Showing posts with label Science Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Science Fiction. Show all posts

May 3, 2012

Amped, by Douglas Richards


Amped, by Douglas Richards is the sequel to Wired, which I reviewed last fall. I recall finding Wired a fast-paced thriller and while Amped has its moments, I think I may have liked the first installment better.

Plot: Amped picks up where Wired left off. David Desh and Kira are now married and living off the grid with some of their closest allies. They continue to use Kira's special pills that, when taken, enhance a person's brain so they can think -- and accomplish -- unthinkable tasks and problems.

The crew of scientists, techno-geniuses, and former military ops are very careful about this use of this "miracle drug", trying their best to ensure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. But, they soon find someone is out to get them and there's a global threat that only their enhanced minds can neutralize. Along the way, Kira and David also question their own relationship, as information about their respective pasts are revealed.

Characters: I like the characters just fine; though they aren't my most favorite characters in literature. David seems a bit more "with it" and less easily duped than he did in the first book. And the affable hacker, Matt, is entertaining.

Overall: I had trouble wading through the "science" of Wired, and I had the same difficulty, if not more so, with Amped. And I'm still not totally convinced Kira is one of the good ones. But, I guess I'll just have to wait for a third installment to find out! Given all the technical aspects, you'd likely enjoy this if you're into sci-fi and looking for something with a twist. 3 stars.

**I received a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. But, my thoughts are my own.**

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April 13, 2012

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells


The Time Machine, published in 1895, is the story of an otherwise-unnamed Time Traveller who invents (of course) a time machine and travels to the year 802,701. There, he meets a race of childlike adults called the Eloi, who live in communal societies, subsist mainly on fruit, and live together in beautiful but slowly crumbling buildings. Efforts to communicate with these people are largely unsuccessful, mostly due to the fact of their diminished intelligence (which the Time Traveller attributes to man’s conquest of nature with technology). They are a peaceful people, however, and they welcome the Time Traveller with affection.

Soon upon the Time Traveller’s arrival, his time machine goes mysteriously missing, and he discovers that the Eloi are not the only race that humanity has evolved into. It appears that sometime on the road of evolution, humanity gradually split into two races: a diurnal, surface living race (the Eloi), and a nocturnal race, called the Morlocks. These ape-like creatures live in eternal darkness underground, and appear to have stolen his time machine.

Now it’s up to the Time Traveller (and his Eloi friend, Weena) to get his time machine back if he ever hopes to get back to London and his own time again. Though he has no weapons and a companion who lives in mortal fear of darkness and the Morlocks, he makes it back—but who will believe his story?

I think you’re all pretty aware of how much I love old-timey science fiction. The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—I just love the style. It’s technically narrated by a friend of the Time Traveller who listens to his story (a common mode of narration in this time, it seems, or perhaps just a favorite of H. G. Wells), but the majority of it is narrated in first person by the Time Traveller himself. It’s beautifully written, with fantastic descriptions that can make you really see the places he’s describing—and the feeling of the Morlocks’ claws plucking at your clothes…

Something else I really enjoyed was actually learning about the Morlocks, which I had heretofore only heard about in It (Ben always called the sewer pipes in the Barrens “Morlock holes”) and in the TV show The Big Bang Theory, specifically the episode where Leonard actually buys the Time Machine prop used in the 1960 film adaptation, thinking it’s just a miniature model. Of course, hilarity ensues: 



At any rate, this book was fantastic. I would have liked to read it in hard copy form (and might still go out and get a copy at some point) but it was easy and convenient to read it on my iPhone. (And really, anything that allows me to get books for free is a good thing, since this one was free on iBooks.) If you liked any of the books I mentioned above, you should give this one a try; you won’t be disappointed.


4 stars


This review is also posted on my personal blog.


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March 29, 2012

Redbacks by Aaron Crocco

Redbacks is the second book in the As Darkness Ends series. The series is a 6-book novelette showcasing the end of the world.  It is written following the main character James Cole and what he endures in New York City when a massive, global earthquake strikes.

Now one of the precious few survivors, James’s goal is to get home to his wife through a locked-down Manhattan. But when an inexplicable darkness begins blanketing the city, deadly creatures appear and begin hunting anybody they can find. With James and his companion the only ones capable of fighting, they’ll put their lives at stake once more in order to save the last of the survivors.

The story runs parallel to the first book, which follows Travis Hunter, who has a specific, important mission in the series.  You can read book 2 independently from book 1, as the story is written with the points of view of the characters.  They do meet each other in both books, and I loved how the author ties them together. 

I really enjoyed this book!  It is quick, action packed, and engaging throughout the whole book.  It has zombie as well as spiritual apocalyptic themes, which I loved.  I can’t wait to read the third book, and the whole series.   I give this book 5 stars out of 5.

I was given this book for an honest review.


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December 14, 2011

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

Ashfall is a young adult dystopian novel.  The premise is that a "super volcano" in Yellowstone National Park erupts, shrouding the entire United States in ash in a natural disaster of epic porportion.  The main character is Alex, a fifteen year old boy who takes to the road to rejoin his parents.  He travels through a transformed world, where violence in the norm and everyone is desperate for food and clean water.  

There is a lot of action in this book, and Mullin doesn't shy away from more of the gritty details of a natural disaster.  I like the romance in it too--it's portrayed in a gradual, natural manner and the female protaganist is both tough and smart. 

There were stretches of the book that went very, very slowly.  There were parts that didn't seem very realistic--for example, Alex's Taekwondo training actually comes in handy (does that ever really happen?).  The ending is a bit unsatisfying to me and hints at a sequel.  All in all, I could see this being a popular book for both teenage boys and girls, and it's definitely worth the read if you enjoy the genre.

Three stars
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September 24, 2011

Wired, by Douglas E. Richards

Wired tells the story of David Desh, and his fight to learn the truth about a mysterious woman with the power to undo -- or save -- the world.

Plot: David Desh got out of the special forces after a mission gone terribly wrong. He's brought back by an old friend to find Kira Miller, a scientist who the U.S. government believes is in bed with terrorists and working on a plot to unleash Ebola worldwide. As the story unfolds, David learns nothing is as it seems and the book becomes about much more than an attempt to infect the world with Ebola.

This book is sci-fi and thriller all rolled into one. There were parts of the book that were a little too scientific for me, and parts where the science got a little outlandish, but the suspenseful storyline kept me turning the pages.

Characters: David and Kira make a great pair. Though, for as smart and well-trained as David is supposed to be, he was fooled by Kira and the other villains quite a lot leading up to the end. I wanted him to be a little smarter and to out-think them a little more throughout. Kira is believable as a highly qualified scientist who is just trying to understand why she's in the cross hairs of an evil plot by an unknown villain. There are also some great supporting characters, including an affable hacker and a decorated colonel.

Structure: After reading several books that were heavy on narrative, this book was refreshing with the amount of dialogue the author used. The plot unfolds through several lengthy conversations between the characters, and while dialogue can sometimes be unwieldy, this dialogue was perfect for helping me understand what was going on, but keeping the book moving.

If you're looking for something that moves quickly and keeps you up all night, I'd check this one out. 3 stars.

*I received a free electronic copy of the book for purposes of this review, but the opinions shared here are my own.*

September 7, 2011

Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

Forbidden is the first book in a new trilogy by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee. I've never read The Circle Series or anything by Ted Dekker for that matter, but after reading Forbidden I will finally pull The Circle Series off my shelf.

Let's start at the beginning. In order to create peace, 480 years ago humans were given a highly contagious drug created to alter human DNA to remove all emotions other than fear. Can you imagine a life without pain and sorrow? Without joy and love? That's the only life the characters in this book have ever known until a young man named Rom is given the chance to not only experience those emotions but to bring all that's been missing back to mankind.

In an anything but classic version of good versus evil, the authors somehow bring out all levels of emotion while writing about a world void of any. It has something for everyone - romance, drama, action, mystery, and science fiction. And while the book had its fair share of violence, those moments didn't take away from the overall plot. I quickly fell in love with the characters, especially Rom, and became addicted to the story. Ted and Tosca were able to make a fantasy world come to life, and I for one can't wait to see how and if the world will ever get the chance to feel alive again.

I was lucky enough to be given a copy of this book to review before it was released, but you can pick up a copy of your own when it comes out next Tuesday, September 13th. And to get you excited, you can check out the trailer below.



 

July 18, 2011

Reternity by Neal Wooten

I've been worried about myself lately, worried I may have lost my capacity for wonder. I rarely watch movies anymore because they all seem so desperate to shock, surprise, and enthrall that they've essentially reached the limits for such things and are becoming repetitive. Books aren't as bad because I don't read thrillers, but I'm willing to bet Clive Cussler and his ilk are running out of ways to imperil Earth. But this book has either proven I can still be amazed, or it's added another layer to my cognitive callous. Either way, I am, at the moment, thoroughly amazed.

Reternity is the story of a young man named Max who has lived a very sheltered life as a pastor's son in a small Mayberry-esque town. As he graduates from high school and begins studying at a nearby university, his parents fear that his newfound interest in physics will test his faith. Their fears are calmed somewhat when they learn that his professor hosts weekly Bible studies, but their worries mount as his involvement in a science project quickly evolves into an obsession. On Max's part, he struggles with the idea that his discoveries could cause harm that would far outweigh any recognition he'd receive for it. His investigations take him, his professor, and the reader on an incredible journey that will bend the mind and enliven the senses.

I have only two complaints about this book. First, the writing in the first few chapters is very shaky. It's supposed to be set currently, but the beginning reads more like something from the 50's. In fact a lot of the language and portrayal of female characters reminded me of my mom and her ways of speaking. Second, the female characters -with a single exception- are two-dimensional. The reader gets the impression that Wooten must either fear women or acknowledge his ignorance of them, as he seems to tiptoe around their characterization. For these reasons, especially the writing in the beginning, I can't in good conscience award a full five stars.

However, this is truly an incredible book. It's uncommon to find others that share the belief that Science and God are compatible, and that's not the only difficult topic covered in this book (that particular issue is mainly tackled in the Forward). The Bible studies described shed light on things I hadn't realized had left me in the dark previously. Some of it may be upsetting to some readers, but I hope most will be open to discovering the truth for themselves.

July 7, 2011

The Future Perfect by Kirk Mustard

My dad introduced me to Douglas Adams as a kid, and I've always loved his stuff because it's funny. I learned about Kurt Vonnegut in college, and appreciated his skill at demonstrating the absurdities of the human condition. Kirk Mustard has taken elements of both of these writers, put them in a blender with Aldous Huxley, and served the result in a tall frosty glass with a little umbrella and a few chunks of fruit.

The Future Perfect (an abbreviated title by the way) is the story of Earth somewhere between now and the society portrayed in Wall-e. Consumerism has... well, consumed the planet, science has taken over everything, even the afterlife, and nature has been all but eradicated by society's paranoia of germs.

Weighty topics are skillfully explored through a fascinating assortment of Adams-esque characters. There's Zenith, a loud colorful ad executive who must constantly churn out new products to a ravenous public, at one point even conceiving of and publishing a book during a short commercial break. His good friend is Monty, a witty self-proclaimed Luddite who longs for simpler times yet panics at the sight of a roasted chicken. Apex Caliente is the unwitting catalyst to the truth behind Nophy, a computer generated afterlife.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the detail of technological advances of the future. The synthesized food was disgusting, but probable. The voting system, which uses television ratings to determine what people really want subconsciously, was very creative. My favorite thing, which I really hope to see one day, is the flexy-screen, basically a screen the size and nature of a piece of paper, and used as such.

There are only two negatives to this book. First, there are a lot of grammatical and typographical errors. But overall the writing was good enough and the story interesting enough that it was easy to overlook. Second, the style of writing is a bit uneven. There's a lot of fantastic material between the beginning and the end, but it starts out choppy and ends suddenly. If the errors were fixed and the beginning and end rewritten, this would be a five star book.

I received a copy of this book for the purpose of review.


May 22, 2011

Women and Other Monsters


Enter into the twisted mind of writer Bernard Schaffer in his collection of short stories, Women and Other Monsters.  The collection consists of 5 short stories that are each different, dark and deserving to be read.  Each story is written with lots of character and beautiful descriptions.  You actually feel like you're there; you can hear the voices, feel the temperature in the room even.  And yet, that is all that connects these stories, as they are each unique from one another.  

1. The Reluctant Death:  This is the first short story in the collection.  It is placed pre-civil war, on a plantation farm.  Folklore, mysticism and darkness rule here, but there is still a hidden gentleness that emerges.  I found this one to be beautiful and mysterious. 

2.  Codename: Omega:  This story was wild, adrenaline pumping and tricky.  An American soldier is killed in action during World War 1... only, he's not really dead.  He's a superhuman who becomes a secret agent, bent on kicking some serious Nazi tail.  Basically, if you liked Quentin Tarantino's, Inglorious Basterds, you'll enjoy this too! 

3.  Room Service:  This story will make you laugh out loud and root for the underdog (for a change).  With all these good-guy-vampire books out now, it's refreshing to read the opposite.  When Rob's stripper girlfriend goes missing after a "home call", he decides to investigates and doesn't like what he finds.  Having nothing to lose, he decides to take his revenge.  This story was my personal favorite... good fun.

4.  Cold Comforts:  A married couple struggles to find intimacy with one another after the death of their unborn child.  While she searches for answers at any cost, he finds comfort with another.  This story made me do a double take... how twisted can you get, Mr. Schaffer? ;)

5.  Nazareth:  This story is written very well.  It unravels slowly and has a shock factor that will make you want to re-read it.  Two alien researchers are studying Earth and the human life form.  They discover DNA and decide to change all of humanity with one simple act.  Although this story will take you by surprise, you will also find yourself taken by Schaffer's cleverness and satirical humor.  

So if you like folklore, history, war, vampires, family dramas or sci-fi, this is the book for you!  There really is something for everyone!

Overall, this collection is great.  You will peel through it, just to see if the next one can possibly be better than the last.  And, as I said before, since they are so vastly different from one another, it's hard to compare.  The only thing that was not in my taste, was that once he gave you the shock factor, the story ended.  There was no wind-down or conclusion... just an open end for your own imagination to conclude.  Like at the end of a great movie, when you go, "WHHHAAAT?!" (Inception, anyone?).  Other than that, it was flawless.

5 stars

*This book is currently only available in e-book format*

I was given a free copy of this book to review. This is my honest and unbiased opinion.

May 16, 2011

"Other People's Heroes" by Blake M. Petit

(Disclosure: I received a copy of the e-book Other People's Heroes for review purposes.)

I admit, I'm 37 and I like superhero stories. I subscribe to a couple of superhero comics. I could pretend that it's just to share them with my sons, but ... well, ... that's serendipitous.

Other People's Heroes is a different kind of superhero story. The narrator begins the story as a reporter in Siegel City, working for a magazine called Powerlines, which focuses on the rather-large superhuman community of the city. He soon discovers, though, that he's one of them.

He then learns that the superhumans are all orchestrated, that their battles are staged, and that it's all about marketing. From there, the story moves through his decision to expose the racket, his acceptance of it, and then the big superhero-type ending.

The long-missing superhero Lionheart hangs over the story. His disappearance and mysterious death marked the end of the real heroes, and the beginning of the staged events. His memory haunts the more-noble characters, especially those who knew him.

I liked the story. It dealt with the issues in a mature, adult fashion while retaining the superhero feel. Clearly, Blake Petit knows the heroic world and wanted it to feel like more of the real world than you usually get from a comic. This, he did very well.

While the story takes a cynical turn, it delivers the moments that make comics worth reading: the dramatic appearance, the big ending, the moral triumph, and the optimistic finish. What's left of Lionheart's old team, most of whom retired after he died, come back for the big dramatic battle. It's a moment that makes you cheer. Even without the big, full-color, two-page pinup panel that it deserved, that moment comes across perfectly.

The book is also full of jokes about the genre -- comments about costumes and a snide reference to wearing just eyeglasses to disguise oneself, comments about returning from the dead, and being bitten by radioactive creatures, for example. For even a casual comic fan, or even one who has seen a few movie adaptations, I think that these jokes would come through.

This might be somewhat of a specific-niche book, but it's definitely worth the read. I enjoyed it tremendously. 4 stars.

April 13, 2011

Inside Out by Maria V.Snyder

Keep your head down. Don't get noticed or else. Or else. I'm Trella. I'm a scrub. One of thousandas who work in the lower levels, keeping inside clean for the uppers. I do my job and try to avoid the pop cops. The Uppers want us to be docile and obedient, like sheep. So what if I occasionally use the pipes to sneak aroudn the upper levels? The only neck at risk is my own. Until a lower lever prophet claims a Gateway to Outside exists.And guess who he wants to steal into the upper levels for proof? You're right. Me. It's suicide plain and simple. But guess who can't let a challenge like that go unasnered? Right again. Me. I should have said no...  

This is a young adult dystopian fiction novel. I have read quite a few in this genre, but this one was a little different. It took a little to get into the book, but only because the world Snyder has created is very different to what I am used to from her works. The way they count days/weeks/months/years was hard enough, after a while I gave up trying to work out that math. Trella is a likeable character. She is a loner who at first doesn't seem to care very much for her fellow scrubs, but when they need her she is there for them all, especially her best friend Cog. Trella is a great lead character she isn't afraid to let you see all of her sides, and isn't afraid to say when she has made a mistake. Something that lead female characters are sometimes lacking. Snyder doesn't disappoint with her writting at all. I have been reading her books for several years now and have come to expect a certain something from her stories. This book has delivered more than what I had hoped for. Snyder keeps you guessing throughout the whole book. I love reading a book where the twists and turns are all suprises, some good some bad. I finished this book with the question in my head of "when does the next book come out?'. Luckily its already out, I just need to hunt it down.

February 20, 2011

Never Let Me Go, By Kazuo Ishiguro

I'd heard about Never Let Me Go, if you count the fact that I'd heard about the movie version that came out in 2010. But, I didn't really know what it was about, so when my book club decided on the novel as our latest pick, I was excited to dive in.

Now that I've finished, I'm left feeling rather unsure about the book. I can't quite decide if I liked it or if I didn't. What I can tell you is that I struggled throughout the entire book to stay interested and even remember where I'd left off in the plot.

Plot: The story is told from Kathy's voice, who was a student at a prestigious boarding school along with two other characters, Ruth and Tommy. Kathy, now an adult, is reliving the memories of that school and her old friends as she comes to terms with just what the school was preparing them for later in life.

It sounds intriguing, but for me, it moved too slow. This is considered a sci-fi novel, but it's set in the 1990s and the "sci" part of sci-fi is buried in narration. You know it's there, but you don't really get the ins and outs of it until the last 50 pages. The backstory is never fully revealed, which was a problem for me. I really don't want to give too much away, so that's the only way I can describe it. With any good sci-fi novel, you know why things are the way they are. In fact, I've read other sci-fi novels with a similar theme as Never Let Me Go, and I've enjoyed them so much more because the author as given distinct and clear reasoning for why the novel's world is the way it is. Here, you really have to dig deep and don't get a full picture until the very end.

Characters: The three main characters were certainly intriguing, but because of Ishiguro's writing style, they seem passive, almost like figments. In fact, the entire story felt very surreal, as if the characters were trapped in a foggy dream instead of actively living the lives set before them. And again, the lack of a back story contributed to this feeling. The characters are dealing with a very difficult reality, yet the reader doesn't understand the full implications of this reality. For me, that made it difficult to understand and get behind the characters.

Structure: As I mentioned, the writing style made the book feel more like a break from reality than an actual sci-fi reality. I feel like with a bit more explanation and a bit less musing by the main character, it could have been a very different book.

I will say that I was glad I finished the book, and will definitely watch the movie (if only to see Andrew Garfield), but this wasn't a favorite of mine. 3 stars.

September 9, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins


The highly anticipated third and final installment of The Hunger Games series was released in August and I had my pre-order from Amazon all set up and ready so it would be on my doorstep the very next day. Mockingjay takes place in Panem, a country in turmoil following a bold move by rebel forces that ended in a stunning Hunger Games climax in the previous book, Catching Fire. This book continues the story of our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, as she fights to avoid being a pawn once again in the games of those in power.

Collins introduces some intriguing new characters in this novel, such as the sharp and haughty President Coin and the military leader Boggs. My personal favorites were cameramen Castor and Pollux, whose names are a clever play on the Trojan men of Greek history who also had to fight for the survival of their civilization. Several previous characters take on larger roles in Mockingjay and, in turn, become far more interesting. Finnick Odair is less of a gaudy, schmoozing, ladies man this time around and more of a damaged soul with a score to settle. Beete, the eccentric victor with proficiency for electricity, becomes a mastermind in weapons of mass destruction. Even Peeta Mellark undergoes a startling and creative transformation that really throws a wrench in things. On the other hand, President Snow who we came to hate as the sickeningly sweet yet vicious leader of Panem, becomes somewhat one-dimensional this time around and almost cartoonish. Even favorites like Gale, Haymitch, and Katniss herself are not as well-rounded or in depth as they have been in the past.

Without the arena to ground the plot, the story doesn’t have the magic of The Hunger Games or Catching Fire. For a good deal of the pages, the book reads as just another war novel where the oppressed fight back against those who attempt to lord over them. The uniqueness of the Games themselves that gave the previous books that special flair is certainly missing. When all is said and done, Collins ties up the series in a nice, neat little bow, but I would argue that the ending feels rushed and overly contrived. The “twists” are predictable as is the sugary sweet epilogue that reads more like a tween novel than young adult science fiction.

An enjoyable book, but not up to par with the first two books who, for better or for worse, set the bar pretty high. This one feels rushed and slightly cliché, but it provides a clear end to a solid series.

3 stars.


May 20, 2010

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

I'll admit it. My interest in this book was first sparked by the creepy trailers for the movie I saw on TV. Since I'm not one for scary movies, I figured it was not going to be for me. It wasn't until my mother in law read the book and recommended it to me that I decided to give it a go. I even made my husband read it first to make sure it wasn't going to freak me out so much I wouldn't be able to sleep. I'm that much of a wuss. When he gave it the "Safe for Sarah" stamp of approval, I busted out the Kindle and dove in. Bonus - this book was only $4.99 on Kindle!!

Shutter Island is about a pair of U.S. Marshalls who travel to a psychological treatment center for the criminally insane. It's not the tame wackos who head to this joint. They get the real crazies, the ones who murder their entire family, skin them, and make lampshades to decorate their house with. (Yup, I'm from Wisconsin) One of these prisoners patients has gone missing and Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner, Chuck, have been called in to investigate how she could have disappeared from her locked cell, through the guarded compound, and off the treacherous island. In somewhat predictable fashion, nothing is as it seems at Ashecliffe Hospital.

Before too long, the investigation becomes less about Rachel Solando's disappearance and more about Teddy Daniels himself. There are freaky, drug-induced dream sequences that are written in creepy detail. Lehane creates a terrifying world inside Teddy's subconscious, one that draws you in to the madness of Ashecliffe.

I'm not sure how to really classify this book. Sci Fi? Mystery? Thriller? It's got a bit of all of that. Between the supposed experimental surgeries taking place at Ashecliffe to the questions surrounding the staff, Lehane leaves the reader guessing right up until the massive twist at the end of the novel. It turns out to be one of those books you want to re-read because you know the second time will be a completely different experience.

The characters were a bit on the stereotypical side - the war-affected Marshall with a tragic past and a conspiracy theory, the creepy yet brilliant mad scientist, the good-cop sidekick, the prisoner patient with a personal vendetta against the protagonist, the good-natured orderly with a knack for racial humor. Be that as it may, Lehane still writes a good one that kept me hooked right up to the end.

And I didn't even have nightmares.  4 stars.


May 4, 2010

"The Strange Case of Origami Yoda" by Tom Angleberger

(Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review, but I have received books from this author in the past, and I consider him an online friend. Also, I am listed in the Acknowledgments section among his list of "cool folks.")

"The Strange Case of Origami Yoda" by Tom Angleberger is the third book I've read by this author. His two previous books were written under the pseudonym Sam Riddleburger. I need to make that clear for the purposes of comparison later.

This book is presented as kind of a case book, a journal in which each chapter is a section of the story written from a different perspective, trying to determine whether Origami Yoda was just a finger puppet used by a weird kid to make predictions or if it really had powers.

The aforementioned "weird kid," Dwight, claims that Origami Yoda speaks through him, and gives other students advice by tapping into the Force.

Each chapter relates a different student's experiences with the advice from Origami Yoda, and some idea as to whether the writer believes in him. Each chapter ends with comments by Harvey, another student and Origami Yoda-cynic, and final comments by Tommy, the student who compiled this casebook and a believer.

That is one of the first things that shows the genius in how this book is written. Each narrative sounds credible. Angleberger genuinely shifts perspectives and presents the stories from different points of view. His diction, narration, and structure shift as each character takes over. It is very easy to believe that each chapter was written by a different person.

The story is a lot of fun. Watching the school year progress, following the sub-plots, and watching each student deal with this mystery is well worth the read.

Tom Angleberger excels at writing from kids' perspective. His two previous books that I've read, "The Qwikpick Adventure Society" and "Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run" (co-authored with Mike Hemphill), are also in persuasive first-person narration.

"Yoda" is, like "Qwikpick," presented in a journal format. For young readers (such as my 11- and 13-year-old boys, each of whom loved the book), it's a nice affirmation that some adults do take kids' interests seriously. Kids do compile these kinds of journals, regarding their adventures and mysteries as serious. Too many adults dismiss them.

The book also looks like a journal. Every page has been lightly printed with what look like rumpled lines and folds as if it had been carried around by a sixth grader. The feel of this book is really a delight.

"Origami Yoda" celebrates them. The kids in this book are realistic, smart, and ... above all else ... kids. I could easily believe that my son hangs out with Kellen or Dwight or Tommy at lunch.

If I might indulge here ... "The Strange Case of Origami Yoda" is enjoying a level of commercial success that "Stonewall Hinkleman" and "Qwikpick" didn't. Perhaps that's related to the "Star Wars" licensing and the accompanying promotion. I would strongly encourage readers who pick up "Origami Yoda" and enjoy it to look for the other two books, too.

Also ... Angleberger has filled the book with what we in the geek community call "Easter eggs," little references to other things that appeal to serious fans.

For example, the students attend McQuarrie Middle School. There is a reference to buying food at the Qwikpick. Harvey makes a comment about Robert E. Lee's horse. (Good luck figuring that one out if you're not a Riddleburger fan!)

This is a great middle-school level read, and any adult lovers of kidlit should definitely check it out.



February 8, 2010

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Who would have thought young adult lit could be so enjoyable for an adult? I read The Hunger Games (the prequel to this novel) out loud to my 7th grade students last year and they couldn't get enough of it....and neither could I. I had to take the book home to finish it because I couldn't take the suspense any longer. Read my review of The Hunger Games if you're interested in my thoughts on the first book in Collins' series.

Catching Fire is the second installment in what looks to be a trilogy. Set in Panem, a nation crippled by the dictatorship of "The Capital," our heroine Katniss Everdeen returns. Her actions in The Hunger Games have made her the biggest celebrity in Panem, but also Enemy #1 of the Capital. Rebellion is stirring in the districts and if she wants to keep those she loves alive, she must do everything she can to stop the uprising. When all she does is fan the flames, Katniss once again becomes a pawn in the Capital's deadly game.

Collins has really hit a home run with this series. Aimed at the young adult reader, this book is a very fast read for an adult, but it never feels like you're reading something "beneath" you. Catching Fire takes the same topics of government power, the strength of the masses, love, survival, and loyalty and turns them on their heel. Collins' descriptions are precise and spark the imagination - my particular favorite being President Snow who smells of "roses and blood." In a society where the district one in born into can mean a meal ticket or a death sentence, Katniss represents hope and her actions make her a character we are quick to root for. The arena Collins creates for this novel is as imaginative and original as it is horrifying.

Make no mistake, these two books are violent - very violent. I would make the argument that Catching Fire offers slightly more "adult" content (not sexual per say, but certainly not G rated) than its prequel. Once again, however, Collins succeeds in grabbing her reader's attention right out of the gate and leaves the last page with a cliffhanger that leaves you begging for the next book. Not for readers under the age of 12, in my opinion, but enjoyed thoroughly by this 26 year old. 5 stars.

**NOTE: You absolutely MUST read The Hunger Games before Catching Fire or it won't make much sense. The third book comes out on August 24, 2010!

December 17, 2009

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson


Just today I put this book on my "10 Best Books Read in 2009" list, so that should put this review in perspective quite nicely.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is the story of a teenager who wakes up from a yearlong coma, with a lot of questions. Not only does she not remember anything about her life, the things she picks up from her current life doesn't seem to add up. Her biggest question, like almost any teenager, is, "Who am I?" Yet in her case, this is an especially pertinent question.

This book discusses what makes us human and the ethics of bioengineering alongside it's discussion of friendships and relationships. Leaves the reader with a lot of things to think about!

I highly recommend this book.

October 6, 2009

Year of the Flood Margaret Atwood Review


I was surprised by Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood. I hesitated to read it as I had already read one cautionary apocalyptic tale this year, Liz Jensen’s The Rapture. But there is no comparison, though I enjoyed moments in The Rapture, I was absolutely fascinated by Atwood’s work. And although both delve into the treacherous side of religion and politics, Flood isn’t even about a flood. Couple that idea with it isn’t even about any one year more than the other in the quarter century span of its futuristic narrative. Which is where it became surprising. This novel is hard core science fiction despite its inexplicable title and floral cover. It is almost as if it is science fiction cloaked in literary fiction’s clothing. And after the initial shocker, that is exactly its feel. A detailed and creative world magnified by a compelling story, deft characterization, and remarkable rendition.


Basically the story is about two women living after a flood has wiped out most of the population. Over the course of the novel their story is back filled to ascertain how they were able to survive, and we are treated to a new vision of humanity, one who has little to lose. This new world is complete with massive corporation posing as government, some bizarre genetic cross breeds, and apocalyptic drama. I can see why some call Atwood Canada’s best living writer. Anyone who expects literature to open up new worlds will find a favorite in this novel.

September 29, 2009

Vhan Zeely and the Time Prevaricators by Mary Bailey


I'm so pleased that I get to review Vhan Zeely and the Time Prevaricators here on the Book Nook and share this hidden gem of a Young Adult book with you all. I borrowed this book from a high school English teacher friend who was taught English by Mary Bailey herself. Of course, you never know what you'll get when you read a writing of a friend of a friend, but I was sucked in and can't wait to read more of her writing.

As a kid, my favorite type of book were time traveling books. Though I didn't recognize it at the time, I suppose time travel books interested me because it combined my interest in science and my interest in history, though I didn't know I had those interests at the time.

As much as I enjoyed Vhan Zeely today, I would have absolutely fallen in love with it when I was a tween.

Okay, enough about me. On to why I enjoyed Vhan Zeely:

* Vhan Zeely is absolutely relatable as a 12-year-old girl who struggles with the delights and insecurities that come with her in-between age.

* Though some things are predictable, there were plenty of turns I didn't figure out. I love a good, clean mystery.

* The splash of history was fun, entertaining, informative, but not overdone. And as far as I'm aware, it was spot on, too.

* Bailey didn't tie up all the lose ends. I appreciate a book that doesn't answer every question.

I recommend this book to anyone, tween on up, who enjoys mystery, time travel (well, books on it, at least), or history! I know this book isn't widely available, but you can find it at online retailers, or you can bug your local library about getting it! I want to make sure that a good book gets a chance.

September 22, 2009

"Emergence" by David R. Palmer

Emergence, written by David R. Palmer (ISBN 0-553-24501-5) isn't a particularly new book; it was published in 1984. My wife has been encouraging me to read it for several years. Now that I have, I'm trying to figure out what I ever did to her to deserve this.

In concept, the book is fair enough. It's a post-apocalyptic story about an 11-year-old girl, Candy Smith-Foster, who survives a nuclear-biological war that eliminates humanity. The only survivors are those who are a more-highly-evolved species that will succeed Homo sapiens. The book is presented as her journal, telling the story as she records it for posterity.

It is this format that presents the first problem for me: If she's writing the journal, I already know that she's survived the dramatic situations she faces. The emotions are already processed, to an extent. Although Palmer, through Candy, tries to present her journal as if it was simply first-person narration, the fact that it's written after the fact is inescapable.

If he was trying to escape this, though, he makes two major mistakes: (1) Candy's narration is extremely informal, often including such notes as "Good morning, Posterity!" that remind you that this is not simply a narration, it's a journal, and (2) Candy writes in shorthand. This writing style is addressed early in the book, when Candy records, "Sentence structure will have English teachers spinning in graves" and goes on to explain why she's too intelligent to use English properly.

The thing is, I'm rather a fan of the English language. I consider this book's butchery of it to be a major distraction from the story. Even if its narrator would conclude from this that I'm inferior, I hold to my point.

In any case, the misuse of language makes it impossible to forget that this is Candy's journal, and that therefore she can't have been killed in any of the situations that she encounters.

As for those situations ... As she travels the US searching for other survivors, she spends close to half the book talking about sex, being propositioned in one way or another. These conversations are so romantic as to include the comment by one character that a catheter is not conducive to romance, and one conversation that is no more than a business deal -- which she nearly accepts.

At the end, roughly the last third of the book, it suddenly turns into largely an adventure story. At that point, the book becomes more bearable ... but right before the end we are treated to another discussion of how the villain wishes Candy were older so that they could be involved romantically. She's 11 years old! I find this disturbing, and wonder somewhat if Palmer has issues that warrant professional help if he's this obsessed with sexual activity between 11 year old girls and full-grown men.

The great moral conflict of the book is, as far as I'm concerned, resolved incorrectly. Candy murders a man by failing to halt her use of deadly force (she's a Sixth Degree black belt), and every conversation about this includes neat rationalizations.

Good points? I think that the concept was great. I can't, though, think of anything particularly good to say about the book, except that I no longer have to read it.

1 star is generous.




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