Monday, August 24, 2015

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Hundreds of years in the future, Earth is run by an artificial intelligence. Originally human, turned into an AI in a quest for immortality, Talis took advantage of access given to him by people at the UN and forced the people of Earth to stop fighting wars. First, he blew up cities to get their attention. Then he took the children of all the leaders – the Children of Peace – to hold hostage against their good behavior. If there is war, the children of the leaders die.

Greta, the narrator of Erin Bow’s book The Scorpion Rules, is one of those children. Canada is now the Pan Polar Confederacy, and she is the daughter of their Queen. If the Children make it to the age of 18, they are sent home and new hostages are taken. If their countries go to war, the Children disappear to some unspeakable end.

We see Greta and the other Children her age studying in their classroom and doing chores on the farm. The characters are not particularly well drawn or memorable. Greta takes great pride in maintaining calm and control. The new boy, Elian, does not. He takes pride in defiance and anger, no matter how he is punished. There is much punishment in this book, and torture. The torture is not graphic but it is extremely evocative, and I found it hard to read.

For the most part, the narrative engaged me. Despite my intense dislike of torture scenes, I did feel compelled to keep reading. I often enjoyed the author’s way with words, like in this passage: “Elian reached up and took one of my wrists, stopping the motion, looking me up and down. I’m sure he was trying for as a man looks at a woman, but it came off rather more as an engineer looks at a bridge pylon.” (p. 63 of the advance reader copy). At other times, the language was a bit overwrought ("I closed my fingers around the gun, and rose to my feet like the Lady of the Lake." (p. 173))

The ending of The Scorpion Rules surprised me, and the plot took a few turns I did not expect. There is a love triangle of sorts. Granted, it is an unusual triangle – a girl with feelings for a boy and a girl – but still, can’t we be done with love triangles? That aspect of the plot was so, so tired. Greta also develops strong feelings of some sort for Elian almost immediately – not quite insta-love, but insta-something.

Some cultural references fell flat, like a bad football joke and mentions of the Road Runner.  In his Utterances, Talis actually says, “Resistance is futile.” (p. 26). Also, some scenes were a little too reminiscent of The Hunger Games series. For example, Greta is to be tortured, with coverage sent to her mother by video. The producer, Burr, paces about checking camera angles and noting things on a clipboard. He wants the other Children nearby for reaction shots. This scene reminded me very strongly of The Hunger Games (as did the repeated use of the words “Tick Tock Clock Drop”). But I guess it is hard to write a dystopian teen novel and not be compared to The Hunger Games.

The Scorpion Rules is a first book in a series. It does not stand alone. This is a good thing if you really enjoy it and want more. The ending really left a lot of room for exploration in the next book. I would recommend The Scorpion Rules for readers of young adult literature who aren’t yet tired of dystopian works and also for questioning teens, as Greta is also questioning.

I read an advance reader copy of The Scorpion Rules. It is scheduled to be published on September 22 and will be available in the Young Adult section of the Galesburg Public Library.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones

Series: Charley Davidson #6
Genres: Humor, Paranormal, Adult
Release Date: May 20th, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Source: Bought

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Few things in life can come between a grim reaper and her coffee, but the sexy, sultry son of Satan is one of them. Now that Reyes Farrow has asked for her hand, Charley Davidson feels it's time to learn more about his past, but Reyes is reluctant to open up. When the official FBI file of his childhood abduction lands in her lap, Charley decides to go behind her mysterious beau’s back and conduct her own investigation. Because what could go wrong?

Unfortunately, another case has fallen into her lap—one with dangerous implications. Some very insistent men want Charley to hunt down a witness who is scheduled to testify against their boss, a major player in the local crime syndicate. If Charley doesn't come up with an address in 48 hours, the people closest to her will start to disappear. 

Add to that a desperate man in search of the soul he lost in a card game, a dogged mother determined to find the ghost of her son, and a beautiful, young Deaf boy haunted by his new ability to see the departed as clearly as he sees the living, and Charley has her hands full. The fact that Reyes has caught on to her latest venture only adds fuel to the inferno that he is. Good thing for Charley she's used to multi-tasking and always up for a challenge…especially when that challenge comes in the form of Reyes Farrow.
Sixth Grave on The Edge was an anticipated sequel yet after finishing it, I felt very mediocre about it. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy being reacquainted with these characters, it’s just that something seemed to be missing.

A spark it would seem. At first, I wondered if I was just losing my interest but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like something else.

I think it's that the mystery in this book wasn't compelling. There didn't seem to be much at stake and I feel like this book was setting us up for future instalments. Sixth Grave on the Edge doesn’t stick out in any major way especially since the stakes were so much higher in Fifth Grave Past the Light and there was SO MUCH MORE tension.

The most memorable thing about this book for me was the new developments in Ubie and Cookie’s relationship (and boy was I waiting for that to happen!) This book also featured new developments in Reyes  and Charley’s relationship which made me happy! They are such a fun couple and have such an amazing relationship. I cannot help but smile every time the two are in the same room. They have amazing chemistry and I LOVE their banter.

The plot was what made this book mediocre. I will never get tired of Charley’s wittiness, her relationships with those around her and watching her develop as a character but that isn’t just what makes this series amazing. Jones always gives a great mystery to read so the mediocrity of the plot in this book was a disappointment. There was too much happening and not enough. We got little hints that were part of a bigger picture but no real glimpse of things on a larger scale.

There were some lackluster parts to this book but I am just going to forget about them and move on to the next book because some of the developments in this book have me excited to read the future instalments (and lucky me because I get to read 2 more before I am all caught up!)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg

Genres: Short Stories, Humor
Release Date: September 8th, 2015
Publisher: Grove Press
Source: ARC via BEA 2015

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Taking its title from a group of stories that begin the book, Bream Gives Me Hiccups moves from contemporary L.A. to the dormrooms of an American college to ancient Pompeii, throwing the reader into a universe of social misfits, reimagined scenes from history, and ridiculous overreactions. In one piece, a tense email exchange between a young man and his girlfriend is taken over by the man’s sister, who is obsessed with the Bosnian genocide (The situation reminds me of a little historical blip called the Karadordevo agreement); in another, a college freshman forced to live with a roommate is stunned when one of her ramen packets goes missing (she didn’t have “one” of my ramens. She had a chicken ramen); in another piece, Alexander Graham Bell has teething problems with his invention (I’ve been calling Mabel all day, she doesn’t pick up! Yes, of course I dialed the right number – 2!).
Bream Gives me Hiccups is like most story collections in that there will always be some stories that won’t work for you and some that will. But one of my major issues with this book is that I cannot pinpoint what  connects these stories together. Sure they have many things in common but I cannot find something that sticks out to me and makes me go “OMG, WOW, I LOVE THIS.”  I think that if the web that connected the stories were more obvious to me, I would have enjoyed the collection a whole lot more.

That said I had a lot of fun reading Bream Gives me Hiccups. At times, it was just laugh out loud funny and sometimes really bizarre but still addicting and hard to put down. I enjoyed being in the minds of many of Eisenberg’s characters (even when they made me cringe.) Also the fact that these stories are told in the form of jokes, diary entries, reviews and more really made them interesting to read.

There were some stories that didn’t work for me though just because the characters made me uncomfortable and in two of the stories, I felt as though something I believe in was being mocked. Sometimes Eisenberg seemed to be walking (or rather writing) between this thin line where I wasn’t sure whether he was trying to point out issues or just mock them and I’d just come out feeling very awkward and uncomfortable.

But maybe that’s just me and not the book.

Either way, I’d say that this book is a fun way to pass the time and won’t fail to crack you up, even if you struggle to find something that draws the stories together to make them meaningful.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

The debut fantasy Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho surprised and delighted me. It is set in our own world, in the time of Napoleon. It reminded me a bit of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series (without the Dragon Corps). There is a border between the human world and Fairy, from which great sorcerers in the past have been able to call familiars.

The two main characters are both people of color. Zacharias Wythe is now the Sorcerer Royal, an unlikely occupation for an African former slave. His mentor Sir Stephen purchased him when he was a child, noting a potential for magic. (Sir Stephen did not, however, see fit to purchase his parents at the same time.) There is much prejudice against and distrust of Zacharias because of the color of his skin and his background. Unfounded rumors that Zacharias murdered his mentor are spread. Several times while reading Sorcerer to the Crown I thought of Barack Obama and the prejudice and persistent rumors he has faced as President of the United States.

Prunella Gentlemen is the daughter of an English gentlemen and an unknown mother from India. She has been helping Mrs. Daubney run a magic school for girls. The point of the school is, of course, to keep the girls from using magic, since everyone knows girls are not fit to use magic. Prunella, however, is especially magical, and Mrs. Daubney hasn’t mind when Prunella used her magic to benefit the school. But when an unfortunate incident embarrasses Mrs. Daubney, she orders Prunella to conduct herself in accordance with her station, to stop mixing with the young ladies at the school and to start taking her meals in the kitchen with the servants. 

Zacharias and Prunella must work together and learn to trust each other as they navigate perils and politics. I liked reading about two powerful people of color dealing with prejudice while the entitled people around them are clueless as to how insulting their attitudes are. The author did a good job of world building. I enjoyed the historical fiction aspect and didn’t mind the politics. Zacharias and Prunella are interesting and imperfect, and some plot twists took me by surprise. There is romance, but it is subtle and charming.

The writing in the first part of the book seemed much more mature and polished than the chapters toward the end. Maybe the author rewrote the first chapters of the book more times, or an editor spent more time on them. I wasn’t exactly disappointed in the ending but did feel the quality of the writing dropped off a bit. Still, I recommend Sorcerer to the Crown to fans of historical and adventure based fantasy.

I read an advance reader copy of Sorcerer to the Crown. It is scheduled to be published on September 1, 2015. It will be available in the Galesburg Public Library's new fiction area and as an ebook.

Taming the Forest King by Claudia J. Edwards

Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Adult
Release Date: December 1st, 1986
Publisher: Walker Books
Source: Bought

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The distant Forest Province had been torn apart by corruption and rebellion. On the direct orders of her king, Tevra, Colonel of the Light Cavalry, arrives in this strange land with instructions to restore order - at swordpoint, if need be.

Yet no steel blade can hold sway in a realm where shapes of death can be fashioned from the still of the air. And even the most ungodly works of the sorcerers pale before the mysterious powers of the Forest King himself - but is he Tevra's ally, or her deadliest foe?
 

Once in a while, you might get the urge to pick up a book that is decades old. That is how I felt when I decided to pick up this delicious fantasy from the 80’s on a friend’s recommendation (after waiting over a year to find and purchase a copy!). I read the blurb and had thought I would love this book but had no idea just how much until I finished the book. I ended up spending all night reading this book and didn’t regret it one bit. This is not a book to be devoured but rather cherished and I cherished every minute spent reading it.

One of my favorite things about this book (unsurprisingly) is the fact that we get to see a woman in the position of power. Our main character happens to be a colonel and a very trusted one. She has worked hard to get to that position and you can see how much she deserves it. Tevra is a formidable character and I had so much fun being in her brain. I loved her strength and her ability to keep her head straight. Certain things might escape her notice but she was so professional and I LOVED it. What I also adored was her relationship with a certain Hetwith.

I will say that if you are one to enjoy fantasy aspects more than relationships this book may not be for you. I think a lot of this book is about Tevra and her growth and her relationships with people around her. It’s not that there aren’t fantastical elements to the novel (I mean, it is a fantasy) or that they aren’t well developed or even that they aren’t of importance. It’s just that this book is more about Tevra’s personal journey rather than it is about all the adventures in this fantastical world (although there are some adventures so don’t feel disappointed!)


I had so much fun reading this book and watching Tevra develop over the course and the first thing I did the morning after I had finished this book was re-reading my favorite bits. I think I’ve done a lot of that in the past several days just because of how much I enjoyed this book. It’s definitely up there with some of my favorite fantasy reads and I definitely want to find time to re-read the book in the future.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Space Taxi: Archie Takes Flight by Wendy Maas, Michael Brawer & Elise Gravel

Series: Space Taxi #1
Genres: Science Fiction, Adventure, Chapter Book
Release Date: April 1st, 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Finished Copy from BEA

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Archie Morningstar learns a big family secret and helps save the universe. All before breakfast! 

It's not every day a regular kid like Archie gets to wake up at midnight. But today is Take Your Kid to Work Day, and Archie is finally allowed to ride along in his dad's taxi cab. He has been waiting eight years, eight months, and eight days for this moment to arrive.

But he's about to discover his dad is no ordinary cab driver...In fact, he drives an intergalactic space taxi! All night long, he shuttles aliens from one corner of the universe to another. And being a space taxi copilot is no easy task: Archie must steer them into wormholes, keep them from crashing into planets, deal with a very unusual cat...and save the universe from an evil mastermind!

Occasionally, I will pick up a book that I have never heard of because I like the cover and the title. That’s what I did with this book and look where it got me? SUCKED INTO YET ANOTHER SERIES. Curse all the cute kid books. They’re always sucking me in with their adorableness and I am left to deal with the consequences.

Reasons to read this book

  • It features a talking alien cat nicknamed Pockets. This reminds me of that time when I was in third grade and wrote a story about an alien family whose dog started talking (but that’s beside the point.)
  • Archie is 8 years 8 months 8 days old and his life is about to change. He is going to find out that his dad is not just any taxi driver; his dad is a space taxi driver. His dad travels across galaxies (and gets to use wormholes) to pick up his customers.
  • An adorable father son relationship
  • Aliens, outerspace, crime fighting cats!!!!!!
  • Also cuteness.

I need to get my hands on book 2 soon...

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Herbie's Game by Timothy Hallinan

Posted for reader Norm:

This is the fifth entry in a series featuring Junior Bender, and the first one I've read, though I plan to read more by this author. It is set in Los Angeles, and Junior is not a cop or a private investigator, but a professional burglar. The gimmick is that he has become something like a private investigator for underworld types, and in this book he is investigating first a murder, and then related murders.

There are a number of series that center on a private investigator type and his circle of contacts, and this is one of them. There is a girlfriend, a cop, and lots of underworld types Junior knows, including his mentor in burglary. It is also usual for such series to have a comic element. This one is different for several reasons. One is the ingenuity of the plot; this one centers around a man who arranges contract killings, protecting himself through using a number of cutouts, only a failing memory caused him to write their names down, and someone has stolen the list, which he wants Junior to get back. It gets more complicated from there.

A second difference is how well Hallinan creates his version of LA and its underworld. A third is the quality of the writing. Herbie’s mentor, whose murder Junior ends up having to solve in this book, tells him on the first page that they are like Robin Hood:

            “How do we give to the poor?” I asked.
            “I said we were like Robin Hood, not a slavish imitation of Robin Hood.”
            “So we’re sort of like Robin Hood,” I said.
            “Yeah,” Herbie said. “If you squint.”

This also leads to what is to me the most remarkable thing about the book. Junior knows and is on what passes for friendly terms with a lot of crooks, including Herbie, and it is easy to fall into the feeling in series like this that the people we have been introduced to are really good guys in disguise, but that doesn’t happen here. We are not allowed to forget that there are really bad things about these people, friendly or not, and Junior discovers that even Herbie has done things that Junior would really rather not know about. This is a good book in a whole lot of different ways.

 - Reader Norm, August 1, 2015