Thursday, August 20, 2015

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio

Review based on free copy received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book was just what it purported to be: a quick, fun, quirky story about Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye. It is populated with classic fairy-tale characters, including a quirky, sweet, smart (though not terribly smart), and relatable main character; the imaginary or non-imaginary but definitely weird and quirky side-kick and/or best friend; the missing or dead parents; the oblivious relative caring for the protagonist; the evil pointy villain who only shows her true evil'ness to the hero; and a mystery with supernatural implications.

Immediately, I liked Warren - the 12-year-old sole bellhop to the Warren, the hotel that has been owned and run by every prior Warren up to him. Because his father died when Warren was 7, he has to wait many years before he can officially take over. Meanwhile, his lazy uncle has taken over and the place has fallen into complete disrepair. Warren is completely likable. Even though he may have yellow ringlets and a toad-like face with weird spaced out teeth... he's charismatic, hard-working, and optimistic. I immediately trusted him and his perspective, and I immediately wanted for him to overcome the nasty step-mother and the eventual evil villain.

Overall, I thought del Rio did an excellent job of juxtaposing the characters one from another -- perhaps the characters were a little stock and two-dimensional, but for a middle grade modern "fairy tale," it was just right.  I love the sheer oblivion and laziness of the uncle, the questionable character of his new best friend, and the creep-factor of Paleface.

The plot moved quickly with a lot of fun, crazy things happening. The heros were in just enough fixes with just enough uncertainty to keep the plot moving. I enjoyed the variety in location, and I appreciated the type and amount of outside factors used throughout. The only thing I didn't *love* was every part of the resolution.  Parts of it were great and fit in well, but I though that just 1 or 2 bits were perhaps a bit too... convenient. (no spoilers!) I also LOVED the illustrations.

Overall, a great middle grade book that I will DEFinitely purchase for my friend's 12-year-old male son (or his 7-year-old sister!).
FOUR of five stars.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Trespassers by Todd Wynn and Tim Wynn

Book received for free from authors; honest review written in exchange.

I really enjoyed this! Reading this book was, for me, like watching Men In Black. It was sci-fi with a serious enough topic/goal, but also flippant and fun and light.

Let's see... it's about a super secret branch of the government who is charged with keeping, you guessed it, aliens a secret from the rest of the world. And there are a plethora of aliens from which to choose. The problem is, of course, many aliens enjoy visiting Earth -- as a tourist destination in particular. Along w/ these tourists comes the requirement that these aliens be vaccinated and out crops entrepreneurs, striving to provide their customers with jen-you-wine (genuine) vaccinations from live humans. These entrepreneurs are, of course, breaking the law by doing so. Our world has provided the aliens with all the vaccinations they should need -- the richer more demanding visitors, however, prefer the fresher variety.

Thus, we have the trespassers -- aliens entering Earth, generally for a brief amount of time, for the purpose of securing a human, briefly, from which to draw a sample to make a vaccination. The whole story begins with one such trespasser making his attempt, the super secret federal government agency setting a trap, and the not-as-secret agency charged with *finding* aliens (which the super-secret agency ensures they will never do) all converging on one bright and sunny picnic'y spot.

And all kinds of wackyness ensues. Add to the general plot a few alien stowaways who are causing their own trouble on earth, a couple of brand new and eager-to-please members of the (super secret) team, an increasingly more depressed alien-hunter frustrated with his ever close-but-no-cigar hunt, and a couple of love-struck teenagers, one of whom is definitely not what she appears, and you have Trespassers.

A quick read, a fun read, a story that draws you in and holds you until it is good and ready to spit you back out.

FOUR AND A HALF of five stars. Very entertaining sci fi!

2 babies (smaller than minis ;))

Very cute and, from what other reviewers are saying, a cute Wodehouse parody-tribute. I haven't read any Wodehouse myself yet, but I intend to!

FOUR of five stars.

Some of the stories were great, some were ok, and a couple were pretty bad. But overall, a fine way to pass the day (stayed at home sick yesterday). This is definitely Chick-Lit or Rom-Com-in-Writing.

TWO AND A HALF of five stars.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

SUCH a cool idea. This book is set in the not-too-distant future.

Half of the book (every other chapter) is about "the City," where people who have died congregate. The city is big enough to accommodate everyone who needs to be there. But people are only there for a limited amount of time.... the citizens of the city posit that they are there as long as someone alive still remembers them, though of course they have no way of knowing for sure what the "rules" are of this apparent in-between place. They live out a sort of second life in the city, where they neither age nor procreate, but otherwise seem to live just as on earth, with loves, hatreds, anger, frustration, etc. However, there appears to suddenly be a rapid influx and then a complete falling away of the population of the city, and the remaining residents are trying to figure out what is happening.

The other half of the book is about Laura Byrd, a "wildlife specialist" who has been sent to Antarctica on an exploration expedition to determine how Coca Cola (her employer) will impact the environment if it takes from the melting ice in Antarctica to use in a new formula it is considering. She is there with 2 others, when they lose communication with their employer and the other 2 set off to find supplies and information. Thus, Laura is left alone and as time passes, her supplies run low, she continues to have no communication, and she has no idea when her 2 cohorts will return, if ever.

And.... I don't want to say more because how this all plays out is very interesting! Brockmeier has a lyrical writing style, with the ability to notice (have his readers notice) the interesting things happening around the characters, without losing sight of the characters and their development. The pace is not ... hasty. Rather, it is steady and almost calm. Yet, as the story progresses, the events become more urgent, and you continue turning the pages (well into bedtime) because you must know, as all the characters desire, what in the world(s) is happening!

It's a though-provoking piece, published nearly a decade ago, that brings up concerns of what is happening to the world around us and/or what COULD happen to the world around us if we're not more careful, without being preachy.  I would definitely recommend this to a patient reader looking for something a little strange, a little sci-fi, a little thoughtful.

FOUR of five stars

Friday, May 29, 2015

3 more minis: Dreams of Gods & Monsters, Ivy & Bean, The Green Turtle Mystery

Dreams of Gods and Monsters (library audio book)

A great conclusion to the trilogy! Taylor didn't dwell too much in teen-romance, and instead focused on the other very interesting aspects of her created mythology and the future of all the races. Though, of course, some of the romance is still in there, I felt it was well-handled and balanced.

Ivy & Bean (another kid's book for that project) (library book)

Really a great little kid's book -- the main characters are 7 and Bean's older sister is a horrible 11 ;)  I honestly wasn't expecting to be impressed at all, but I think this is a wonderful first book for a new reader. There are great pictures throughout to bring some life to the story, and the story actually moves and surprises a little. Happy that these books are available for young readers!

The Green Turtle Mystery

This is a 1940's children's mystery .. I believe it is the third in a "series" that definitely does not need to be read in order (I have read only this one). 12-year-old Djuna and his new friend Ben (also ~12), along with their new adult-friend, lazy but brilliant news reporter Socker Furlong, set out to figure out what's really going on in the haunted mansion on Carpenter street. This story has plucky, smart, but realistically scared and amazed 12-year old boys, a Lassie-resembling smart dog to help them with their mystery solving, a green turtle (of course), and a few extra characters to make it all quite interesting. Although I figured out the "mystery" rather early on, I think kids will find this just confusing enough, just mysterious enough, just scary enough to keep them interested until the end.

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.