Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mayday Book Review

Title: Mayday
Author: Jonathan Friesen
Publisher: Speak
Publication Date: April 10, 2014
ISBN-13:

320 pp.

ARC provided by author

The premise for Jonathan Friesen's Mayday is pretty intriguing. Eighteen-year-old Crow tries to protect her sister Addy, but ends up in a coma. During that coma, she has the chance to go on a "walkabout," an opportunity to go back in the past and change things. Except she doesn't go back as herself. She goes back in a loaner body known as Shane. The first time Crow goes back, Shane is a 13 year old girl, the second time, Shane is a 19 year old guy. Shane is able to interact with Crow and begins to see situations and people in new ways.

Intriguing, right?

Except the execution wasn't quite there for me. The first time Crow goes back as Shane, there is a slow burn of a reveal about what happened to Addy, but it was pretty heavily foreshadowed and not much of a surprise.

The second time Crow goes back as Shane, what's supposed to happen to Addy is never made entirely clear, though one could guess, but there's not the urgency of stakes as in the first walkabout. Certainly nothing that really warrants Crow ending up in a coma. And there's a lot of backstory in Crow's life leading up to the coma that is never fully explained, either.

I didn't mind Crow ending up in a guy's body. It raised some interesting questions and brought some humor to the story. But male Shane's involvement in Crow's life is way too convenient and strains credulity. Especially since the way that Shane's presence is explained is that someone thinks Shane is really an angel. Wha...?

And I have to mention Sadie, Crow's guide while on walkabout. Sadie is every Mammy stereotype turned into the wise, black spiritual figure. It's obvious the author wants Sadie to impart profound insight, but she's too much of a caricature rather than a character. Where are the editors to stop this sort of thing? *sigh*

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Just Don't

I've written before about stop words, those words which are so common we don't notice them.  These words can clog up your story and they're insidious because you don't realize they're there. There's a bunch of them, including "really," "very," and "even."

But the worst is "just."

I was reading an ARC recently and there was a "just" on almost every page. One page had six ... Six!

Since it was an ARC, I hope that these were caught by the author, the editor, or the copy editor before the book hit publication.

But overuse of "just" is not that unusual. I've seen published books with too many just's. "Just," for some reason, seems to be invisible.

I don't know why that is. It just is. *sigh*

So I am asking, pleading, beseeching, begging that you writers out there take responsibility for your just's. Use the word search function. Chances are you can cut 90% of them. Chances are you can substitute "only," "merely," or "simply" for another 9%.

I'll let you have a few because there are times when "just" actually works. But it's way less than you think it is.

Because even though you may not see all your just-abuse, your reader does.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore Audiobook Review

Title: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Narrated by: Ari Fliakos
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: February 26, 2013

Listening copy via local library

I know I'm not the first to call this a mash-up of Umberto Eco and Doug Coupland because that's exactly what Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is.

It's a mystery about manuscripts and codes, it's a humorous social commentary on Silicon Valley, it's Old World technology meets New Media crowdsourcing. It's a delightful journey on all these levels.

It starts with Clay, a victim of Silicon Valley lay-offs, who finds a job working at a quirky bookstore in San Francisco. What's even more interesting than the odd books are the odd customers, people who come in all hours of day and borrow the books rather than purchase them.

Clay gets his friends to help him figure out the mystery of bookstore, which uncovers a secret world of codes and codex, and maybe even the secret to immortality.

Narrated ably by Ari Fliakos, Clay and the various other oddball characters are believable, charming, and fun.

I'd recommend to readers who enjoyed Ready Player One by Ernest Cline or The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore Book Trailer:


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Days of Blood & Starlight Book Review

Title: Days of Blood & Starlight
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 6, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0316133975

528 pp.

Reading copy via public library

I didn't do a review for the first book in this series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which introduces the reader to Karou. Karou is an art student in Prague. She has blue hair and portfolios full of drawings of monsters. Not that out of the ordinary for an art student. Except Karou's hair really is blue and the monsters are her family.

Laini Taylor establishes some first-class worldbuilding with the first book on how Karou's family of monsters are chimera, creatures from another world, locked in a interminable battle with the seraphim, who are angel-like in appearance only.

Karou finds herself attracted to Akiva, a soldier in the seraphim army, as the portal between their worlds is discovered.

So go and read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I'll wait.

Wow, that was fast. It's that good, right?

Days of Blood and Starlight picks up right where the first books ends. Karou is trying to save the chimera army and Akiva is forced to fight for the seraphim side. I don't want to get all spoilery, so I'm not going to discuss the plot.

In addition to the exquisite worldbuilding, it's the characters who make this series so addictive. Karou is smart, but vulnerable, and achingly human. Akiva is anguished by the war, but despite the odds, hopeful.

And the supporting characters are brilliant, too. Karou's friend Zusana brings much needed comic relief and a dose of reality. The chimera general, Thiago, is downright chilling. Other characters, even throwaway ones, are given personality and depth.

This middle volume does not disappoint, as middle volumes often do. It continues the storyline of the first while raising the stakes and leaving you gasping for the final volume, Dreams of Gods and Monsters.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rotters Audiobook Review

Title: Rotters
Author: Daniel Kraus
Narrated by: Kirby Heyborne
Publisher: Listening Library
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0449014950

Listening copy via Sync

I know it's past Halloween, but seriously, Rotters by Daniel Kraus is pretty much the perfect Halloween read (or in this case, listen).

Joey Crouch lives in Chicago with his mom. He's somewhere on the autistic spectrum, he's probably a little too dependent on his mom, and they live a somewhat isolated life. But he's got one good friend and he's got his trumpet and life is fairly normal for Joey.

Then his mom dies.

Joey is shipped off to a small town in Iowa to live with his dad, a man he's never met or given much thought to. Ken Harnett is known to the locals as "The Garbageman" and the squalid living conditions Joey now calls home seems to validate that name.

Except what his dad really does is so much worse than anything Joey could ever imagine. Harnett is a Digger, a graverobber, part of a secret brotherhood of Diggers, a world that Joey finds himself joining. Because in this world, he isn't bullied by the local jocks or sadistic teachers. In this world, there's beauty in the macabre. In this world, he is the heir apparent.

Kirby Heyborne does a sublime job narrating the stomach-churning passages, not just of the decomposing bodies, but of the many humiliations that Joey's bullies inflict upon him.

Joey's narration, given his autism, is often flat, and it was a bit off-putting at first. But then I understood more about Joey and I was okay with it. Harnett's gravelly narration sounds a lot like Batman, but I got used to that, too.

Other characters, especially the variety of Diggers, are distinctive and colorful.

Joey's story is a deeply twisted coming-of-age and not for everyone. But for those looking for a good shudder, I highly recommend it.

Rotters by Daniel Kraus Book Trailer:


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