Monday, January 16, 2017

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

From the publisher: Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first. Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again? Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

Galaxy Quest meets Cinderella in this delightful homage to fandoms and fans.  The author has done a fine and believable job of creating a fandom that doesn’t exist that can serve as any fandom that the reader loves. Darien and Elle take turns narrating, and I felt that they had distinct voices.  I enjoyed the personalities of many of the side characters as well. A neglected Dachshund adds comic relief and heart to the story.

On the diversity plus side, the story includes a teen same sex romance, and Darien is a person of color.  (In fact, much is made of the important role the original Carmindor played in breaking acting stereotypes for people of color, and what a relief it is that the actor playing the role in the reboot is also a person of color.)

Although Geekerella is about a fictional fandom, there are plenty of obvious and subtle references to real fandoms, of the kind that real fans actually make (like "Have fun storming the castle!"  and my favorite, "This day, we fight." 💗). I'm sure I didn't even get all of them, but I got enough.

Geekerella would probably have benefitted from being a little less faithful to the tale of Cinderella. Because it adheres so closely to the story for much of the book, the plot is predictable. The evil stepmother is just a little too evil. But there are plot twists, and I especially enjoyed the scene in which a desperate Elle tries to get ready to enter the cosplay contest with the help of many other con attendees.

This is a sweet story that might bring a smile and a sigh to anyone who has ever felt alone or like they didn't fit in, and it ends the way we want it to – happily ever after. Although it’s aimed at the young adult market, I highly recommend it for all geeks, nerds, dorks, and other fans of fandoms who’d enjoy a young love romance that is also a love letter to us all.

I read an advance reader copy of Geekerella. It will be available for checkout in April 2017.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Just One Damned Thing After Another, by Jodi Taylor

"History is just one damned thing after another" -Arnold Toynbee

  This book, first in a series by Jodi Taylor, introduces us to Madeleine Maxwell, known as Max.  Max is a professor of history from Thirsk University and receives the offer of a lifetime for an historian, the chance to "investigate major historical events in contemporary time," as its described at St Marys Institute of Historical Research.  So begins Max's adventure through history, studying events both great and small from a very close viewpoint.
  I have to enthusiastically recommend this series for anyone who enjoys history and science fiction.  Jodi is an entrancing story teller, and her characters are vibrant and attention grabbing from the start.  The story unfolds from Max's viewpoint, and her struggles with her inner demons are just as engaging as the many moments of hilarity and frivolity as she and her coworkers move through history.  The only issue I have with the series is how quickly I ran through the books available here, now I'll have to either wait patiently for more, or engage in a more directed search myself.
  As a warning, Jodi is not shy about showing relationships with an unabashed earthiness, and her descriptions of death and injury pull no punches either.  If that warning doesn't scare you off, I would be willing to bet that this series will grab your attention.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

From the publisher: When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from other witches. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older bone witch who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training. In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha - one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

The Bone Witch is beautifully written, with lovely passages and good world building. I was able to clearly visualize the world and its inhabitants. The narrative alternates between two points in time. In the first, Tea (pronounced Tey-uh), surrounded by teachers, fellow students, and her asha family, is learning what she needs to know to be a powerful and effective wielder of magic. In the second, she is alone and in a dark place, telling her story to an interested bard and preparing for action. The novel opens strong and the cover is gorgeous.

However, the pace of The Bone Witch is glacial. Glaaacial. And the slow pace is not spent developing character. Despite the slow pace, I never felt I got to know Tea; her dead brother Fox was the most interesting part of the book. We also don't see any action to explain how Tea went from the first place, surrounded by friends and family, to that place of solitude until late in the book. We do see her undergo training in dance, voice, martial arts, how to wear her special asha clothing and jewelry, etc. Oh, and a little bit about raising the dead.

The narrative is relentlessly joyless, yet I was compelled to keep reading.  Big questions are left unanswered, and I am intrigued enough that I will plan to read the sequel.

Although much in this book feels original, sometimes the author does wander into cliché territory (from p. 202 of the advance reader copy: "Don't worry your pretty head over it, my dear," the old man said kindly”).

I give The Bone Witch points for a transgender character, a boy who knows he won't survive as a soldier and dreams of being the first male asha instead.

This book will find its reader, but many others will stop reading long before the end. You might be that reader however, so watch for the book at the Galesburg Public Library in March if you are intrigued.

I read an advance reader copy of The Bone Witch.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Crosstalk by Connie Willis

From the publisher: In the not-too-distant future, a simple outpatient procedure to increase empathy between romantic partners has become all the rage. And Briddey Flannigan is delighted when her boyfriend, Trent, suggests undergoing the operation prior to a marriage proposal—to enjoy better emotional connection and a perfect relationship with complete communication and understanding. But things don’t quite work out as planned, and Briddey finds herself connected to someone else entirely—in a way far beyond what she signed up for. It is almost more than she can handle—especially when the stress of managing her all-too-eager-to-communicate-at-all-times family is already burdening her brain. But that’s only the beginning. As things go from bad to worse, she begins to see the dark side of too much information, and to realize that love—and communication—are far more complicated than she ever imagined.

Crosstalk is the best book I’ve read in some time! Not perfect – I give it 4.5 stars – but I was totally engrossed and entertained. I enjoyed the Alice in Wonderland quotes that are scattered throughout at the beginning of chapters (including one of my favorite passages, “this is the driest thing I know”). The book is pro reading and pro library and a ton of fun. I saw major plot twists coming but that didn’t stop me from enjoying them when they were revealed. While thoughtful about over-communication in this age of social media and technology, Crosstalk is not deep thinker science fiction; it’s a sci-fi romantic screwball comedy. Recommended for anyone who enjoys a romantic romp with a likable heroine and hero. Also recommended for readers who like to think the Irish have something special that others don’t have.

The Galesburg Public Library owns Crosstalk and other books by Connie Willis.