Monday, January 06, 2014

Reviews Moving

Hey, all! I've moved my review blog over to Tumblr. All the reviews will also still show up on Goodreads if that's easier for you. I'll leave this up as an archive, but I won't be maintaining it anymore.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Indefinite Hiatus

Those of you who regularly read this blog (like, all three of you) may have noticed that I haven't posted much lately. I also haven't read much (at least not much new stuff) lately. I blame my dissertation entirely; it sucks up all of my time and mental energy, so when I do get to read, I'm reading older things that I know I love. Or newer things that are pretty fluffy. Occasionally I'll still get my hands on an ARC of something, but that's happened less often because I know I don't have time to read things I don't already know I'll love, so I'm requesting less often (which means that even when I do request, I'm getting ARCs less often because my stats have dropped).

So for now, consider this blog on indefinite hiatus, with the possibility that I'll delete it entirely at some point. (I might not. I might just leave it here so the book reviews are accessible.) If you're remotely interested in seeing any other book things I might post, you can follow me over at Goodreads. I can't promise it'll be interesting, but it'll be more active than here.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

I will admit to finally getting the impetus to read the book after seeing the movie, though I knew going in that the two were very different. The book is, essentially, unfilmable, and I think the filmmakers did a good job of keeping the idea of talking to various people about what's happening while still keeping a coherent plot and some action.

That said, I found the structure of the book ultimately boring. A few of the stories were interesting and captivating, but most of them weren't. I also had trouble understanding the politics and such of the new world (at least until toward the end when that was a primary focus) because the interviewees tended to talk as though the audience already knew them. Which makes sense, because the interviewer would know, and I suspect Brooks was trying to dodge info-dumping and "as you know, Steve," but it still made the middle of the book a bit confusing.

I've seen reviews that complain that nobody talks the way the interviewees do, and I agree, but I do have to give some leeway because transcripts of people talking are just damn difficult to read. This reads like it was cleaned up a bit, which I'm okay with. However, only a few of the interviewees have distinctive voices; most of them pretty much talk the same, regardless of their economic, geographic, and cultural differences.

My biggest complaint, by far, is about the women. Of the dozens of stories, I counted five that were told by female characters. And each of those characters has deep issues. They are (and I may be getting the order they appear in wrong here) 1. a flighty, out-of-touch soccer mom; 2. a Russian private who turns into a baby factory at the end; 3. a developmentally challenged girl; 4. a plain, boring girl; and 5. a pilot who went slightly batshit during a stressful crash landing, escape-and-evade, and rescue. This isn't to say that there aren't men with deep problems and issues in the book, but they're much better balanced by heroes or even regular joes. The book desperately needed more women in general, but specifically more powerful, heroic women who stand up with the men. They're in the background of the men's tales occasionally, but I would have liked to hear their voices more often.

2/5 stars

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: The Wicked by Douglas Nicholas (Spoilers)

After the events of Something Red, Hob and his little family earned allies at the castle Blanchfontaine. Hob learns to fight as a knight would, he's engaged to Nemaine, and Molly has the lord's promise to help her take back her kingdom in Ireland. But when another lord arrives at the castle to ask for help dealing with an unknown horror in his lands, only Molly and Nemain's pagan magic can help.

I really enjoyed visiting Nicholas' medieval England; he has a historian's eye for worldbuildng and an ear for syntax and phrasing that makes the setting entirely believable. His familiarity with Anglo-Norman politics, the sociology of rural England in the late Middle Ages, and the quirks of language in both Middle English and Irish are clear throughout the book.

While I didn't feel that the dread and horror were quite as gripping here as they were in Something Red, I did very much appreciate that the vampire enemy wasn't a typical modern vampire, but a truly evil, soul-sucking creature. Likewise, this was a clear step on the road to getting Molly and Nemain their kingdom back, as their help earns them more allies. I suspect the next book will involve a trip to Ireland and some closure as far as that plotline goes.

The Wicked is another quality offering from Douglas Nicholas that is worth reading and completely immersing yourself in.  It will be available in March 2014.

3.5/5 stars

Friday, August 09, 2013

Book Review: Copperhead by Tina Connolly

Jane defeated the Fae Queen in Ironskin, but the fae threat is still very present, partly because Edward's facelifts included inserting fae magic into the women's faces--and there are now a hundred women at risk of fae incursion. Helen's husband is part of a group trying to expel all non-human life from the city, which includes more and more draconian rules and bad behavior from the government and the members of Copperhead. But there's something extra weird going on in Copperhead, and Helen is determined to figure out what it is and put a stop to it, since Jane is suddenly and mysteriously incapacitated. . . .

 I was admittedly a bit on the "meh" side about Ironskin, but Copperhead made up for it in spades. Perhaps it's because if this is based on another Gothic-era novel, I didn't recognize it, so those associations couldn't get in the way. Perhaps it's just because there were so many more layers to this story. While Ironskin explored the aftermath of war, Copperhead gets into dozens of issues of feminism--a woman's rights in marriage and divorce, suffrage, patriarchal laws meant to protect women from themselves, a tendency to treat women like children, women in the theater, beauty standards, etc.--as well as racism. Since Helen has to interact with people from all walks of life to try to free the One Hundred from their fae influence, she learns a great deal about the lives of other women and minorities, which lets Connolly (very subtly) comment on these issues.

 I've found in the past that the second book in a trilogy tends to be the weakest, but this is by far a stronger showing than the first book, and bodes incredibly well for book 3.

4/5 stars

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Book Review: Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Jane is a governess forced to take a position with a family out in the country, caring for a young girl with special needs. Due to her war injuries, which left Jane with a fae curse in her face which leaks rage and affects everyone around her unless she covers it with an iron mask, she cannot find employment anywhere else. The child, Dorie, has her own fae issues, as well as a charming and mysterious father who accepts Jane despite her curse. But Jane grows to suspect that something odd is going on with Edward's form of employment, as well as Dorie's abilities, and is determined to stop a fae incursion from happening again.

Reading Ironskin was an interesting experience that went through several stages. At first it took me a bit to get into it because I was distracted by the clear Jane Eyre parallels (I wasn't expecting them). I spent the entire middle of the book wanting to re-read Jane Eyre. And then things took a radical turn and it was less like Jane Eyre, though the parallels were still there, and more its own book with its own plot and tensions and focus, and that's when it got really good.

The idea of the fae war, and setting the book five years after it's over, was really interesting and allowed Connolly to explore the aftermath of war and its innocent victims. Jane and her sister Helen lost their brother and parents to the war, and they've each developed different coping mechanisms for the trauma.

The issue with following the basic plotline of Jane Eyre though, was that comparisons were insidious, and I found the emotional depth of Ironskin fell short of Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre fell in love with Edward Rochester a bit at a time until she realized it and had no idea what to do with it. Jane Eliot flirts with Edward Rochart, hoping he'll find her pretty since he doesn't seem repulsed by her curse, but the lightning bolt realization of her love for him comes out of the blue, and she has no hesitation about courting him.

Generally, however, Ironskin was a good read (though I'm almost through with Copperhead and I daresay it's a better book).

3/5 stars

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: A Cold Season by Allison Littlewood

Cass recently lost her husband in Afghanistan, and to try to help her son, she decides to move to her childhood home town and start over. But when they arrive, things are weird, and soon Cass and Ben are snowed in and the townspeople become ever more creepy . . . and so does Ben.

The setup for this novel was really well executed; the town was properly creepy, the characters were properly isolated, and the son's transformation is properly sinister. The ambiance of the supernaturally snowed-in town helps the story build over a disturbing background. The first 3/4 to 4/5 of the book build in a terrifying rush to the final reveal and confrontation.

And then the train hits a wall.

The ending was kind of a splatter; too much happens, there's too many weird coincidences, and Cass isn't decisive enough. Cass is kind of a limp dishrag for most of the book, though some of that can be chalked up to the possibility that she's being seduced/bewitched, but the end needed someone to stand up--one way or the other!--and finish it in a grand crescendo instead of a whimper. Also, the very final reveal was cliched and typical and made me roll my eyes instead of gasp.

Littlewood has a clear talent for building the dread, but dropped the ball on delivering the knock-out punch that horror stories need to leave the audience properly creeped out and shaking.

3/5 stars

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Book Review: Dark Child (Omnibus) by Adina West

Things are weird for Kat; she's been having strange cravings, a fainting spell, and a blood test that showed seriously abnormal goings-on. When she moves to New York for a new job, she discovers that she's part (or half-part) of a society she never knew existed, and her entire future depends on which way her biology jumps.

I generally enjoyed this book overall, though I did have a few minor nit-picks and at least one big one. The worldbuilding was pretty good; I got the sense that this world had more depth than we were seeing and had existed for thousands of years, which is always better than the writer clearly making things up as they go along. The worldbuilding was actually good enough that I couldn't put a finger on what was bothering me (the thing that became my big complaint) until around halfway through the book.

And that thing was a nobody of a main character. Kat doesn't do anything. She lets other people make decisions, shuffle her from place to place and guardian to guardian, never arguing or even asking questions. Not until the last quarter or so of the story does she stand up for herself and begin demanding a say in her future. I'm glad she finally did, but I'd much have preferred that she did that through the whole book; I prefer MCs who do something, even if it's the wrong thing, to limp dishrags.

One of my minor nitpicks really comes from the fact that this was originally released in serial form. In long form, it's jumpy and occasionally lacks cohesiveness, sometimes skipping over fairly major incidents. I assumed those sudden leaps were breaks between original release chunks and tried not to get too annoyed by them.

3/5 stars

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book Review: Children of Fire by Drew Karpyshyn

I had high hopes for this book; the premise sounded really cool and interesting. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to finish it. Something about it just didn't keep my interest, and I got frustrated by the huge leaps in chronological time with no transitions to tell the reader that a) we're skipping five or so years; or b) what happened during those five or so years. I constantly felt off-balance and scrambling to find my bearings and figure out which character or group of characters we were following and when.

Perhaps once the narrative gets to the point where the children meet up (as I'm assuming they will) and the main action of the story begins, things will settle down, but I'm not in a mental place right now to give the book that kind of time. I may come back and try again later, but for now this is going on my DNF shelf.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Book Review: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

The final chapter of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels has arrived, and with it Sookie's choice of partner, presumably for life. But before she can settle down, she has to deal with a whole lot of people who want to kill her. . . .

I don't think this book was nearly as bad as people keep screaming saying it is. But my issues aren't with the actual events and more with the writing, which is unfortunately sloppy. Instead of the usual first-person exclusively that we get in Sookie books, this one also includes third-person, which is a bit jarring. On the other hand, there's so much going on that I don't see how we could have followed the plot if all we knew was what Sookie knew. Also, a lot of stuff would have come from even further out in left field than it did.

The pacing is . . . unfortunate. There are places where three days might be summarized when we've been going along at a moment-by-moment clip. The ending was the worst for it; lots of telling, lots of summary, not a lot of interesting writing that made me care about the choice Sookie makes at the end.

On that note, I don't mind the choice Sookie makes at the end. I won't go too into it, but I'll just say that while I would have loved to see her end up with someone else--or, hell, alone; the girl don't need a man--I don't resent her choice the way a lot of people seem to.

So while my stars are pretty low for this book, it's not because I'm angry at Harris for not taking Sookie in the direction I wanted, but because it looks too much like she just wanted to be done and threw this book together. (It looks a lot like the papers my students turn in when they waited until the night before to write them.)

2/5 stars