Monthly Archives: June 2011

Review: Beauty Queens

Beauty QueensBeauty Queens by Libba Bray
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Take one part Lost, one part Drop Dead Gorgeous and throw in a generous helping of Lord of the Flies and you’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of Beauty Queens.

When a plane full of contestants for the Miss Teen Dreams contest crashed on a secret, deserted island, the survivors must try to navigate the islands dangers, a lack of supplies and hope to get rescued all with the grace, dignity and poise required of any beauty pageant contestant. After all, in our world of reality television, the island crash could be just part of the judging and there could be secret cameras hidden everywhere. Unknown to our teen pageant queens, the island is actually a top secret instillation where the Miss Teen Dreams parent corporation is working to feed a ruthless dictator with weapons of mass destruction. It just so happens that a certain beauty cream used by many of those in the contest is one tiny step away from being explosive compound.

In precise, biting satire, Libba Bray not only examines the conventions of beauty contests but also examines the societal views of beauty and what women will do to try and be considered beautiful. Interspersed with commercials from the corporation, the applications filled out by many of our main characters and stories focusing on the attempted cover up of the island and that the girls are alive, Beauty Queens quickly deconstructs beauty pageants and their participants. And it all does it with a smile and a flare for language that had me grinning at some points and trying to stifle laughter at others.

The problem becomes that the story begins to wear out its welcome sooner rather than later. As much fun as the book is, it still feels like portions of the story are being padded out in an attempt to make a humorous point or to set up a punch line for later. Much like an SNL skit, Beauty Queens begins to wear out its welcome during the middle third of the book. Despite all that, I was still intrigued enough to continue reading (Bray does a solid job of creating characters that you’ll want to see through to the end).

And while I’m never one to judge a book by its cover, I will say that the cover for Queens is one that may send a lot of readers to read the books on their e-book reader. It’s not necessarily that’s any more provocative than many of the covers you see in the romance section. But I can see how the cover might raise some eyebrows or some interested looks. Just check it out and you’ll see what I mean. I checked a copy out of my local library and I got some interesting looks from the librarians as I did. (Of course, I’m used to that).

But, don’t judge the book just by its cover. If you’re looking for a satire that is keenly observed and also amusing and funny, Queens is a must read.

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Booking Through Thursday — How Much Is Too Much?

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What’s the largest your personal library has ever been? What’s the greatest number of books you’ve ever owned at one time? (Estimates are fine.)

Is your collection NOW the biggest it’s ever been? Or have you down-sized?

What’s the fewest number of books you’ve ever owned (not counting your pre-reading years)?

I can’t even begin to tell you the number of books I currently own, but it’s a pretty good size. I’d love to downsize it, but a lot of them are in the ever-growing pile of books to TBR. Even if book publishing were to stop tomorrow and I never put another book on reserve at the library, I’d probably have enough books for the next three years. Yes, it’s an illness and I’d get help for it, but I like books too much to give it up. The first step is admitting you have a problem, right?

Of course, as I’ve said before my thought is that having a healthy TBR pile is the secret to immortality.


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Review: Indistinguishable from Magic

Indistinguishable from Magic (Star Trek: The Next Generation)Indistinguishable from Magic by David A. McIntee
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maybe I’m just getting too old for Star Trek novels. Or maybe I’ve reached my saturation point with them and need to step away from them for a while. But curse them for having interesting cover blurbs and intriguing sounding concepts that keep pulling me back in.

Such is the case with "Indistinguishable From Magic." Set in the post-Nemesis reboot continuity, the novel is a virtual who’s who of guest stars from various TNG episodes all brought back together again. When an old NX starship suddenly turns up after being listed as destroyed, a crack team of engineers is sent out to look into it. This includes Geordi, Scotty, Nog, Leah Brahms and Reg Barclay. Also included is Rasmussen from the fifth season TNG episode "A Matter of Time." And, of course, he has an ulterior motive and soon another old foe has returned with a plan that involves the newly found ship and time travel.

And that’s just the first half to two thirds of the novel.

I’ve read that this one was proposed as a dual novel storyline but condensed down to a single entry. And because of that, you’d think you were getting twice as much story for half the price.

Frustratingly enough, that’s not the case. Author David A. McIntee frustratingly spends a lot of time focusing on all the wrong elements of the story, drawing some things out far past the point of interest and compressing the interesting details down to a few scant paragraphs. What you end up with is a Trek novel with some interesting ideas, concepts and potential character exploration that ends up sagging and collapsing under its own weight.

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Review: Doctor Who: Inferno

Doctor Who: Inferno (Classic Novels)Doctor Who: Inferno by Terrance Dicks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Produced at the time when Target novelizations of Doctor Who stories were limited by their page count, "Infero" captures the essential story that takes place across seven episodes but still feels a bit lacking.

Terrance Dicks’ retelling of the classic serial is faithful and straightforward. But in a story that feature a parallel universe with parallel versions of several regular characters, a bit more background might have been nice. Again, Dicks is limited by a page count. It’d be fascinating to see what he could do with the story now. (Dicks does a nice job of fleshing out the background and history in several of his earlier Pertwee era novels, "The Auton Invasion" and "Day of the Daleks")

This time around, I listened to the BBC audio book release of "Inferno," which is up to the usual high standards set for this line. Caroline John acquits herself fairly well as a reader, though she still falls into the second tier of readers for the line. The novel helped me pound out a couple of longer runs on warm afternoons and for that, I’m grateful. But in many ways hearing the story of "Inferno" only made me want to dust off the DVD copy of the serial and watch it again.

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Review: Robopocalypse

RobopocalypseRobopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Following the example of Max Brook’s "World War Z," Daniel H. Wilson’s "Robopocalypse" documents the history of our robotic overlords uprising and seeking to exterminate all of humanity. Told through the use of shifting first-hand accounts of the uprising, "Robopocalypse" gives us the beginning of the robotic uprising as well as how humanity copes and begins to fight back against our robotic overlords.

"Robopocalypse" is being touted as one of the must read books of the summer season. It’s already been optioned as a movie by Steven Spielberg. It has the potential to be the next big thing in science-fiction publishing, possibly luring in those readers who don’t necessarily always enjoy a good genre novel. There are glowing praises all across the back of the book from some of the biggest selling names in contemporary fiction.

And yet for all of that, I find myself ultimately a bit disappointed by the novel. It feels like it’s ready made to be made into a movie–and that’s not always a good thing. (Michael Crichton was guilty of this in several of his later novels as well (you could almost see him telling the lighting and camera crews where to set up in "Timeline" and "The Lost World").)

As a summer novel, I expect a solid, engaging story with a few characters I have enough interest in to keep me turning the pages as I relax. And therein lies my biggest problem with "Robopocalypse"–about halfway through the book I wasn’t engaged enough by the story or characters to care much about what was happening. Part of the problem is this that all the first person accounts feel pretty much the same in terms of their voice. If not for the introduction to each chapter telling us who was speaking, it’d be difficult to really distinguish one voice from another in the story. And while I had issues with "World War Z," I’ll give Brooks credit there–he at least made sure most of his characters has a distinct voice in telling their portion of the story.

That’s not to say "Robopocalypse" is a complete wash. The story has a few moments that are genuinely compelling. There are enough early in the story that my interest was at least piqued enough to want to keep going and find out how things turned out. The problem is that the early momentum wanes quickly and by the mid-way point of the book I found myself less compelled to keep going as I was in the early stages. I will say there are enough good scenes that a screenwriter should have little problem crafting them together into a solid film.

But it’s a shame the book didn’t inspire more passion and excitement in me. It has a lot of solid potential, but it doesn’t necessarily make the most of the potential.

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Booking Through Thursday — Soundtrack

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What, if any, kind of music do you listen to when you’re reading? (Given a choice, of course!)

If I’m going to listen to music while reading, I prefer an instrumental score, possibly a favorite classical selection or the instrumental soundtrack from a favorite movie or TV show.  I find music with lyrics can be a bit distracting to me while reading.

Of course, my ideal preference is for a quiet place to read without much musical accompaniment.


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Review: Between Here and Forever

Between Here and ForeverBetween Here and Forever by Elizabeth Scott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After listening to a couple of other novels by Elizabeth Scott on audio, I decided to go the old fashioned way and actually read her latest novel, "Between Here and Forever." In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say that I’m not the target audience for Ms. Scott’s novels, but I have found the audio books to be a nice distraction while doing other things. Her female characters struck me as flawed but authentic characters.

And then there’s "Between Here and Forever."

Maybe the experience of listening to the audio novels hid the flaws in Scott’s other works. Or it could be that "Between Here and Forever" is just a bit too much of a good thing.

Abby’s the younger sister of Tess, the seemingly perfect girl who is every guy’s fantasy woman and every female’s best friend. Abby is in the shadow and it’s hurt her in the past, including getting romantically and physically entangled with a guy who is pursuing Tess. The flashbacks of how Abby got her heart stomped on are both awkward and pretty devastating. (The guy actually calls her by Tess’ name during an extremely intimate moment!).

But now Tess is in a coma from a car crash while heading home on New Year’s morning. Desperate for her sister to wake up, Abby clings to any shred of hope that her sister might magically wake-up and life will return to "normal." So when the hot guy named Eli comes into the room and Abby thinks she sees Tess’ eyes moving under her eyelids when Eli talks, Abby hatches a plan. She’ll have Eli talk to Tess and bring her out of the coma. Tess will then fall madly in love with Eli and everyone will live happily ever after.

It’s a bit like the premise to "While You Were Sleeping." It makes a little less sense here, as does the fact that Eli goes along with it. Of course, given where the story goes, maybe it’s not too big a shock that Eli goes along with it for motives other than bringing Tess back.

However, that’s not all that’s in play here. Before the car crash and the coma, Tess had a HUGE secret….only it’s the most obvious huge secret ever. This secret is one of the bigger sticking points of "Between Here and Forever" since it was fairly obvious what it was the first time Abby mentions it. <spoiler>Seems that Tess had a good friend in high school and they were very close….very, very close until they had a huge falling out and Tess was depressed a lot. Now Tess is in college and has her roommate…who seems to be around a whole lot of the time. Only the clues in the book are far less obvious than I’ve made them here.</spoiler>. The only thing I can figure is that Abby is so convinced for Tess’ perfectness that the reality of the situation doesn’t occur to her until it’s pretty much spelled out for her by Tess’s former best friend.

Along those lines, Scott seems to be hinting that there could be some connection between Tess’s wreck and her big secret. Or maybe I was looking too hard for something to be there that wasn’t or I’ve seen one too many melodramas.

Another big issue with the book is Abby herself. In previous novels, I was struck by the fact that Scott created flawed but authentic female characters. Again, this may go back to the narration of the books in audio form. But Abby seems stuck in a rut where she refuses to believe anyone would find her interesting in any way, shape or form for far too long in the story. At certain points in the book, you just want to reach into the page and shake Abby. Again, it’s not until someone points out that Abby is being just like Tess and alienating those who want to love her than any change occurs. And it happens so late in the story that it feels a bit tacked on and rushed.

It all adds up to a book that disappoints more than it should. Even though the ending leaves Abby in a better place, there are still too many threads and questions left open. It may be that was Scott’s point to make it feel like real life…but it’s just too bad the chapters leading up to that didn’t ring as authentic.

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Review: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

All We Ever Wanted Was EverythingAll We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The women of the Miller family are all falling apart.

On the day her husband’s company offers its IPO, their stock holdings rocket up in price, making them rich beyond their wildest dreams. Janice is hoping that this culmination of years of hard work will be the spark their marriage needs to get back on track by allowing them to not worry about money. What she doesn’t seem coming is the letter from her husband, informing her that he’s leaving her and wants a divorce. To make matters worse, he’s having an affair with her doubles tennis partner.

Oldest daughter, Margaret, lives in Los Angeles, self-publishing a women’s magazine called "Snatch." She’s recently broken up with her movie-star boyfriend, Bart and is living on maxed out credit cards while avoiding threatening phone calls and letters as she waits for a buyout from a media outlet. Margaret, it turns out, is the reason Janice and her husband "had to" get married back in their college days.

Then there’s the youngest daughter Lizzie, who struggles with her self image and her love of food. She’s working on losing weight and herself on her school’s swim team and becoming popular with the teenage boys by sleeping with six of them over the course of six months. Lizzie’s reputation is slowly starting to head south and she’s losing what few friends she had.

All three Miller women are forced to come home and begin to confront the real demons facing them in Janelle Brown’s "All We Ever Wanted Was Everything." At times, the story reads like your standard chick-lit storyline, but there are moments and flashes of real insight and understanding of these characters and their struggles. And don’t expect any up-standing male characters in the book. The closest we get is the pool boy, who becomes Janice’s drug dealer and Margaret’s emotional summer fling (though things do get physical toward the end of the book). The soon-to-be ex-husband only shows up occasionally, usually in flashbacks and by sending over his assistant to get his clothes and things so he can properly move out of his house.

But no matter how cliched the situations get, Brown still manages to inject the story with some interesting observations and some wry character moments.

This isn’t great literature by any means. But it’s not necessarily light or fluffy either. It’s somewhere firmly in the middle, which isn’t necessarily a terrible place to be.

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Booking Through Thursday — Buy or Borrow?

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All things being equal (money, space, etc), would you rather own copies of the books you read? Or borrow them?

I’m assuming I have a TARDIS-like home here where I can have infinite rooms and corridors full of books…LOL.

That said, I still prefer to borrow for the most part.  A lot of times, I’ll see a review or hear about a book and think, “That sounds interesting, I’d like to read that” and then I get it home and find it’s not quite my cup of tea.   In that case, I’m not as disappointed if I didn’t buy it but only lost the time I invested in reading it.   And I can then put the book back into circulation for someone else to read  and potentially enjoy.

I do have some authors and series that I want to have on my shelf.  Some favorites I enjoy owning and displaying after I’m done reading them.


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Review: WWW: Wonder

WWW: Wonder (WWW, #3)WWW: Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I devoured the last two installments in Robert J. Sawyer’s "WWW" trilogy and was anxious for the third installment to hit the shelves. I was fascinated to see how Sawyer would bring together some of the threads we saw in book one and to find out the final fate of the Webmind.

So, I guess you could say I had some pretty high expectations for "WWW: Wonder."

And I guess you could say that the book didn’t exactly live up to them.

It’s still a good story and the ideas raised in the book are fascinating ones. The concept of how humanity would react if an artificial intelligence developed that was interested in bringing out the best in humanity instead of trying to exterminate us all is compelling and fascinating. Watching as Webmind tries to use his new seemingly limitless intelligence to connect things together to find cures for cancer and to try to bring out better instincts in humanity is interesting. And seeing the reaction of certain groups to the evolution of Webmind and making steps to try and stop the AI in its tracks before it becomes too powerful helps drive much of the second half of the story.

But for all of that, I can’t help but come away from the novel feeling a bit let down and disappointed by how it all ends. Sawyer does manage to weave the plotline of the Great Firewall of China, Bobo the Monkey and Webmind together in the story’s final chapters. But there are times when Sawyer is too obvious in his political views and it comes across on the page. Thinly veiled criticism of recent administrations occur often in the novel as do complete and utter support of other political factions, parties and administrations. I get that the characters (and to some extend Sawyer) are passionate in their beliefs and feelings on these issues, but if I wanted political diatribe, I’d flip on a cable news outlet.

Those moments took me too far out of the book to really become as immersed in the story and characters as I was by the first two. Looking back, there were those moments there as well but they didn’t pull me out of the book in the way those moments do here. It’s a shame really because it keeps what could have been a great trilogy of novels and makes them just merely pretty darn good.

The novels are worth reading and I’m not sorry for the investment of time I put into them. As I said before Sawyer has some fascinating ideas in this trilogy and this book. It’s just a shame that the series had to come to an end with a disappointing third installment.

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