Tag Archives: #20booksofsummer

Review: Alive by Scott Sigler

Alive (The Generations Trilogy, #1)

With all apologies to our future dark overlord Scott Sigler, but I found his latest novel Alive to be the least enjoyable to date. Maybe I’m not the target audience for this one or maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood, but I found myself struggling to get into the book from the outset and it never really hooked me in quite the same way that previous Sigler novels have.

And yet I should have liked it. It’s a young adult novel that’s not driven by a love triangle or supernatural romance. It has teenagers working together to solve problems and a sense of mystery and paranoia to it.

But it still never quite added up to a complete story.

A group of young adults wake up inside mysterious enclosures. Getting free of them, they find they’re stuck inside a room with no memories of their lives before and vague ideas about who they are and were before.

In a lot of ways, the early chapters of this one felt like a mix of the old Infocom game Zork and certain episodes of Star Trek. Given that I like both of these things, this should have begun to push my buttons. But instead of doing that, it only created a sense of deja vu in me that never quite went away. Too many times I felt like I’d been where Sigler was taking us before — and despite my waiting for a twist or something unexpected, it never quite materializes.

I was hoping this might be a young adult novel (and start of a series) that would drive a stake through the sparkly vampire phenomenon. Instead, it’s a book that didn’t quite gel and never quite got going for me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Review: The Fold by Peter Clines

The Fold

Trying to find a new way to travel, a group of scientists may have made the breakthrough of a lifetime — a machine that allows you step from one distant point to another in the blink of an eye (think the Stargate from the movies on TV show). But the new technology may have some unintended side effects.

Enter Mike Erickson, a school teacher with a photographic memory and friends in high places. During his summer break, Mike is convinced by his highly placed friend to look into the new device and make sure that everything is on the level and that our government should continue funding.

Several times as I read The Fold, I found myself reminded of vintage works by Stephen King or Richard Matheson. I also found myself thinking this could have made a great installment of The X-Files back in the day (that may be my current re-watch of the series as well). Peter Clines creates a group of well imagined characters, spending the first half of the novel on character building and slowly foreshadowing what’s really going on with the fold. If you’re a science-fiction fan, you may be able to piece bits and pieces of what’s really going on here together but I will give Clines credit that while I pieced together part of what was happening, I didn’t quite think through the impact and consequences of it as well as he and his characters did.

The Fold is a suspenseful, mystery thriller that works on just about every level. Clines wisely allows us to have time to invest in the characters for the first half so that when things start to go awry and answers begin coming our way in the second half, there is an impact to it beyond the raised eyebrow. Clines has created an interesting character in Mike, especially in the way that Mike sees his photographic memory working. The ability to recall everything he’s seen or done is compared to ants, all swarming about with various pieces that Mike needs to solve the problem. Like ants, they can be organized or disorganized, depending on what Mike (and the plot) needs.

The Fold is a fun, entertaining novel that had me hooked from the first page and kept my interest for the entire story.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman

Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman will make you love and hate her literary agents.

It will make you love the agent who saw potential in this novel — but in an entirely different kind of story. It was that agent who nurtured Lee and helped produce one of the great pieces of literature in To Kill A Mockingbirds.

It will make you hate the literary agent of today who found this manuscript and decided that what the world most needed was more of the story of Maycomb and a chance to check in again with Scout, Atticus and the rest. I won’t go so far as to say that this one ruins the literary legacy of To Kill A Mockingbird (as others have), but I will go so far as to say after reading it, I wish it had stayed locked in a drawer and never seen publication.

An older Jean Louise returns to her home of Maycombe for a two-week vacation to spend time with her father. While there, she’s romanced by an old flame and makes some discoveries about her father, her town and her childhood that unsettle her and cause her to doubt if she ever really knew any of them.

I suppose you could argue that Watchman is about a girl growing up and struggling to reconcile the image she has of her father with the reality of who he is or aspects of his life that he kept hidden from her. But given what we see in Mockingbird, the revelations about the town and Atticus don’t necessarily add up in the final equation. I couldn’t help but find myself hoping this was all some trick or plan of Atticus’ for some reason beyond the obvious. But like Scout, I came away disappointed.

Watchman reads very much like a first draft — and one that could have used a strong edit. There are sections that are clunky and difficult to wade through while others will remind you of Mockingbird. Ironically, these sections are those that flashback on the younger days of Scout, Jem and Dill. One section sees the trio playing revival after the various churches of the town hold theirs while another gives us a glimpse of what Scout would be like in high school and Jem’s growing up to be the big fish in a small pond of the high school and town.

Had Watchman focused on these areas, it might have worked.

Alas, there are too many clunky moments in between to make this the companion piece to To Kill A Mockingbird that many of us hoped it would be.

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Review: Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew

Born with Teeth

While Kate Mulgrew’s memoir Born With Teeth touches on some of the iconic roles that brought her to the public eye, the focus isn’t on her career but instead on the personal choices that made her who she is. And while the Star Trek fan in me hopes that someday she’ll revisit her time on Voyager in greater depth, I can’t help but really like what Mulgrew shares here.

She’s not afraid to be unconventional, witty and self-deprecating, many times within the same paragraph. As Mulgrew relates the story of her life and how that shaped her into the actress and person she’s become, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by it. Mulgrew is just as quick to point our her shortcomings and faults as she is her strengths. And this memoir is the stronger for it.

Hearing of her decision to give up her child to adoption early in her life and career and then impact that has on her made me think. Mulgrew’s story is one of love and redemption and you can’t help but begin to cheer for her as her life unfolds.

I feel like I understand a bit more of what Mulgrew brought to the role of Janeway and it makes me appreciate her work on Voyager a bit more. It also makes me appreciate her more as an actress and a person.

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Review: A House Divided by Robert Whitlow

A House Divided

Robert Whitlow’s A House Divided is another winner from one of my favorite authors.

Corbin Gage’s drinking has damaged many things in his life. It destroyed his marriage and has left him distant from his grown up children. His one joy in life is spending time with his grandson, but his drinking has possibly put that in jeopardy.

Following the death of his ex-wife (who he never stopped loving), Corbin finds himself increasingly facing the reality of his drinking and its impact on his life — both personally and professionally. When a huge case, involving the large employer in his small Georgia community possibly contaminating the local water supply and making some kids very sick, Corbin is forced to up his game — and not just on the legal front.

As Corbin takes the first steps to sobriety, he finds that his decisions are having an impact on his family. His son finds his legal career and plans quickly taking a different path because of Corbin’s involvement with the case. And his daughter who lives in Atlanta finds herself struggling with issues related to how Corbin treated his family as she pursues her legal career and a new man in her life who wants to love her completely and share his life with her. But can she trust him or will she let him in?

Whitlow ably balances the stories of Corbin and his family. In his best novels, Whitlow is able to make his characters utterly human and very relatable. And while the journey each one takes isn’t a smooth one, it’s still one that leads to a point that feels completely authentic and earned. Whitlow writes novels with flawed characters who, despite coming to a deeper relationship with Christ, don’t become any less flawed. Even after Corbin becomes sober, he still faces the temptation to drink again, made even more abundant by the stresses in his life. We also see that Corbin’s family is happy to see their father taking these steps, but still not trusting if they will take this time.

Honestly, I could have spent a hundred or two more pages with Corbin and his family. I know that Whitlow generally doesn’t write series, instead allowing us to enjoy the journey with the characters over the course of one novel. But if he wants to spend more time with Corbin and his family, I won’t object.

Another great novel from one of the best writers out there today.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley.

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When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord

When We Were Animals

For most of When We Were Animals, Joshua Gaylord pulls off the trick of writing a hybrid werewolf and coming-of-age-novel that is clever, subtle and utterly compelling.

Not since Joss Whedon used a werewolf in Buffy the Vampire Slayer has the supernatural being used to comment on the transformation and confusing time of being a teenager been so well done.

When the children in her small town hit a certain age, they begin to undergo a type of transformation. Three nights a month, then become wild, savage — shedding clothes and societal norms to run in the woods and do things that animals do. Lumen is a bit of a late bloomer, not undergoing the process until later in her teenage years, though there is one particular boy who is willing to try and help her along with the change.

There’s also something that happened — a twist that Gaylord hides right in plain sight for much of the novel. That is, until he smacks you squarely between the eyes in the novel’s final chapters as if to say, “You should have been playing closer attention to what the left hand was going, but I had you completely distracted with the fireworks I had in my right hand.” It’s a nice twist that more than makes up for the fact that I felt the novel was starting to lose a bit of momentum once Lumen transforms and we see her life from that point forward.

When We Were Animals is a surprisingly fun, entertaining and thought provoking novel. It’s also of one of those books that has passages that are so eloquent you can’t help but go back to read them again, allowing them to wash back over you and marveling and Gaylord’s technique and storytelling.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin: A 4th Doctor novelisation

It’s rare to find a Doctor Who novel that will allow us inside the mind of the Doctor. More often than not, we’ll see into the mind of his companions and those around him.

That makes a story like “The Deadly Assassin” difficult to adapt for the printed page since it’s the only story in the classic canon that doesn’t feature a companion for the Doctor. It’s also a story whose third episode features a lot of action pieces and very little in the way of dialogue.

Because of this, Terrance Dicks’ attempt to adapt the classic Robert Holmes four-parter falls a bit short. I can’t help but wonder if Dicks had produced this story at the beginning or the end of his association with the Target range if he might have expanded some things a bit or made some different storytelling choices. As it is, this comes from the middle period when Dicks rarely had time to do more than adapt the shooting script for the printed page. He didn’t have time to add the flourishes that made novels like “The Day of the Daleks” so memorable.

With two mysterious adversaries for the Doctor to battle (one works for the other), Dicks decides to give away the identity of one earlier in the novel than the televised story does. I can’t help but wonder if it might have been better to let readers in on who is working for the Master rather than the Master himself. It’s disappointing that one of the more pivotal and controversial stories in the classic series run only gets a novelization that’s par for the course. Dicks tries his best, but this is a story that works better visually (at least the sections inside the Matrix do) than they do on the printed page.

Thankfully, the audio version features a reading by Geoffrey Beavers, the only actor who played the Master in the classic series who is still with us. Beavers reading is, as always, a delight and he brings a lot to the read, especially when called upon to read lines for the Master. You can just hear Beavers voice dripping with contempt as he channels the Master in this one. I can’t help but wonder why this line hasn’t seen fit to let Beavers read a story or two that doesn’t feature the Master. I think he’d be great. Why not let him read “Day of the Daleks” — one of the truly great entries from the Target line that hasn’t yet been adapted for audio.

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Review: Those Girls by Lauren Saft

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Those Girls

Heading into junior year, Alex, Mollie and Veronica are the queen bees of their school — and they know it. They’ve all been friends since elementary school, but things are about to start changing for each of them.

Lauren Saft’s Those Girls feels like its channeling the spirit of Mean Girls without any of the heart that made the movie work. The stories are told in alternating points of view from each of our three protagonists and I’ve got to admit that somewhere around a third of the way through the novel, I found myself losing track of certain plot threads, like which girl pined for the boy next door and which one was hooking up with him.

There’s a lot of very bad behavior by all these characters, making each of them completely unsympathetic as the story progresses. Saft tries to get us to understand what motivates each of these girls with the alternating first-person narration, but I slowly found myself getting irritated by the girls and their actions instead of understanding them or sympathizing. Each girl (and the other characters who they come into contact with) come across as shallow, vain and down-right mean. It makes it hard to spend close to 300 pages with them.

Which brings up the question of why I kept reading when I wasn’t really enjoying the novel. I kept hoping that Saft might be setting up Alex, Mollie and Veronica for some kind of a fall in the final chapters or maybe we’d finally see their actions catch up with them. Alas, this doesn’t happen — nor do any of the three appear to really learn anything from their actions. This includes random sex, seducing each other’s boyfriends and two of them slipping the third a roofie that nearly costs a male teacher his job.

Maybe I’m just not the target audience for this novel. Whatever it is, I have to give this one just a single star.

In the interest of a full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book.

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Comic Book Friday: The Flash, Volume 2: Rogues Revolution

Today’s Comic Book Friday is also part of my 20 Books of Summer Challenge.

The Flash, Vol. 2: Rogues Revolution

I’m a bit a novice when it comes to The Flash. My knowledge of the character comes from his portrayal in various television programs — both live action and animated. But I’m interested enough by what I’ve seen in those portrayals to want to go back to the source material and learn more.

This second collection of the New 52 Flash is an interesting one. While many of the characters are familiar, I don’t know enough about their history to definitively say whether what happens here is good, bad or somewhere in between. Back in Central City, the Flash faces overwhelming anti-Flash public sentiment, whipped up by one of his old friends. Couple that with several adversaries coming back into town, all with a new take on their old weapons and you’ve got a very interesting dilemma for the Scarlet Speedster.

I find it interesting that a comic book series would spend a run of issues delving into the minds and psyche of our heroes various foes as this one does. Most of these faces are familiar from the just completed first season of the show and I’ll admit I found myself having to separate what we saw there from what we get here.

I also found it a bit confusing to come across a massive cliffhanger and then go into a storyline that gave us the capsule history of the Flash and had no ties to said cliffhanger. I understand these collected editions are meant to put together a couple of months worth of continuity, but a little more explanation might have left me not scratching my head as I wondered just how and when the flashback to our hero’s origin was going to come into play. I guess this is my Marvel bias showing through because it feels like Stan Lee used to give us a reminder of everyone’s origin every two to three years as a way to welcome in new readers.

Overall, this was an interesting little story. I’m sure to pick up the next installment simply because the cliffhanger left me curious as to where things might go next.

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Audiobook Review: The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler

The Book of Broken Hearts

Don’t fall in love with a Vargas. That’s the vow of the Hernandez sisters after two of Jude’s older sisters had their hearts broken by a Vargas brother. One got stood up at prom and another saw an engagement called off just weeks before the wedding. Each of the four Hernandez sisters swore and signed an oath that they wouldn’t get involved with a Vargas boy.

But when her father develops early onset Alzheimer’s, Jude wants to defy the doctor and experts by helping her father restore his Harley. And that means hiring a Emilio Vargas to work on the bike. Jude hopes she can keep his identity hidden from her sisters and parents, who may not react well to having Emilio spending time in their barn, working with their father and putting the old motorcycle back together. But as her father slowly disappears into his illness and parts of his life vanish from his memory, Jude finds herself isolated from her old friends and touched by Emilio’s sensitivity and connection not only to the Harley but to her father as well.

Could it be that Emilio is the apple that fell far away from the family tree? Or will he eventually revert to family type and break Jude’s heart?
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