Friday, May 22, 2015

A bunch of minis

Soul Tracker

Here's Amazon's synopsis (it's better than what I would write at this point :)):
What if you could visit heaven and hell, traveling when and wherever you wish . . . without ever dying? What if your teenage daughter, the joy of your life, had died a tragic death and you discovered a way to visit her? What if there were people and beings, on both sides of the grave, who want to stop your return? These are the questions facing novelist David Kauffman. As a single parent he is devastated when his young daughter meets an untimely death. Desperate to contact her, he meets Gita Patekar, a beautiful and committed Christian with a scarred and shame-ridden past. She works for “Life After Life”―an organization dedicated to tracking and recording the experiences of the soul once it leaves the body. Despite Gita’s warnings that God is opposed to contacting the dead, David uses the organization’s computer to try to find his daughter. In the process they discover Gita’s organization has some very deep and dark secrets. A suspense-filled game of cat and mouse begins―both on earth and beyond the grave―as the couple work together, fall in love, and struggle to expose the truth . . . until they come face to face with the ultimate Love and Truth.

my brief thoughts: I really enjoyed this! The writing is not spectacular (it's not bad, it's just a little simple), but the pacing is good, the plot is interesting, and the characters are relatable and engaging. I read this book quickly, and I am definitely looking forward to the 2nd and 3rd in the series!
FOUR out of five stars. 


I thought the first half was very interesting, but the second half felt more like the author's blog/autobiography/expose on race. It had potential, certainly, but, IMHO, could have used a stronger editor.
THREE out of five stars.

The Island of Dr. Libris

I liked the end a lot, but the bulk of the book was unoriginal and lazy - relying on already written characters and literary tropes to move along a slow plot.
THREE out of five stars.

Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs

I was just altogether unimpressed with this. It felt like the author thought s/he was really clever, but s/he really was not. So, instead of 7 dwarves, there are 77, so her chores are neverending. So, after 1 day, she seeks out the evil queen for some sleep. ?! But the illustrations were nicely done! :)
TWO out of five stars.

Betsy's Story, 1934
It was cute and I thought it picked up the pace and ended well. I "saw it coming" pretty early, though I am definitely an adult reading a kid's book in this case ;) It's about a rich little girl in England and her cousin in America who's lost her fortune and is struggling. And the rich little girl in England (Betsy) knows that there are additional secrets, some good and some bad, that are being kept from her by her mother and, seemingly, her relatives and/or house-servants. So she sets out trying to discover the secrets before the adults deem it time for her to know them.

The little girl was headstrong (she is 11 going on 12) and entitled and unaware of real life, it seemed. But she was sincere in her desire to help those less fortunate than herself when presented with the opportunity. Her intentions were often misguided and, well, childish of course, but she seemed eager to do right and understand more so she could do more. I thought there were interesting morals at play here, but the overall story seemed to be ... I don't know, too black and white, too simple, too abrupt, even for the appropriate age.

But like I said, cute and sweet and an ok way to pass a little time. :)

THREE and a half of five stars. 

The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka

Review based on ARC (advanced readers' copy received for free in exchange for an honest review)

My "review"
A very scienc'y sci-fi, a quite thrilling thriller. The book is an easy "enough" read - although the science is pretty theoretical and seemingly advanced science, Kosmatka has made it largely accessible to the interested sci-fi reader. Although there were a couple moments where I found I really didn't know what was happening, science-wise, my confusion was always resolved, generally sooner rather than later.

The book is also a well-paced thriller, with chases, fights, and danger of all varieties. This book kept me constantly attempting to discern who were the "good guys" and who were the "bad guys"... and who fell in between, and I never knew what was going to happen next and how it would play out -- this thriller literally made me lose sleep, reading into the wee-hours.

I love Kosmatka's originality and I particularly enjoyed the set-up of the story. I loved the theory - discerning whether human souls exist, scientifically - and I enjoyed many of the characters (a favorite being his side-kick, Satvik).

I didn't love as much the ultimate resolution and/or explanation, but it didn't really matter since it was such a fast, engaging read.

Recommended to lovers of sci-fi! Those looking for an intellectual sci-fi thriller will be pleased with The Flicker Men! FOUR of five stars.

My "synopsis" (for those interested)
Eric Argus is a brilliant scientist with a dark past. The death of his father and the subsequent deterioration of his mother have left Eric with a life long struggle with depression and alcoholism.

The story starts with a disgraced and unemployed Eric, whose old buddy from college is giving him a lifeline - a last chance to get his life together - by offering him employment with his science lab. Eric starts working at this lab -- a sort of science "think tank" where brilliant scientists gather to do whatever their brilliant minds want to do with access to whatever resources they could possibly need. Eric is on probation with the company, as all new scientists are, and if he manages to show the company that he has promise (will earn them a reputation or money), he can become a permanent employee. Of course, the problem is that Eric has no motivation, no concern, no intention of actually *doing* anything with his last chance (though he does seem to be somewhat grateful to be there). Instead, he wastes his time chatting with his new lab-friends and drinking (not on the job, but he may as well).

Nevertheless, eventually, Eric decides he wants to re-do the double-slit experiment, just to "see it for himself." A clear waste of resources and discouraged by his boss/old college friend, but because he's given the latitude anyway, he does it. The double-slit experiment is a quantum mechanics experiment that essentially shows what should be impossible to see -- that our awareness of something has an impact on that something existing at all. Very cool science.

Eric successfully reproduces the experiment and then, with the help of some of his lab friends, decides to test the same experiment on animals. Thus, they discover that the experiment only "works" on humans -- i.e., that humans are the only beings with an "awareness" sufficient to impact the experiment, or, as many begin to describe it, humans are the only beings with a soul. In other words -- Eric has just inadvertently proved the existence of a soul.

Of course, religion becomes involved, with high-profile figures attempting to prove or disprove ideas that would further their own agenda. As the experiment becomes public knowledge, Eric and the lab begin to get death threats from all types of people, and warnings are received of the "Flicker Men" with no other explanation.

Suddenly, Eric finds himself in the middle of an epic, long-standing struggle, with the fate of the entire planet in his hands as he fights to understand who or what the Flicker Men are, who or what the Fated are, and what role he has to play in everything.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Just a bunch of books Acquired!!

The Library Clearance Sale was this weekend! I acquired 51 new books (for $10!)! Only 37 were non-duplicates, unread books, the rest being gifts, intentional and non-intentional duplicates, and a few already read books that I want to be able to lend :)  Here're pics of the 37+


Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Fold by Peter Clines

Review based on ARC (Advanced Readers Copy received free from publisher in exchange for an honest review)

Overall, I thought this book was a great sci-fi/lite-horror read. The first half, in particular, I essentially couldn't put down. The set-up, the characterization, the suspense, the conflict - it was all put together just right to make me NEED to read more. I finally went to sleep that first night. I finished the book on day 2.

Although the second half was also very difficult to put down, I think once you know "what's up," it makes it just a touch less impossible to put down (though I confess that I was outside reading, insisting on turning page after page until well after I should have gone inside because I couldn't really see anymore... ). What lags a touch in that second half is .... I don't know, it takes science liberties throughout (it is, after all, science fiction), but I think those liberties taken in the latter half were more on the "maybe impossible" side than the first half ;)

Regardless, it was an excellent piece of science fiction and I am very excited for the other Clines books in my collection & wishlists!
My favorite things: the concept, the pace, the accessibility to such a cool idea. I really liked Mike, Bob, Olaf (scientist/engineer). I also liked just fine the rest of the characters: Jamie (scientist; female foil to Mike), Sasha (engineer; star trek obsessed), Arthur (head scientist of the project), and Reggie. Honestly, it's hard to nail something down, because I really just loved all of it.

Synopsis, for those who want it:
Leland "Mike" Erikson is a great high school teacher, but his friend Reggie Magnus has been harassing him for the past decade+ to come work for him - working for the feds. Sure, Magnus likes his friend Mike, but it appears the real reason he's interested in his talents is the sheer potential of them---Mike is brilliant and has an actual eidetic (photographic) memory. Reggie finally convinces Mike to check out the latest project because it's mysterious, fascinating, and poses a potentially grand problem.

The project: Mike is to visit a site in the San Diego dessert where scientists have built and used a device (set of devices) called the Albuquerque Door (yes, I love this name ;)). It purports to be a teleportation device that, rather than transferring matter, "folds" time/distance over. (Yes, somewhat akin to a wrinkle in time or, perhaps, a wormhole like in Stargate, though the scientists are sensitive to the latter comparison (the former is not mentioned).) However, something seems to be wrong. Unfortunately, Reggie cannot explain what is wrong, if anything, it just... "feels wrong," like how when you're wearing a shirt backwards, you just know it's off. So he's commissioned his brilliant friend to visit the site, consult with the scientists, and learn what he can -- all in an effort to ensure the project can continue to be funded by the government and, ultimately, change the world.

Mike, of course, accepts. The scientists all have difficult personalities that Mike has to tangle with, and they are all jumpy and on edge because the government is looking over their shoulder threatening to shut them down... and perhaps because something is just ... off. Fortunately, Mike has a "unique set of skills" that will help him figure out what is so weirdly wrong....
(sorry, no spoilers ;))

Overall, though not perfect, I still think this is one of my new favorites...
FOUR AND A HALF of five stars (rounded up on sites w/o half stars)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Brief Review on Days of Blood and Starlight (Laini Taylor)

It was good! I thought it was much better than the 1st in the series... I liked that there was more happening and less of the mindless mushy gushy love stuff.... (I mean, it is definitely also a love story, but the first one just felt kind of eyes-glaze-over dull, and this was much more interesting). I agree w/ one reviewer that this book probably makes light of genocide-type behavior when compared with the relationship woes... but if you read it as a fantasy (which I did) and not a commentary on real-life tragedies, and take it as a teen romance (which I did), I think you can move right past that ;)  I'm looking forward to reading the 3rd!

FOUR of five stars.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt (plus mini's on library books)

Very briefly: 

Such interesting ideas but, in my opinion, poorly executed. My biggest complaints are (1) the voices of the VERY DIFFERENT characters didn't vary enough one from another (i.e., the robot king had the same voice as the 12-year-old boy with fey powers who had the same voice as the 17-year-old girl on the run from everyone....) and (2) the "action scenes" had the same tone as anything else, including the (extensive) expository portions.

It's about a revolution and a war in a steampunk universe (olden timey/victorian, but technologically advanced), where the hope of the future may rest with a 17-year-old girl who is being hunted down by elite assassins for to-be-discovered reasons and a 12-year-old boy who has been framed for the murder of his family and several other officials and is also being hunted down by elite assassins. Accompanying the girl are various members of the race of the "people" (i.e., independently thinking and self-governed robots, essentially), and accompanying the boy is his uncle's friend, the disreputable Stave, who is also a member of an elite government military operation (the Court of the Air). 

This book had such interesting ideas, but, in my opinion, they were very poorly executed. My biggest complaints are (1) the voices of the VERY DIFFERENT characters didn't vary enough one from another (e.g., the robot king had the same voice as the 12-year-old boy with fey powers who had the same voice as the 17-year-old girl on the run from everyone....), and (2) the "action scenes" had the same tone as anything else, including the (extensive) expository portions.

***Additional plot information: The idea of the book is interesting enough... it's Steampunk through-and-through, where fantasy meets the gritty Victorian underworld meets an entire race of robots. 17-year-old Molly, a ward of the state, is on the run from professional assassins who have already butchered her fellow orphans in an effort to find her; 12-year-old Oliver, living with his uncle, is also on the run from professional assassins who appear to be working with or for the government, who have already butchered several officers and his family and framed him for the murder. Molly and Oliver each have unique (supernatural) gifts that have been undeveloped and unrealized so far in their short lives, but those seeking to exterminate them are afraid of what they could become.

Enter the Steammen (robots), a Court of the Air wolftaker (like a superspy in a super-secret organization, but with a dark past), and races of all varieties, along with a long-standing civil war, a monarchy in which the monarchs have less than no power and are ridiculed by the public, and these god-like monster-like beings who have an interest in the happenings, and you have Court of the Air. Very creative, but the pace was rather slow. If you can get through it, I think the information is thought-provoking.. it's just a bit of a slog.***

The book is creative and has great breadth. I understand the other books in the series are better. I haven't yet decided if I will read the 2nd (which I do own)... but if so, it will be a while from now...

TWO AND A HALF of five stars.

**I've also read a few library books recently:

J: A Novel  It just wasn't really good. I didn't think it delivered what it promised, though I know others have really enjoyed it. Overall, I found it depressing, and I was disappointed. (It's a sort of adult dystopian tale, where the thing lost is race-identifiers. Everyone has been re-named and many have been relocated. It is also perhaps a bit of a love story. But just a very depressing one.)

Just a sweet little tale about a dog and his adventures. And though I don't typically enjoy books with animal protagonists, this one was really enjoyable and I'm glad I received the recommendation!

The Room  
I really really enjoyed this. It's quick (I read it in the bath) and surreal and, yes, I'll say it, Kafka-esque. But it is really well done. And though it seems it should be rather depressing, it somehow isn't. It's somehow light and ... even funny, without being irreverent to the topic at issue (which, maybe isn't entirely clear, but certainly deals with mental illness).

Rosemary's Baby 
I have managed to be one of those people who knew nothing about it! And I read a lot of horror growing up! I really enjoyed this one ... it's both subtle and in your face, direct and sneaky, and definitely creepy and disturbing. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I loved it. It's a great book. It deserves its popularity and I cannot wait to (finally) see the movie!

Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is a Third. He's a third child in a time when people are limited to two, but his existence was sanctioned by the government in the hopes that he would be just the little soldier they are looking for. Both of his older siblings, evil Peter and loving Valentine, were studied, but both were rejected as candidates. Now it is Ender's turn. Ender is 6.

Unlike any children we know, Ender and the other children who have been selected for the military training program are wise, brilliant, and, when it matters, ruthless. Ender must learn how to navigate his way through various educational programs with all of the odds stacked against him.

I know, that sounds a little dry. It's just that you don't need to hear from me that this book is worthwhile because it's been around since the 80s and has withstood the test of time. And I don't want to spoil anything.

I can say the pacing is great... I just tore through this one. And it's so compelling... my bath got down to room temperature before I finally acquiesced to pausing in my reading so I could get out. Ender is a wonderfully written character. But it's not just Ender -- the "side" characters are all also wonderfully written. Everyone from Peter to Valentine to Graff (teacher) to Bean (co-student) to Bonzo (another co-student), etc. etc. etc. I look forward to reading other books in the Ender Saga.

FIVE of five stars.