Thursday, April 28, 2016

REVIEW: Artificial (The Kepler Chronicles, #1) by Jadah McCoy

**** (4) out of 5 stars!

This book was amazing!  A true sci-fi thriller that had enough twists and turns to really keep things interesting.  And it seemingly has everything you could ask for in such a story: human civilizations at the edge of collapse on distant planets, androids, genetic experiments and their creepy monster concoctions.  It’s like “Terminator” meets “The Hunger Games” with some “Predator” thrown in for good measure.

**WARNING: Intentionally vague but potentially major spoiler alerts!!**
At its core, the story is about what it means to be human.  We’re treated to different examples of such through the alternating outlook of Syl, a young human girl struggling to survive, and Bastion, a male android trying to do the same.  I don’t normally like books with alternating narrators and points of view, but it worked very well for this narrative.  Their attitudes and perceptions were so different that it was easy to tell them apart.  Each had their own distinct voice that rang very true to who they were and the positions in which they found themselves. 
Syl is all attitude and derring-do, very abrupt and often even rude to those around her, with very little regard for much of the danger that permeates her world.  Bastion is more controlled and reserved, but pretty much rendered as helpless in the face of his feelings for Syl as she is in many of the dangerous situations in which she finds herself.  The interaction between the two of them is so fun to watch.  The author uses great writing to weave amazing dialogue into the narrative in subtle ways, not least of which is with Syl’s sarcastic assertiveness to Bastion’s subtle but witty humor.  And the hint of obvious attraction between them that doesn’t seem likely to be realized is just gold. 
Some of the more minor characters are also quite intriguing.  I absolutely loved Michelo and kept hoping for more interaction with him.  And even though Micro is not one of my favorite personalities at first, as you discover more about how kind-hearted she is, she does tend to grow on you.

A lot is made of the fact that some of the androids are “glitches” because they have feelings.  But I thought the entire point of their uprising was that they had changed while the humans slept on their voyage across space, and that they had in the process become capable of having reactions.  Indeed, all of the androids could be considered to have feelings, just different types of them.  Certainly the main antagonist, Lexion, is full of emotions, just mean and hateful ones instead of anything the least bit pleasant.  In that way, he is little different from the humans in the cages who prey upon and abuse one another.  No matter how either of them would like to think of themselves as superior, they are very much the same. 

The very concept of Bastion’s existence, built as he was to be a pleasure android, is kind of confusing.  In a society of beings who aren’t supposed to have passions or sentiments, why do you need sex workers.  But the way in which the author describes how the androids can feel sensations akin to what humans do goes a long way toward explaining this or at least making it plausible.  This explanation and many other such things showcase just what a masterful world-builder is the author.  
There were many things that weren’t explained or just didn’t make sense to me.  For instance, who exactly was making the Cull and why?  Why hadn’t the Cull eaten all the humans yet?  And why didn’t the humans do more about trying to destroy the Cull?  Why didn’t the humans know the androids were still around?  And why hadn’t the androids bothered finishing the extermination of the humans?  I think that many of these items and potentially lots for others may be set up for reveals in future books in the series.  At least I hope they are! 
There was a fair amount of swearing in the book, and some quite graphic scenes of violence and mayhem, all of which I personally could have done without.  But none of it seemed gratuitous or out of context for what was happening in the story at the time.  And there was enough lighter fare and actual storyline to keep me intrigued and reading through those parts.     
I was happy that the book, given it is apparently the first in a trilogy, did not end on a cliff-hanger!  Thinking about having to wait a year for the next installment to find out the resolution of such scenes just makes me want to throw my book or Kindle out the window!  This ending was sufficient enough to allow you a feeling of partial resolution.  Although there are definitely a ton of loose ends to be tied up and additional potential plot lines to be explored that the author could probably write a trilogy of trilogies.  I can’t wait for the next installment, but I’m holding onto this book until then!

I received a free copy of this book from Curiosity Quills Press in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 22, 2016

REIVEW: Do Lemons Have Feathers?: More to Autism than Meets the Eye by David J. Burns

*** (3) out of 5 stars

I did not enjoy the joke that started this book and precipitated the title of it, so that was a little bit of an off-putting way to begin. I did though enjoy the quotes that proceeded each chapter. There were also little stories that got each section underway, but they often didn’t seem to have much to do with the topic at hand, at least not to my mind. And the last couple of chapters didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the book, those two being on more personal issues for the author, including the final chapter which was on religion, which I personally found rather off-putting.

Still, there was a lot of good, insightful information contained in this book as to how the autistic mind often works. It gave a good general overview of life from that perspective for those of us on the more neuro-typical end of the spectrum who might have trouble relating. Actually, I think the best part of the book was the “Help Sheets” at the back!

So, probably worth a read for the information and perspective it provides, but definitely not a favorite of mine.

I received an eBook copy of this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

REVIEW: The Storybook Knight (OR The Knight Who Wouldn't Fight) - by Helen Docherty & illustrated by Thomas Docherty

***** (5) out of 5 stars!

I absolutely love this book!  I a big fan of books and reading in general, and I have a special affinity for a good children’s book.  But this one far exceeded anything I could imagine.  The small details, such as the patched picnic blanket, really made each scene seen unique and authentic.  It has all the key elements of a great story: adventure, rhyming cadence, a knight in shining armor, a dragon and other fearsome beasts, gifts of books, etc.  Despite his parents sending him out into the world (well equipped with a wooden sword, I might add) to make a name for himself as a famous knight, Leo is not at all interested in fighting.  Instead, he wins over all the monsters with no violence at all.  He even tames a dragon well enough to get him to clean up the mess he has made of a town.  Leo accomplishes this simply by sharing stories with the creatures that he encounters.  In the end, his parents finally have to admit that knowledge has won out over brawn, and they leave Leo alone to read his books, with all of his new-found friends that he met along his journey. 

I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

REVIEW: Bad Luck (Bad, #2) by Pseudonymous Bosch

*** (3) out of 5 stars

This is apparently the second book in a series; a fact that I was not aware of when I started reading it. But, other than some apparent inside jokes about past events that I wasn’t privy to, I didn’t seem to be missing much, at least not anything that pertained to the plot of the story. There is definitely going to be at least one more book in the series, because although it didn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, there were definitely enough unresolved issues that the story will need to be continued.

I really enjoyed the diverse cast of characters, from the snarky teenagers to the bizarre camp counselors to the rather stereo-typical bad guys to the stubborn llama. Even though most of the main characters were boys, there were a few strong female characters whom I really liked. I would have like to have seen more magic, especially given the title of the book and also the premise of the camp where the main story took place. But perhaps there will be more in the next installment as what we did see was fairly concentrated in the last bit of the book.

The story is mostly told in third person, but there are times when the narrator speaks directly to the reader (which I always find annoying) and other times when he even talks in first person. Personally, I found the narrator extremely annoying; but probably many people will find him entertaining, especially those in the targeted market of middle grade kids. I was especially put off by the narrator describing what was happening with the main cast of characters at Earth Ranch on Price Island, when we later found out that the entire time he was aboard a ship with no way of knowing what was happening on the island. It was just weird.

I also found the constant reference to footnotes about various points in the story annoying. Especially since I read this on my phone via Kindle and I didn’t find it exactly easy to flip back and forth between the main narrative and the footnotes. Besides which, the footnotes were very random and often not even relative. And the appendix I found even more annoying, particularly the story about magic versus science, which didn’t accomplish anything more than to offend cat lovers everywhere.

The ending was rather disappointing overall, as they ended up just relating what happened, instead of having it occur in the story as pretty much everything else did. It just seemed rather lazy of the author to present it that way.

Still, overall, it was an entertaining book and one that I am sure the middle grade target market would really enjoy.

I received an eBook copy of this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

REVIEW: The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser

**** (4) out of 5 stars!

This book was incredible! I have to admit that even though the description intrigued me, I was somewhat leery about reading it! First of all, the 414 page size was a little intimidating, even for an avid reader like myself. Also, the references to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick kind of worried me. I tried to read that classic when I was in high school and only made it about 30 pages into the book because it was so incredibly dry and boring. That was definitely NOT the case with this book! Strasser just dumps you right into the middle of the story and then draws you along as things progress. And progress they do! It seems there is just one adventure after another for the main characters. Even in the down times of the storyline, when not much is happening to progress the plot, there is generally a lot of character building stuff going on anyway, not to mention vivid world-building descriptions. And the author’s writing style is so good that the narrative just flows along, making the journey enjoyable even when nothing much is happening.

I really appreciated most of the characters, although some were definitely more fleshed out than others, and some were just plain odd. I especially liked the friendship that developed between Ishmael and his original core group of workmates: Billy, Queequeg, Pip, and Gwen. That they are all strangers to begin with seems impossible by the end when they have become like family to one another. The integrity and honor that they show, despite the dire circumstances they often find themselves in, is a real credit to Ishmael and the leadership qualities he possesses, even though he initially seems totally unaware if his own positive attributes. In fact, it is watching each of the characters grow and come into their own that is especially satisfying about the story.

I was rather surprised that Ishmael didn’t take more heed once on Cretacea of the final request Old Ben made of him while still on Earth. As it turns out, learning what you do later, I don’t see how he could have done anything differently. But it seemed like he could and should at least have tried.

I was quite intrigued by a couple of rather unexpected plot twists toward the end, which in hindsight should have been more apparent. Strasser does an excellent job of weaving just enough detail into the story to make it all come together in the end, without giving too much away up front. (Without offering any spoilers myself, I was very happy, in a melancholy sort of way, to discover in the end what became of Ishmael’s foster brother Archie!)

Even though I rather enjoyed the (apparent) ending, I did think that it felt very rushed. The story progresses slowly over about 400 pages – and then seems to wrap everything in about the last 14 pages! I felt like there could have been a lot more explained and more time taken to make it better understood. Overall though, it was a very clever story, with an interesting take on a classic, an entertaining read and overall a very good book.

I received this book free from The Reading Room in exchange for an honest review.