Friday, February 24, 2017

Old Man's War~John Scalzi | Review

Title: Old Man's War (Old Man's War #1)
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 316 Pages
Release: January 2005

This book has been on my TBR for a couple of years now. I've heard so many great things about it from bloggers, youtubers, friends, and I knew I wanted to read it myself. Science Fiction is a genre that I've been wanting to read more widely, and this seemed like the perfect place to start. I was very excited to get started. 

At first this book was great. I found the concept fascinating. We're sending old people to war! They become young again (maybe), but still. It was vastly different from the novels that are recruiting the very young to be their soldiers. So the beginning was very promising, we meet John who is heading into space to join the military, and through him are introduced to a nice group of fellow "Old Farts." But that's when things started to fall apart for me. 

All of the characters had great introductions and I could see myself becoming very attached to them. Then nothing was done with them. There was little character development, really not that much of a plot, and the entire story kind of plodded along. I was expecting something more from this. 

The various characters, alien races, and technology were fascinating to think about, the story just never took things to the next level to make them relatable or great. It felt more like a detached observation of a man's life as he starts something new. Even the moments that should have been emotionally charged felt empty. 

Part of the issue could have been the age of the characters. While it was an interesting idea to have an army of 75-year-olds, Scalzi might have felt that he couldn't have them go through the trials that a younger person would have faced, since they, presumably, had already learned those lessons. But having a cast of characters that were too mature and too set in their ways made the story very dry and hard to relate with. 

This was one of my most anticiapted planned reads for the year, so I am disappointed to say that I did not enjoy it. I would like to give John Scalzi another chance, but I don't think I will be delving back into the Old Man's War series. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Book of Dragons~E Nesbit | Review

Title: The Book of Dragons
Author: E Nesbit
Genre: Children's Fantasy
Length: 112 Pages (5 Hours Audio)
Release: 1900
Narrator: Karen Krause

I was provided this audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator in exchange for an unbiased review via Audiobook Boom.

This book was really hard for me to connect with. It's a collection of short stories that all focus around dragons in some way, with many princes and princesses throughout. 

I was very intrigued by many of the ideas presented in the stories, but the stories themselves never really resonated with me. The worlds were not very well developed or described, at times it felt like the narrator was talking in cirlces in order to make the reader forget what answers they were looking for. This was particularly true where world building was concerned. 

The characters in the stories were not particularly likable. There was a lot of instalove between young princes and princesses, each princess was portrayed as silly and brainless, and the boys weren't much better. There was definitely a lot more tell than show throughout. And a lot of violence that would randomly just pop up, be resolved, and no one cared. 

This review is somewhat scattered, but it was difficult for me to find specific things to pinpoint as far as likes and dislikes. There were interesting ideas, some fun scenes, but overall it wasn't something I could connect with. 

While these stories were written for children, they don't seem like stories that would appeal to most of the children that I know. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Treasured Dreams~Susan Hatler | Review

Title: Treasured Dreams, A Short Story Collection
Author: Susan Hatler
Genre: Contemporary/Romance
Length: 112 Pages
Release: May 2016

Ocasionally I decide that I want to read something that's sappy and cute. Susan Hatler's stories are usually perfect for that. They have some deeper elements that keep them interesting, but always have a focus on romance. And the best part about them is that they are clean. Just the kind of romance I enjoy, when I read the genre. 

Treasured Dreams is a collection of short stories that focus around one central character, Holly, and her life in the mountain town she fell in love with as a child. The first story is about Holly meeting Dave and going on a date. The story continues from there, highlighting various points in Holly and Dave's relationship. 

There really isn't a lot to say about this collection other than it's cute and sweet. If you enjoy clean romances with likable characters, this is a collection for you. It's short, quick to read, and a good book when you need something to cheer you up. Which is generally what I think of all Susan Hatler's work. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

City of Thieves~David Benioff | Review

Title: City of Thieves
Author: David Benioff
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 258 Pages (Hardcover)
Release: May 2008

This is a hard book for me to talk about. Did I love it or hate it? It's a little of both. I am glad that I read it, but at the same time I kind of wish I hadn't. I don't know that I have ever read a book that had me conflicted in quite the same way. 

At first I found the narrative style a little off putting, but once I got a few chapters in that started to bother me less. It worked for this story. 

One thing that I really enjoyed about the book was how honest it was. Lev and Kolya were young guys trying to live in a war torn country. Something as mundane as finding a dozen eggs suddenly becomes a life or death mission. It sounds silly, but it worked. This, more than anything, showed the time and happenings better than anything. I also really enjoyed the progression of Lev and Kolya's friendship. You could tell that they genuinely came to care for each other in ways that they hadn't for others, at least not in a long time. Kolya thought of Lev as a younger brother, someone who needed taking care of and that worked really well. 

There are some dark themes explored in this book, as there are in war stories, and it doesn't tread lightly. You see the horror that the everyday citizens face, that the soldiers face. And while I appreciated that, I still wasn't ever really able to connect. The entire time I was reading I felt very detached. I'm not sure if it was the writing style, the overabundane sexual references (which served a purpose, but were used too much for my liking), or something else entirely. 

I can see how people would love this story and I wish that I had been able to connect with it more. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Promise of Blood~Brian McClellan | Review

Title: Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage #1)
Author: Brian McClellan
Genre: High Fantasy
Length: 545 Pages (Hardcover)
Release: April 2013

Brian McClellan has created an intriguing world full of intersting and varied characters in his Powder Mage world. It has an interesting and complex, but not overly complicated, magic system and some great action scenes. I very much enjoyed this first book in the trilogy, but did not love it. 

The characters, while interesting and varied, were also somewhat lacking. Their are three main viewpoints in the novel: Tamas, the Powder Mage who overthrows the kingdom, Taniel, Tamas's son and a skilled Powder Mage, and Adamat, a police officer-turned-private-investigator. We get a few other perspectives thrown in here and there, but the bulk of the story and main action happen through the eyes of these three. Taniel was definitely my favorite to follow. His portions often had the most humor, were fairly action packed, and had Ka-Poel, one of my favorite secondary characters. Tamas and Adamat were both likable, and I found their portions enjoyable, but as characters they weren't as well rounded as Taniel in many ways. Perhaps because they were older and we don't see or hear about as many of their mistakes. 

So while I really like the characters, I do think they could all use something more that would help me to connect with them. They were introduced well, tapered off somewhat in the middle, and by the end I was more invested again. I am hoping that means that each of them will continue to improve going into the next book. 

My main issue with the book was not the characters, however. The world building was where I found this most lacking. The magic system, while interesting as previously mentioned, took a while to really be explained. It consists of three main types of magic users: the Knacked, the Marked, and the Priviledged, with the Priviledged weilding the most power. This was all introduced in a jumble and took a while for me to sort out in my head. Once I did, I really enjoyed it. The rest of the world could also use some work. Stories involving politics are generally intersting to me, but the relationships between various kingdoms was vague. The same applies to the gods that are mentioned and introduced in here. Incorporating more of the history of Adro and the gods would have made some of this clearer. 

While I did have some issues with this story, I very much enjoyed it. This is the type of fantasy that I typically enjoy most and McClellan's style seemed to improve as the book progressed. I am hopeful that the rest of the trilogy will continue to improve. The ending to this was very exciting and left plenty of open questions that I am eager to have answered in the next installment. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Weapons of Math Destruction~Cathy O'Neil | Review

Title: Weapons of Math Destruction
Author: Cathy O'Neil
Genre: Nonfiction
Length: 272 Pages
Release: September 2016

I received a copy of this book through Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

This book was not exactly what I was expecting, and I think that had a negative impact on how much I took away from it. The beginning was really promising, but it never really delivered on what it promised. 

With Cathy O'Neil's background in math, I expected to get more information on the algorithms in the various models she was exploring and actual statistics. Obviously she doesn't have all of the numbers and can't access information from big companies and organizations, but I still expected more on the math side of things. An exploration of how the big data is really being used. In some ways that was presented, but it never delved very deeply below the surface. 

For someone unfamiliar with the topics being discussed, who agrees with O'Neil's political stance on many of the issues outlined, this might be more informative. It made me think and gave me some new things to consider, but didn't really shed that much light on topics with which I am unfamiliar. The style of writing was also rather slow and the information somewhat scattered. O'Neil never clearly stated a viable solution to the problems the world is facing with big data. 

This was an interesting read in a lot of ways, but not what I expected.   

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Code Red~Janie Chodosh | Review

Title: Code Red (Faith Flores Science Mysteries #2)
Author: Janie Chodosh
Genre: Young Adult Mystery
Length: 250 Pages
Release: February 2017

I receivevd a copy of this novel from the author. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

In this second installment in the Faith Flores series, Faith continues to use science to solve the mysteries that others have written off. She's observant, eager to learn, and ready to face a challenge. 

In Code Red Faith is away from home for an internship when a girl she meets at a party dies of a drug overdose. When Faith gets dragged into the middle of the events, she can't let it go. A newly found relative was also drugged and things have gotten personal, so Faith uses the skills she's learning through her internship to run her own investigation. 

This follow-up to Death Spiral is not nearly as dark as that first book, which make parts of it easier to read and more enjoyable. But it also loses some of the intimacy of the first book, since the investigation is not as closely tied to Faith as her mother's death was. Still, the lighter tone helps this one be more accessible to a wider audience of readers. 

The family dynamic in this novel, while not quite what I was hoping for, was very interesting. I wanted more Aunt T--the aunt who took Faith in when her mother died--but instead we find out more about Faith's father and the side of the family she knew nothing about. While I thought that some more explanation about Faith's parents would have been nice, it was good to see Faith opening up to a new set of people and learning how to be part of something bigger than just a duo. 

Janie Chodosh has done an excellent job of making this series both science centered and understandable. Everything seems plausible and it only requires very basic knowledge of science to follow this aspect of the story. It doesn't get overly technical but it also doesn't completely gloss over everything concerning GMOs and genetically altering plants and what people can do with this. I particularly liked that it gave two views on genetically modified organisms and had Faith feeling conflicted--both sides contained logic and both sides believed their arguments. 

There are a few things I was not particularly happy about with this. One of them is Faith herself. A majority of the time she didn't feel like the same character from Death Spiral. I know several months have passed, giving her time to change, but it felt too drastic. She was too open with people, too friendly. It didn't feel like the Faith I came to know in book one. 

I was also very disappointed with the romance aspect of the novel. And unfortunately this often overshadowed the parts that I really enjoyed with the mystery and the family aspect. The relationship that Faith develops with Clem didn't feel natural, nor did it feel like something the Faith first introduced would have done. It made complete sense for her to question her relationship with Jesse. But having a second love interest was not a good way to handle these questions. After what happened in book one Faith's seeming lack of connection with Jesse was a big disappointment. And Clem himself didn't ever feel real to me like Jesse always did. He felt like a character on a page; Jesse felt like a person. 

I am hoping that more stories with Faith are on the way because I would like to see what direction she takes next. It would be great to see more exploration of relationships introduced in these first two books, particularly those involving Anj, Jesse, Aunt T, and her newly found Flores family. 

This is a fun, well researched, nicely paced series and I look forward to more adventures with Faith in the future. 

You can find all of the buy links for Death Spiral and Code Red on Janie's website: Janie Chodosh

Monday, February 6, 2017

Interview with Janie Chodosh, author of the Faith Flores Science Mysteries

Janie Chodosh is author of the Faith Flores Science Mysteries series which follow titular character Faith as she uses her love of science to solve mysteries that others have written off as closed.

You can find out more about Janie and the Faith Flores series by visiting her website: Janie Chodosh

Today I bring you an interview with Janie where she opens up about her stories, her life, and the writing process. Come back tomorrow for my review of Code Red, the second book in the Faith Flores series.

      Describe Faith Flores in 5 to 10 sentences. 

In the start of the series Faith has major trust issues. Her mother died of a supposed heroine overdose and she never met her father, so she feels quite alone and abandoned. Faith is vulnerable. She wants to be close to people, but she is terrified. Faith is also smart and curious, and like many teens I have met, she has a great sense of humor with a strong dose of sarcasm.

 Who or what first inspired you to write?

I have always loved to write. I don’t think anyone or anything inspired me as much as writing is just a part of who I am. In first grade I remember writing my teacher a song and then singing it to her! (I am a terrible singer.) In sixth grade I wrote a play and got together a cast of elementary school actors and performed it for my school. I have always kept journals and when people still wrote letters, I would write long expressive letters to anyone who would read them! Recently a former high school friend told me she still had a five-page note I wrote to her!

Was there a fictional character that you identified with most as a child or teen?

I loved Dorothy from the Oz series. I loved her adventures in fictional lands and all the characters she met. I loved the fantasy world created by Frank Baum—not just in the “Wizard of Oz,” but throughout the whole series. I loved books that transport me and I still do. Dorothy is an intrepid explorer and she is unafraid of taking risks and standing up for her friends. I’m not sure if anyone still reads those books, but in my opinion, they should.

What is one thing you hope readers learn/remember from reading your books?

Great question. I hope they remember my characters. I love writing character, and Faith is close to my heart. She is real and damaged and in many ways the odds are stacked against her, but she does not give up. She does not take no for an answer. She does not let a dead end stop her. I also hope readers will connect with her love of science and the fascinating world of genetics and the idea of pursuing your passion.

Are any characters based on real people?

No characters are based on any one person, though I guess I could say that in some ways, since they come from my mind and my understanding of the world, they are all based on me! But that would be really boring to have a book of  “Janie’s” so I love taking what I know and think about and fictionalizing and imagining the world for the character. I love creating and dreaming and imaging who these people are, giving them voice and making them real.

What inspired the locations for your stories?

I wanted “Death Spiral” to be an urban story and I needed an urban center close to big pharmaceutical companies. I also wanted there to be a university. I came up with Philadelphia for these reasons, but also because half of my family is from the Philadelphia area and I had spent time there as a child. It was a place I was familiar with, and met all the requirements for the setting. However, authenticity is important to me, so since I am not there, I did tons of research. I decided to set book two, “Code Red” in Santa Fe, where I have lived for the past seventeen years, and which I know intimately. I wanted to capture subtleties of place I could not capture in book one. Plus, Santa Fe is a pretty unique place, and I thought Faith, coming from a big east coast city, would have a strong reaction to the high western desert. It was fun seeing Santa Fe through her eyes and imagining her experience of it.

Do you listen to music while writing?

I am so easily distracted that music would just be too much of a distraction. I really do prefer it to be quiet while I write. Listening to music works for some people, but for me, I have enough going on in my head. I need to stay one hundred percent focused on that.

Do you enjoy book to movie adaptations?

I do enjoy movie adaptations, especially when they are done well. However, I do love it when I have read the book of a movie first, because I like to understand the author’s vision and understand all the nuances that don’t necessarily make it onto screen. Seeing a character come to life and seeing a filmmaker’s interpretation of a book is very exciting. I would love to see Faith Flores brought to film. Many people have told me the books should be made into films or an Amazon series. I have no idea how to do this, and there is so much competition out there, so I am not sure this will ever happen. However, I think Faith is a character so many people can relate to and the plots of both books are pretty fun, so I do think they would make great films.

 Favorite books?

I have so many favorite books, and I tend to say whatever I am reading at the time is my favorite book. However, “To Kill A Mockingbird” has always stayed with me as a favorite and I have never stopped loving Scout. I love “The House of Spirits” by Isabel Allende, which I am currently trying to read in Spanish. That will take me about ten years. My Spanish is not that great!

If you could visit anyplace in the world where would it be?

I love to travel, and I have been fortunate to so far travel quite a bit. I love adventure. I love culture. I love learning. And I love nature, so a lot of my travel has been nature based. I was recently in Chile and I really want to go back there, especially to the southern part of the country. But gosh, one place? I have a big list of places I would like to see. I also love staying at home and getting to deeply know the place where I live. I spend a lot of time taking walks and learning about the local natural history of my home, and while I love traveling and seeing the world, I love being grounded in a place.