Sunday, August 30, 2015

August Site Update

The previous seven reviews are now archived and cross-linked on the main site. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Moriarty (Anthony Horowitz)

(A Sherlock Holmes novel)
Anthony Horowitz
Mulholland Books
Fiction, Historical Fiction/Mystery
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: At Reichenbach Falls, detective Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, had a most fateful meeting, one that sent shockwaves through both law enforcement and criminal networks around the world. For one American, Pinkerton agency inspector Frederick Chase, the timing couldn't be worse. An American criminal mastermind named Clarence Devereux - every bit as powerful as Moriarty, if a good deal less scrupulous - had been about to meet the late professor to negotiate a pooling of resources. Devereux is already in London, and has already killed one Pinkerton agent who came too close, and Chase has no intention of losing the trail now - not with Moriarty's death creating a vacuum in European crime just made for a scoundrel like Devereux to fill. With the help of Scotland Yard detective Athelney Jones, who has devoted himself obsessively to studying the late Holmes's techniques, he sets out to bring the man to justice.

REVIEW: After Horowitz's impressive Holmes novel The House of Silk, I was eager to read this work. On the whole, it maintains the feel and style of that earlier book, creating a tangled mystery that might have baffled Sherlock himself in a London straight out of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works. Some characters from the great detective's career come into play. Athelney Jones himself was mentioned twice in Doyle's works, always as a bumbler overlooking obvious facts; here, he is shown to be a man determined never to come in second-best to Holmes again, even after the man's death, even adopting the detective's mannerisms. Chase tends to be the Watson of the pair, someone for Jones to impress and explain his observations to. The tale takes many twists, often bloody, on its way to the grand finale... and it is this finale, unfortunately, that dropped Moriarty in the ratings. I don't deal in spoilers, but I found the final reveal rather unsatisfying, not to mention frustrating. Aside from that, I considered it a decent read, but I preferred The House of Silk.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) - My Review
The House of Silk (Anthony Horowitz) - My Review
The Ruby in the Smoke (Philip Pullman) - My Review

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fairy (David Bouchard)

David Bouchard, illustrated by Dean Griffiths
Orca Book Publishers
Fiction, YA Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: A fairy who prefers her magic-powered motorcycle to fairy dust looks out for a modern street, dealing with children's wishes. When young Victoria loses her first tooth, a curmudgeonly father might keep the "Tooth Fairy" from showing up... but not if this fairy has any say about it!

REVIEW: I read this during down time at work, attracted by the unusual cover: a fairy in a trenchcoat astride a miniature Harley. A fun tweaking of fairies, the story follows a fairly predictable path, though the fairy's clever attitude (not to mention her use of magic to protect Victoria's innocent belief, and "persuade" Dad to continue the Tooth Fairy tradition) makes it fun. The illustrations add to the charm, with some hidden jokes adults might get more than kids. Not a bad little read, all in all.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Fairy Dreams (Carol McLean-Carr) - My Review
Fairy Foals (Suzanah) - My Review
The Woodland Folk in Dragonland (Tony Wolf) - My Review

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Deathstalker (Simon R. Green)

(The Deathstalker Saga, Book 1)
Simon R. Green
Fiction, Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Owen Deathstalker never wanted to be head of his Clan, once one of the most powerful in the vast interstellar human Empire. The inter-Family schemings, their dark perversions, the bloodlust only barely sated by the great Arena on Golgotha... none of it held any allure, and that was before his father was cut down in broad daylight by imperial forces. He bought himself a lordship on the most out-of-the-way agricultural world he could find, devoting himself to his history studies and his mistress. It seemed the best way to live a long life in the Empire.
It didn't work.
The increasingly-cruel, increasingly-paranoid Empress Lionstone XIV outlaws him seemingly on a whim. In a single moment, Owen loses everything: his title, his money, his so-called friends and allies... even his mistress, who informs him of the bounty on his head while attempting to kill him. Turning to the other Clans in the Empire would be worse than a mistake: they're too caught up in their own schemes and backstabbing and pretenses of loyalty to do anything but shoot the Deathstalker on sight. Aside from his trusty AI, Ozymandias, Owen is alone in the galaxy - but his late father left him plans, plans Owen now has no choice but to follow. Even if they take him to the Mistworld, lone bitter holdout of cutthroats and mercenaries and outlawed beings like clones, rebellious telepathic espers, and escaped genetic projects from the Empire's many laboratories.
Owen Deathstalker never meant to start a rebellion - especially not one with such inauspicious members as a failed clonelegger pirate, a washed-up legend, a half-machine Hadenman, and a bounty hunter who's as likely to shoot any one of them as their Imperial enemies - but it's his only choice if he wants to survive.

REVIEW: Clearly and admittedly inspired by Star Wars, this sweeping space opera starts quickly and maintains a high-octane pace through most of its length. The galaxy Green invents seems half-improvised, full of disruptor pistols and over-the-top courtly fashions and numerous disaffected races (many of unnatural origins) scrambling for survival, among other inventions - several of which start to feel like thinly-redressed tropes borrowed from other sci-fi franchises as the story goes on. This is a universe where interstellar hyperspace travel is commonplace, where the human genome can be unspooled and respun like so much silken thread, yet where the sword is still the favored weapon of the Families. It's the sort of leap of logic that requires a fair bit of belief suspension to accommodate. More often than not, it works... but Green overextends himself with so many different names and Families and secret identities and schemes, not to mention at least two distinct continuity hiccups. (And those were just the ones I caught - being a notoriously oblivious reader, I suspect there were others.) The narration also tends to rely on colloquial modern English, a little more strongly than simple "translation convention" (the agreement between author and reader, that allows for the story having been "translated" into English despite taking place in another time and world) can gloss over; Green's frequent use of "bloody", in the English curse-word context, in particular grew grating to this American reader who was trying to escape into a Far Fantastic Future. For that matter, there was a subtle sexist undertone that started wearing on me - though, given the George Lucas inspiration, I suppose that's to be expected. By the end, I was simply hanging on to finish the piece... and that ending felt decidedly inconclusive. Granted, this is simply the start of an eight-book series, but I'd hoped for a little more sense of a wrap-up, and the epilogue in particular felt forced. I enjoyed some of the spacefaring swashbuckling, and Green presents some nice images and ideas that wouldn't be out of place in the Star Wars galaxy far, far away, but overall I found there were just too many twists and conveniences to keep me hooked. (If I found Book 2 for free, though, I wouldn't rule out giving it a try. Parts of this one were really rather fun, despite its flaws.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Dune (Frank Herbert) - My Review
A Game of Thrones (George R. R. Martin) - My Review
Dragon Wing (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman) - My Review

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Eve and Adam (Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant)

Eve and Adam
Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant
Square Fish
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: The day Evening "E.V." Spiker was struck by a car was the day her life changed forever. It's not just the trauma of a crushed arm and severed leg (among other injuries) - it's what happened when her mother, Terra "Terror" Spiker, got her moved to a private room at the family pharmaceutical laboratory just outside of San Francisco. Everyone knows about the company's groundbreaking, life-saving work on diseases and vaccines, but few know what goes on deep within the gleaming complex. For one thing, Evening's leg heals remarkably - impossibly - fast. For another, there's a teen orderly, Solo, who's definitely hiding something behind his surfer-dude hair and inscrutable blue eyes. But the strangest secret may be hiding in the "game" her mother wants her to play to keep her occupied during her convalescence, a program to build the perfect human, from the DNA up. But it's all just virtual, not real cloning or genetic manipulation... isn't it?

REVIEW: The moral dilemmas of Frankenstein meet modern America in this fast-paced medical sci-fi tale. Evening struggles between the demands of her hard-nosed businesswoman mother and memories of her equally-stubborn artist father, cursed by a perfectionist streak in an inherently imperfect world. She lives vicariously through Aislin, her rough-edged BFF (currently dating a loser thug who gets her into one jam after another), who acts as an emotional compass when Evening finds herself lost in the unfamiliar terrain of her own heart. Solo, an angry young man whose life has also been permanently altered by his late parents' association with Spiker Pharmaceuticals, has spent years plotting revenge as he gathers evidence of the dirt hidden beneath the company's spotless facade... only to find his resolve tested when he realizes how many people, including Evening, could be hurt. The imperfect characters, each saddled with their own flaws, struggle to navigate in an increasingly complicated situation. Is it ever justified to play God? Are some prices simply too high to pay? Can the perfection never found in real life be achieved in a laboratory? Why is love, so unpredictable and irresistible - and how can it compel one to do and endure such horrible things? Evening and her companions face all of these questions, and more too, while dodging shady doctors and other threats. I clipped it a half-star because the ending felt a little weak and the villain a trifle flat, plus I felt more could've been done with the all-too-real creation Adam, but overall I enjoyed this one.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Kiln People (David Brin) - My Review
Stoneheart (Charlie Fletcher) - My Review
Frankenstein (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly) - My Review

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Lives of Tao (Wesley Chu)

The Lives of Tao
(The Tao series, Book 1)
Wesley Chu
Angry Robot
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Since their dying ship crashed on Earth in the age of dinosaurs, the gaseous Quasings have been forced to survive inside native animals, protected from the deadly atmosphere of this alien world. The nearly-immortal beings watched the first primates descend from the trees, learning to communicate with each other through their evolving bodies. Today, they influence politics and wars while working to construct a new ship to take them home... yet they still need host bodies to survive.
Tao, part of the rebellious Prophus group of Quasings, lost his last host in a deadly encounter with the Genjix, who have very different ideas of how to use (or, rather, abuse) the human race. With every minute exposed to Earth's atmosphere bringing him closer to death, and with Genjix agents still hunting him, he barely manages to latch onto a new host... Roen Tan, an overweight, underconfident cubicle jockey in a computer engineering firm. Tao's influence has forged (and destroyed) whole empires through generals and emperors, but Roen can't even jog a city block without winding himself. Unfortunately, once bonded to a host, a Quasing is stuck until the mortal's death releases them. Tao has no choice but to whip Roen into shape as a Prophus agent - and Roen soon learns he has no choice but to listen to the new voice in his head. Even if he wants no part in this secret alien civil war, Tao's enemies aren't through hunting for him, and to a Genjix agent, Roen's simply one more expendable meatbag.

REVIEW: For the most part, this is an entertaining story, with aliens, intrigue, action, spies, and some nice touches of humor and humanity along the way. Roen starts out as the kind of drifting underachiever many of us can relate to, stuck in a life he doesn't enjoy but unable to find the resolve or the passion to change things. Just as Tao's influence helps Roen build a life worth living, he faces the very real possibility of dying in an undercover civil war, one with ties to hidden Quasing influences around the world. At times, the story drifted, with long stretches between plot elements, and there were also things that seemed potentially important but were forgotten... possibly because there appears to be at least one more book in the works with the Quasings. A subtle sexist air lurks in the background, despite some competent female agents, though in all honesty (and at the risk of sounding sexist myself) the book really does seem more like a guy story, with the guns and the covert operations and such, so maybe it's to be expected. The climax shows both Tao and Roen just how much the former frustrated computer engineer has changed in both body and mind. On the whole, I found it enjoyable, even if it lacked that extra kick for a higher rating. I don't know that I'll go out of my way to read the sequel, though.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Visser (K. A. Applegate) - My Review
The X-Files: Fight the Future (Chris Carter) - My Review
Old Man's War (John Scalzi) - My Review

Sunday, August 9, 2015

An American Werewolf in Hoboken (Dakota Cassidy)

An American Werewolf in Hoboken
(The Wolf Mates series, Book 1)
Dakota Cassidy
Book Boutiques
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Ever since they defied the elders and harbored "defective" paranormals, victims of abuse and human experimentation, the Adams werewolf clan has been cursed: when a prophecy comes, the males of the line must find their life mates before the next full moon or die. Clan alpha Max never really wanted to believe that mumbo-jumbo, but his time has come at last. According to the clan mystic Eva and her ever-reliable bowl of chicken noodle soup, his life mate awaits in Hoboken. If he really is going to be tied down for the rest of his existence, Max figures he might as well enjoy his last days of freedom in wolf form. It was just his bad luck he didn't manage to change back before the city animal control officers cornered him and drug him to the pound... where he finds himself face-to-face with the woman who will be his mate: impossibly, a human woman, not a shifter.
Coming off a bad breakup, Hoboken hairdresser JC decides to give the dating scene a rest. She'll try filling the void in her life at the local animal shelter instead of the singles bar. Somehow, she finds herself standing in front of a cage holding the biggest, ugliest, filthiest dog she's ever laid eyes on, an animal so ill-tempered (and foul-smelling) he's due to be put down at the end of the day. JC's apartment's too small for a brute like that, and she really wanted a cat - but who could say no to those eyes?
Now Max has to balance life as JC's hunky new neighbor and life as "Fluffy," her monster-sized canine companion... and, somehow, convince a love-shy woman to not only believe in werewolves, but become his mate before midnight at the next full moon. Because, if the prophecy is true about his life mate, then the Adams clan curse is all too real.

REVIEW: An amusing twist on paranormal romances, this story contains humor and heat in nearly equal portions. Max in wolf form undergoes all manner of canine indignities and doggie dilemmas as Fluffy (his inner war/rationalization over eating JC's unattended T-bone steak versus the premium doggie kibble she so painstakingly selected for him at the pet store nearly had me laughing out loud), while JC struggles to reconcile her instant attraction to her new neighbor with her own bad luck picking men, not to mention her personal vow to stay off the market until she can think straight about romance. Cassidy builds a decent, if not especially deep, mythology behind her paranormals, and if there are a few holes in the story here and there, well, the steam level's high enough to obscure most of them. Speaking of steam, the sex scenes come early and fast (even if the characters don't), making the matter of JC accepting a life mate less about seduction and more about simply foregoing protection... save the whole not-freaking-out-that-her-boyfriend's-a-werewolf thing. For the humor alone, I came close to adding another half-star. By the end, though, some forced conveniences and forgotten threads, not to mention a somewhat rushed conclusion, managed to keep it down to a still-respectable Good rating. I might even spring for the second book in the series, if it's this much fun.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Pride's Run (Cat Kalen) - My Review
ExtraNormal (Suze Reese) - My Review
Blood for Wolves (Nicole Taft) - My Review

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
Project Gutenberg
Fiction, General Fiction/Romance
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Mrs. Bennet of Longbourn wants nothing more than to see her five daughters well married, preferably to men of higher social standing than her modestly-placed husband. But with the scant pickings around Meryton, and the eldest Jane in her mid-twenties with no prospects in sight, she despairs of them ever honoring her with sons-in-law, let alone grandchildren. Then a neighboring estate is purchased by Mr. Bingley, a wealthy (if impulsive) young man fortuitously unattached. He even brought a friend, the even wealthier and equally available Mr. Darcy. While Mrs. Bennet entertains hopes of him favoring Jane, the next-eldest Bennet sister, Elizabeth, finds herself on the wrong side of Mr. Darcy's aloof pride... and, unlike most society girls, Lizzy has never hesitated to match wits and words against a man. Thus begins one of literature's most celebrated relationships in Austen's classic novel of English manners.

REVIEW: This was not an easy book to read. Every sentence dances and turns intricately through labyrinths of meaning, requiring very close attention and occasionally rereading (especially with the differences in style and language between Austen's world and mine.) The majority of this tale is told in dense dialog thick with multiple layers of meaning and frequent social barbs; the rest is either deep turns through the gardens of characters' thoughts or relatively brief summaries. The social elite of Austen's England are a species apart from the average human, bent and trained by generations of custom into peculiar cultivars only vaguely resembling their uncultured relations... and even among themselves the lower ranks exist on an entirely different sphere than the higher, all of them obsessed with incomes and properties and relations and alliances. A single look (or lack thereof) can spark a scandal, a misspoken word might ruin a reputation, and emotions are so carefully guarded that Austen must flat-out say when Mr. Darcy takes a fancy to Elizabeth, else it would never have revealed itself. Courtship in this world is a matter of balls and large dinners, with the occasional turn in the garden or exchange of letters; one almost wonders how the aristocrats managed to breed, they were so restrained in matters of affection. The story itself is deeply steeped in the manners and morals of early 19th-century English society, which sometimes seemed as intriguingly alien as any science fiction invention. The obsession with marriage by the Bennet girls, belonging to a society where marriage was basically the only career path available outside church vows (making the pursuit of matrimony a career every bit as demanding as a college degree) is just one thing that set the characters' world well apart from my own experiences. The characters, particularly at the periphery, tended to exaggeration, not uncommon in older works I've read. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth seemed decently matched, as did the other pairings in the story. On the whole, though, the story meandered overlong through social convolutions for me to truly enjoy it.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Great Expectations (Charles Dickens) - My Review
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) - My Review