Thursday, March 28, 2013

Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

RATING: 4/5

I enjoyed this book. I thought the suspense was very well-done - we are given just enough information throughout the book to keep the plot moving, to keep us wanting to know what happened, and no more. Some books don't tell you enough, and you become annoyed, some books tell you too much and lose steam - this one struck just the right balance for me. But alas, after all that drawn-out build-up, the ending was actually kind of anti-climactic. And I was also disappointed we never found out what happened to Emily in the end. How did the trial go? Where did she end up? Did she turn out okay? We'll never know, unless Byrne decides to write a sequel. I'm not sure how likely that is. It will depend on how well this book does, what kind of pressure she gets from her publisher, and whether Byrne would even consider it. I'm not saying I want a sequel, but if there is one, I'd read it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

Rating: 2/5

A part of me wants to give this book 3 stars, but I just can't. Why not, you ask? Well...

I realized very early on while reading that this book wasn't going to be what I expected (or wanted) it to be. I wanted a DaVinci Code/Historian type thing, a fast-paced thriller none-the-less full of research and deep mythology. Instead it was a run-of-the-mill horror story that echoed the plot of some movies I've seen. Yes, there were plenty of references to Paradise Lost, and yes, there's a demon, but I felt like I might have gotten more actual demonology from a UF series.

The writing itself was decently done, but the storytelling was problematic. Despite the author's use of the present tense, and a looming deadline--which if missed, all would be lost--there was no sense of urgency in either the writing or the protagonist's actions. I mean, he's in Florida, and, realizing he needs to get to Canada (at this point there's probably two days left, though that is an estimate because the author never makes note of the actual time/date even though it is so important), the protagonist decides to drive a car rather than take an airplane. That's more than a 24 hour drive, trust me, I've done it. And he even stops to play tourist at Niagara Falls on the way, even though his daughter's soul--supposedly the only thing he cares about--is in jeopardy. What the hell.

The entire plot revolves around a videotape that contains proof that demons exist. Everyone in this book seems to think that if released, this evidence will change the whole world. I think that's really naive. Most people these days wouldn't believe it's real, even if it's verified up, down and sideways. Or they wouldn't care either way. The only people who would find such a thing valuable are the people who already believe, or want to believe. So this world-shattering item that is the focus of the story is actually pretty lame, and makes the whole journey seem random and pointless--or at least, only significant for the protagonist and his family.

And then there's the ending. The protagonist's dead best friend suddenly returns as an angel to save the day, he gets his daughter back, and the message is that love can overcome evil. Deus ex machina + trite = Do. Not. Like.

Conclusion, in a word: Disappointing.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Rating: 2.5/5

I'm officially not a fan of cyberpunk. Okay, so I've only read Snow Crash and Neuromancer, but if I can't love those, I think that qualifies as official. I'm more of a science geek as opposed to a computer geek.

There were a few isolated things I liked in this book. I liked Hiro and his swords. I really liked the whole information meme/virus idea and the Babel/Sumeria mythology. I liked the Metaverse. I even liked the basic plot. I didn't like the way this book was written. It was jumpy in time, place, and perspective. It was confusing. I didn't feel like I knew what the hell it was supposed to be about until the last quarter of the book. I see how that follows Hiro's point of view--the reader only figures things out as he does. But it felt like there wasn't actually a plot at all until it was almost over and all the disparate and seemingly random things I'd been reading about came together. I've read books that do a similar thing, but still managed to seem unscattered, perhaps due to a stronger, more central protagonist. This book really had two main characters, and their relationship was incidental and undeveloped. A stronger bond between Y.T. and Hiro might have made a good anchor to build the story around.

Speaking of Y.T., she was a little young for the role, if you know what I mean. Kind of creepy, Stephenson. Joss Whedon's fixation on teenaged girls with superpowers ain't got nothing on your over-sexualized fifteen year old skateboard whiz.

It took me a long time to read this book, so long that it felt like a chore. It just wasn't able to hook me. I can see how some people might like it, though. It has a lot of action, humor, attitude and interesting ideas. I just think the execution--the storytelling--could have been better.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Death Ain't But A Word by Zander Marks

Rating: 3/5

I received a free copy of this book from the author after losing the goodreads giveaway. Actually I received three copies of this book, probably due to some mistake at the publishing company. I only read one of them.

I liked this story. I liked Wilkins, who is a crackhead running from the responsibilities of being able to see ghosts. Apparently ghosts need a lot of coddling so they don't go all dark side and start enslaving and eating other ghosts, or messing with the unsuspecting living. The story is told quite simply, without a lot of fuss, but Marks seems adept at bringing his characters to life with minimal descriptions and back stories. They all seem to share a straightforwardness, however, which worked for most of them, but I felt left the villain a little underdeveloped. He's obviously a monster, but he didn't evoke the kind of emotion he should have.

I found Marks' over-use of italicized words a little distracting. In addition, the less than extensive vocabulary worked for characters like Wilkins who are presumably rather uneducated, but when the perspective shifted to other characters, it felt a less like a style choice and more like a deficit on the part of the author.

There were a lot of characters in this book, and I feel like some of their potential went unfulfilled. That is, even though they were written well enough and fulfilled their purpose in Wilkins' story, I kind of wished there had been more to them, that they'd had more of their own stories. We only just skirted the world of the "yardwalkers", and there's clearly a whole lot of history there.

In summary: decent story, likable characters, well-paced, easy to read.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Children of the Mind (Ender's Saga #4) by Orson Scott Card

Rating: 3/5

Do yourself a favour and don't read the afterword, at least not right away. You can come back to it later if you're really curious, but to me it had the effect of seeming like Card was trying to steal Ender's show. I know that's weird because he created Ender, but the story that has now lasted four books is about these characters you've come to know and have feelings about, and when it's over you're immediately hit in the face with a bunch of rambling thoughts that is essentially Card screaming "Me! Me! Me!" He can't just let the story be, he has to tell you some of his opinions. It's a personal blog-like essay that has no place at the end of this book.

I found Children of The Mind easier to read than Xenocide, though I can't quite articulate why. However, the ease of reading doesn't mean I thought it was better. There were quite a few things that stretched my credulity, and the ending seemed a little too happily-ever-after to feel like a consistent conclusion. I never thought I'd see a science fiction author follow in Jane Austen's footsteps by ending with a double wedding. It's so trite, especially since both couples, despite being comprised of ambitious, career-minded people, decided immediately upon realising they were in love, that the most important thing in the universe was to get married and have babies ASAP. It seemed like a rare instance of the author imposing his own values on characters that otherwise wouldn't share them. At least, the characters as I've come to understand them. Others may have a different interpretation.

In my opinion, there was something in the first two books of this series that's missing in books three and four. They don't seem to have the same integrity. They felt less planned out in detail, less pointed in message. The same kinds of philosophical and moral issues are discussed, but there is some repetition, and they don't seem to be as focused. Later books in series tend to be looser like this, and you often get the impression that the author might have been hurried, tired of his subjects, slightly lacking in inspiration and/or less motivated to really tighten up the story. It's not a huge decline in this series, but it was noticeable to me.
The characters in this series are complex, individual, and memorable. A lot of them are highly emotional and volatile, and I wouldn't want to know them, but they are interesting to read about. It's frightening to think of the fate of entire sentient species being in the hands of such a terribly dysfunctional family. If they were real, they'd qualify for their own reality show. Yet Card has a good understanding of psychology and is able to make each character's thoughts and motivations unique and, if not exactly relatable, then comprehensible. His ability to show such a wide variety of perspectives is remarkable. Though not consistently engrossing, this story did draw me in for large pockets of time.

Ender's Saga Reviews:

Ender's Game (#1)
Speaker for the Dead (#2)
Xenocide (#3)
Children of the Mind (#4)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer

Rating: 2/5

I was so excited when I got my advanced proof of this book in the mail, courtesy of a goodreads firstreads giveaway, I took a picture of it and posted it on Facebook. Unfortunately my excitement didn't last long after I started reading it. I admit that it took me somewhere between 150 and 200 pages to finally realize I was approaching the book all wrong. I'm in the middle of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Saga, and this is a very different type of science fiction. Basically it's like Dirk Gently on Mars, but not as clever as a Douglas Adams book.

I've read quite a few of Sawyer's novels, and he has a very simple writing style in terms of sentence structure and--necessary science jargon notwithstanding--vocabulary. His characters are equally uncomplicated, which is a mild way of saying they often feel to me like hollow stereotypes. What saves Sawyer's stories for me has always been his speculative ideas: what if everybody in the world simultaneously experienced a few minutes of their own future (Flashforward)? What if the Internet became sentient (WWW trilogy)? What if we could visit a parallel universe where Neanderthals survived instead of Homo Sapiens (Neanderthal Parallax)? The speculative idea in this book was: what if the discovery of fossils on Mars led to a gold-rush-type scenario? In comparison, this idea just didn't cut the mustard with me. Sure, people could also transfer their consciousnesses into android bodies, but that's a pretty well-used idea. Sawyer probably knows this, so he didn't really bother exploring the implications of it here.

Instead we get a story about a bumbling private detective who gets mixed up in the lives of people trying to find a long-sought-after fossil deposit. I don't read P.I. novels, so I really don't know how Alex Lomax stacks up as a main character in that genre. He thinks he's a wit, even though his jokes consist mainly of cheesy-dad puns lame enough to make a seven-year-old roll his eyes. He kind of just fumbles around, sleeping with hot women and getting other people killed. Maybe that's a "gumshoe" genre convention too, I don't know.

The plot is actually a series of three plots in the sense that the story seems to be wrapping up twice before it actually does. The first time this happens is due to the fact that the first ten chapters of this book were originally a novella called Identity Theft. The second one happens when the main plot seems to have climaxed, but there is actually more to come.

To be perfectly honest, I found this book to be a series of silly antics and repetitive gunpoint stand-offs that had difficulty keeping my attention. Aside from Rory--who was endearing despite being somewhat of a stereotype--I really didn't care about the characters and what happened to them.

If you read purely for entertainment purposes and enjoy non-serious private detective novels, you might enjoy Red Planet Blues. I like to read books that make me think a little, and this one just didn't. So for me, it was disappointing.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Finale (Hush Hush #4)

Finale (Hush Hush #4)
by Becca Fitzpatrick
Rating 1/5

I could write a thousand word rant about how horrible this book is (even worse than the other three--no easy feat), but is it really worth it? Fitzpatrick has single-handedly cured me of my compulsion to finish every series I start. I just want to pretend this nightmare never happened. This series is by far the worst example of YA Urban Fantasy I have read.

So, in summary: No. Just no.

See my review of Silence (Hush, Hush #3)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Xenocide (Ender's Saga #3) by Orson Scott Card

Rating: 3/5

Well that ended in a rather odd place. So many plots left unfinished. I didn't like this book as much as Speaker, but it had some good bits. I wasn't planning on reading the next book in the series right away, but there are so many loose ends, I guess I have to. Please see my review of Children of the Mind for my complete thoughts on books 3 and 4.

Ender's Saga Reviews:

Ender's Game (#1)
Speaker for the Dead (#2)
Xenocide (#3)
Children of the Mind (#4)