficult to get right, but he gets it just right. Shroud is an unreliable narrator, and we catch on pretty quickly that her perceptions of other people are a little off...but you're never quite sure. Maybe she's right and everyone is out to get her...or maybe she's a bit paranoid and she's imagining the whole thing. It is a true first-person narrative; the reader only knows what Shroud knows, and her perceptions color everything. You also find yourself wondering just how she got the way she is. And you're not disappointed--the author makes good on the promise of filling in the gaps as the story progresses.
The language took some getting used to. I don't mean that in a bad way; it's nothing like as hard as A Clockwork Orange, and there is a glossary of terms at the back if you get bogged down, but most of it is intuitive once you get into the story. I only had to reference the glossary three times before I got "into" the lingo and the pace and the style of narration and it didn't slow me down after that. But there is that initial few pages where you find yourself thinking, "What? Ice? Penguin? OSDeck? Gestalt? What the hell is he talking about?" But that's on purpose, I believe. The literary equivalent of jumping into the deep end of a cool swimming pool on a hot, summer day. Might as well get it over with; the sooner you immerse yourself in it, the faster you'll acclimatize. In a strange way, it also helps you sympathize with the feelings the character is experiencing at the same time.
The style of the language is another thing that I rather enjoyed. I thought it was a good approximation of what it's like to be in someone's head, listening to them interact with the world around them. Short, choppy sentences. Half-finished thoughts. Arguments with her inner self. Shut up! Why should I? Random passages from literary works interspersed with her subconscious repeating things others have said to her that resonated. I'm not doing a very good job of describing it; I'm making it sound messy, and it's not. It's very easy to follow because it's sort of how my own mind works. YMMV, of course.
So I guess what I'm saying is that I highly recommend the book. I enjoyed it, and it makes me want to re-try the cyberpunk genre. It can be done well.
Full disclosure: I know the author, Lauren Roy. She and I attended the same writers workshop in 2012. That had a lot to do with getting the book in myFull disclosure: I know the author, Lauren Roy. She and I attended the same writers workshop in 2012. That had a lot to do with getting the book in my hands. It, however, had nothing at all to do with either my rating or this review.
Note: There are some very mild spoilers. I didn't flag the whole review "Spoilerific" because these are spoilers you'll encounter in the first few chapters.
For a debut novel, this is very strong. One of the better ones I've come across. The premise is simple: Night Owls is a book store in a college town where students hang out until the wee hours. The owner, Val, happens to be a vampire. Not a very old one, but old enough. She's been through a lot, and came to this small town to get away from all the big, hairy problems. To live peacefully, selling books, collecting rare books, and going about her unlife.
Until circumstances land those big, hairy problems right in her lap. A rare book with dangerous magic in it arrives at the bookstore in the wake of its owner's murder by Jackals, which are kind of like a cross between a vampire and a werewolf, but not as cuddly. Vampires and Jackals hate one another. More like loathe. And in Val's old life, she used to hunt Jackals down and kill them. Now, they want that book. Val's fine with giving it to them, if it will get them to leave her alone.
The problems start when one of her young employees accidentally reads the book . . . and the magic enters him instead of remaining in the book. The Jackals now want the young man, and will stop at nothing to get it.
Note: those aren't very big spoilers. Those are, like, chapter 3 spoilers at best.
I enjoyed the book thoroughly. It has good, believable, sympathetic characters who have strengths and weaknesses, and lives that don't seem to have just begun on page 1. The magic is believable and neither over- nor under-powered. The vampire lore is different to an extent that we only brush lightly in this first book. And the Jackals are, as far as I know, Lauren Roy's own invention. The world feels richer than is shown in this novel, and it's clear that there's more going on than is told in these pages.
The pacing is wonderful. The book is filled with action, but not so relentless that I felt out of breath. Nor are there lulls during which I was tempted to flip forward to find out when it was going to get moving again. In other words, just right.
A larger story is hinted at, tantalizingly, in this first novel, and there are definitely sequels coming. And I will eagerly pick them up. As I said, I bought the book because it was by a friend. I read the book because it was enjoyable. And I'm rating and reviewing the book because I think you will like it, too, if you like urban fantasy, vampires, shape-changers, magic, action, adventure, dark secrets, and a good dose of humor....more
It took a while to read because I wanted to savor the experience.
It became apparent to me after only about three chapters that this is a book that wouIt took a while to read because I wanted to savor the experience.
It became apparent to me after only about three chapters that this is a book that would stay with me. And now that I've finished the entire thing, I am only further convinced of this.
The book was arranged differently than most books I've ever read. Each chapter is prefaced by what Hofstadter calls "Dialogues." These dialogues are based on Lewis Carroll's dialogue between Achilles and the Tortoise, with other characters added from time to time. In each dialogue, he demonstrates--often abstrusely, but never completely opaquely--the topics he will discuss in the coming chapter. The dialogues interweave the music of J. S. Bach with the art of M. C. Escher and the mathematics of Kurt Gödel. Often in a way that, once you realize what he's done, leave you with goosebumps, in awe of his abilities. He even gives insight into how he created one of the most artful of these dialogues in a later chapter (The Crab Canon, in which each character says the others' lines in reverse order, and it makes sense).
He starts the reader off with simple concepts and builds ever upwards to complex mathematics, genetics, computer science, philosophy, and the nature of consciousness and intelligence. No small feat.
In the final dialogue (which has no chapter following it), he himself becomes a character in his own book, introducing the other characters to the fact that he created them, allowing them to read over the book that we are reading....and becoming part of an eternal golden braid--a 'strange loop'--himself.
But why Gödel? Why Escher? Why Bach?
Gödel proposed a mathematical theory that (and I'm grossly simplifying this, here) states that it is possible to state the mathematical equivalent of "This theorem is incorrect" in any sufficiently complete number theory, thereby making it incomplete, until one adds either the positive or the negative of the theorem to the set of theorems...and then you start all over again, stating "This theorem is not a theorem." Etc.
Escher's pictures often represent paradoxical concepts such as two hands drawing each other, 2D beings crawling off their page into a 3D world, human figures climbing an impossible stairway, or paintings which contain the viewer viewing the painting which contains the viewer viewing the painting which....
Bach's fugues are one of the human race's crowning achievements of music, curling and twisting in upon themselves in ways that it is nearly impossible to hear all at once.
Hofstadter's ideas on the nature of "intelligence" or "consciousness" strike me as being as beautiful in their own right as a fugue by Bach, a drawing by Escher, or a mathematical theorem by Gödel.
It is a set of ideas that will percolate through my mind for years to come, and I will probably read the book again, gaining further insight each time through.
As a final hint: It's all about self-reference, baby. This sentence knows that....more
I find this kind of thing absolutely fascinating, and this book was no exception. It is a history of the English alphabet from its earliest versions,I find this kind of thing absolutely fascinating, and this book was no exception. It is a history of the English alphabet from its earliest versions, back when it was probably developed in its earliest form by the Egyptians, then took on a form you can start to recognize when the Phoenicians made it their own. Then by way of the Greeks, the Etruscans, the Romans, and finally the French and Anglo-Saxons, we get our familiar 26-letter alphabet. Some of the letters are 3000 years old; some are less than 200 years old.
Stroud covers the histories of the letters in groups, discussing how, for instance, I, J, and Y are intimately related, as are F, U, V, and W.
Fascinating stuff, especially if you're a word-nerd or are simply interested in the history of our language. This is a book I will definitely come back to multiple times.
Stroud's podcast, The History of English, is the inspiration for this audiobook, and if you like this book, you should really check it out....more
One of my goals for 2013 is to read more short fiction. This collection definitely fit the bill. I love short fiction, and I love well-done humor. ThiOne of my goals for 2013 is to read more short fiction. This collection definitely fit the bill. I love short fiction, and I love well-done humor. This anthology is nicely balanced. The humor ranges from puns with elaborate set-ups that are a great deal of fun to more subtle humor that doesn't make you laugh out loud, but may make you chuckle. Evilly, even.
I think there's definitely something in this collection for everyone, no matter what your sense of humor. The comics are a nice addition I wasn't expecting, although my one complaint is that they're awfully hard to read on the Kindle edition. Luckily, I have a print edition, as well, so I can see them there.
I was just looking at the table of contents to see if I could pick a favorite. Harder than I thought.
"El and Al vs. Himmler's Horrendous Horde from Hell" by Mike Resnick is definitely in the top few. Resnick is one of the masters of short fiction, and this story kept me giggling throughout. Just imagine Albert Einstein as a wizard fighting Himmler...and you still don't really come close. You need to read it.
I also really enjoyed "The Alien Invasion As Seen In The Twitter Stream of @dweebless" by Jake Kerr. If you're on Twitter, you'll doubly appreciate the humor.
"The Velveteen Golem" by David Sklar also satisfied by providing an entirely hilarious story that surprised me at the end with a deplorable (meaning really good, in this case) word pun, that I should have seen coming but didn't.
I think of all of them, Jody Lynn Nye's "The Worm's Eye View" and Ferrett Steinmetz's "One-Hand Tantra" were my favorites. Nye's story is a good hard sci-fi story that manages to weave humor into it in a way that doesn't detract from the science fiction. Kudos to her for that.
Steinmetz's story...ah, what I can say about this that won't get me banned from Goodreads? :) "Hilarious!" That works. I mean, who knew masturbation could be a magical power?
You'll definitely find something here to tickle your funny bone....more
Dancing From the Shadows is a partially biographical but fictionalized account of one family's experiences of adopting two older siblings (5 and 2 yeaDancing From the Shadows is a partially biographical but fictionalized account of one family's experiences of adopting two older siblings (5 and 2 years old) from a Bulgarian orphanage and discovering that one of the children has autism. They were not ready for a special-needs child. Specifically requested anything but, in fact. But once they saw the children, they fell instantly in love, and nothing could convince them that they were not meant to be these two children's parents.
From potty training to puberty, Tori and Philip must find ways to cope with Gabe's autism while simultaneously not neglecting his neuro-typical sister Lydia and making her feel like a second-class member of the family. A tight-rope act that has various degrees of success, depending on who is asked.
Tori throws herself into finding ways to help Gabe and her obsession begins to take a heavy toll on the family, as Philip finds the enticing come-ons of sexy, femme-fatale coworker Delia more and more irresistible as Tori becomes more distant. Ostracized by both their church and their school, finding places that will accept Gabe's erratic--but normal for him--behavior becomes increasingly difficult. Combine that with a devastating loss of one of Tori's friends and the financial toll of Gabe's increasing medical costs, and you get a combination that has destroyed many families.
Before reading this book, I didn't know much about autism. I knew it was incurable and that medical science has not yet been able to find the cause or causes, but I had no appreciation of the daily struggles faced by the parents of a child with autism. This book lays it out and takes the reader on the journey of discovery along with Tori as she tries everything to "fix" her "broken" child.
I wish every child with autism had parents as dedicated and caring as the two in this book.
The book is funny at times, tragic at others, well-paced throughout, and will draw you in and make you want to know what happens. The characters are believable and you'll find yourself especially liking their quirky neighbor Serena. And while you're enjoying it, it will also teach you about autism and the trials and tribulations faced by a family coping with it.
A good read, and definitely recommended for anyone who discovers themselves suddenly faced with the prospect of raising a child with autism.
The single complaint I have about the book is that there are a number of printing errors. They're noticeable, but not so much that they detract from the reading. But I do hope the publisher fixes them before the next printing....more