Book Review: Infinity Squad by Shuvom Ghose

Inifinity SquadIt was really good to get back to some aliens, clones and explosions.

I actually started this back in November – which is the worst month for me to start reading anything because of NaNoWriMo. Needless to say, I didn’t have time to finish the thing at the time. I finally got back to it last weekend. This book came on my radar because it was on my sister’s Goodreads feed and I thought the plot sounded awesome. I got it from Amazon for the low, low price of zero dollars. And you can, too! Right Here.

In this world, the military has the ability to ‘download’ your mind into a cloned body if you die in combat (an infinite number of times, presumably). The narrator is Second Lieutenant Jonah Forrest who becomes the commander of Infinity squad after their First Lieutenant dies (permanently) under mysterious circumstances. The humans are in the midst of a war with the Hell Spiders on a planet far from Earth. Forrest discovers something very interesting about this alien enemy and stuff starts to hit the fan in short order.

The military science fiction I’ve read in the past always moves along at a good clip, not a lot of description or pontificating like fantasy does, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – just different. The focus is on tactics, weapons, explosions- that sort of thing- as opposed to visuals and exhaustive world building. I really liked the narrative voice – it reminded me of Mark Watney from The Martian, but with a lot more swearing. There was also some sexual content, so reader beware.

This was published by an indie author, but again, it doesn’t show. It was entertaining and well paced. The characters were funny and real. The premise was well thought out and executed. Some interesting uses for the clone technology are used in the character’s various exploits, some of which made me laugh out loud.

Verdict: A-.

Thanks for reading!

 

~ebook purchased from Amazon for $0.

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Book Review: One Summer by David Balducci

One SummerPart of me feels like it’s not fair for me to do a review of One Summer. I am not this book’s audience. I appreciate the fact that there are people out there who like to read these kinds of books, but I am not one of them. The other part of me knows that no matter the genre, if the book is written well, even scrooges like me can enjoy it.

That being said, I have a couple “disclosures” before I get into this review.

DISCLOSURE 1: I really dislike contemporary fiction.

I find the genre boring. It deals with ordinary people in our ordinary (mostly boring) world. And it’s just BORING, guys. Thus, there really has to be something special about the characters or the narrative voice to keep me reading. In addition, it’s usually all drama, all the time, which I find emotionally manipulative. It’s like the author is trying to trick you into caring about the characters instead of doing the work to show us in a realistic way why we should care about them. I don’t know about anyone else, but if the characters want my sympathy, they need to earn it. All novels have some level of emotional manipulation – that’s part of the magic –  you truly do grow to care about characters that exist only in your mind’s eye. The problem with contemporary fiction is that it’s so obvious about it. Having a few bad things happen to the characters on page one isn’t going to stir this cold, cold heart.

To drive the point home further, I can definitively count on one hand the number of contemporary novels that I’ve read that I actually enjoyed. So, right out of the gate, I knew I probably wasn’t going to like this book. In fact, a sense of dread settled over me just taking a look at the front cover of the thing.

DISCLOSURE 2: I have tried reading two of Balducci’s novels in the last year. I put both of them down a few pages in and don’t feel the least bit sorry about it.

You can probably guess how this review is going to go – just like I could guess every plot point in this novel.

Alright, so One Summer by David Balducci…

It’s about a guy named Jack who’s a thirty-something veteran. He has a wife and three kids and when we meet him in chapter one he’s almost dead from a fatal disease which he never names. Then his wife dies in a car accident before he kicks the bucket and he’s shipped off to a hospice to die alone and his children are shipped off to live with relatives. But then Jack miraculously recovers and tries to pull his life back together.

I got the ebook version of this book from the libary, read a few chapters and just knew deep in my bones that I would never be able to finish it in that format (you know, if I had to actually sit down using my free will and dedicate hours of my time to reading it and doing nothing else – ha!), so I went back to the digital catalog to check out the audiobook, which I’d seen was available when I’d originally checked out the ebook. I’ve never listened to an audiobook before…and I may never do so again. Do they all have cheesy music that they throw in every once in awhile for dramatic effect? I hated that. It didn’t help that some of the music sounded wonky like an old, worn out cassette tape. I’m serious guys. I don’t know how that even happens with a digital recording…but every time that sappy music started playing and then started to warp, I was like, “Are you freaking kidding me?!”

Complaints about the audiobook aside…this book was just so cliché and predictable I could hardly stand it.

It’s like the author went down the Hallmark movie cliché checklist:

  • Resentful mother-in-law cliché: check.
  • Incompetent father cliché: check.
  • Rebellious teenage daughter cliché: check.
  • Custody battle cliché: check.
  • Sappy love letters cliché: check.
  • Learning to love again cliché: check. Check. Check.

I could go on…

I have no complaints about the writing or editing. It was fine. *shrug* These characters and situations, though, just weren’t believable to me. Real people are not cliché. Real life is not cliché. And yet. Here we have this novel. And many, many others just like it.

I really don’t understand the appeal, I guess.

My faith in contemporary fiction has most certainly not been restored. This book earns a C-. The writing is competent but it’s boring and predictable. Skip it and spare yourself the loss of five hours you will never, ever get back.

Three strikes, Mr. Balducci.

 

~ebook & audiobook borrowed from the local library.

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2015 Best Reads

At last, the wait is over!

I give you: my 2015 Best Reads!

Fiction Bests (in no particular order):

Perfect State

Sixth of the DuskPerfect State & Sixth of the Dusk by Brandon Sanderson – These are two novellas, the second of which was first published as part of an anthology (Shadows Beneath) – but you can now get it on it’s own! It’s hard to categorize Perfect State – I think, technically, it’s science fiction. It doesn’t matter. Get  it. It’s brilliant and hilarious and perfect. Sixth of the Dusk is fantasy and  is part of the Cosmere – which is Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy universe. Also brilliant.

 

FirefightFirefight by Brandon Sanderson – Yes, another one by that Sanderson fellow. If he would stop being so amazing, then I’d stop recommending his stuff on these things. I’m just sayin’.

Firefight is the follow-up to Steelheart, which I think I mentioned fifty times on my blog after I read it (okay, actually it was three times – one of which was on my Best of 2013 list). This book was just so unpredictable. A delightful ‘middle-of-a-triligy’ book.

 

Furies of CalderonAcadem's FuryCursor's FuryCaptain's FuryPrinceps' FuryFirst Lord's FuryThe Codex Alera by Jim Butcher – This is a series of six epic fantasy books by the author of the Dresden Files, which (full disclosure) I’ve never read, but are apparently very popular. These books are great so I’m inclined to give Jim’s other books a read.

 

 

The Book of DeaconThe Book of Deacon by Joseph Lallo – I actually got the first book in this series free via Amazon (and it’s STILL available for free HERE if you’re interested in checking it out) and had to go and get the anthology because it was just so good! This was also self-published but it does not show. I love to see indie authors killin’ it.

 

 

CressCress by Marissa Meyer – This is the third book in the Lunar Chronicles, which has taken an interesting spin on familiar fairy tales. I mean, the main protagonist is a cyborg, so it can’t not be awesome, right? The first book is Cinder (Cinderella), the second Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood), and Cress is about a Rapunzel type character named Crescent. Also note that the fourth book has come out – titled Winter. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet. I’m pretty sure it’s a Snow White type deal. Anyway, they’re wonderful.

 

Non-Fiction Bests:

Writing Fight ScenesWriting Fight Scenes by Marie Brennan – I got this one as part of the 2015 NaNoWriMo bundle at StoryBundle.com. I love writing fight scenes and there was a lot of advice in here that I found very helpful. I’ll definitely be re-reading it.

 

 

 

First20HoursThe First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast by Josh Kaufman – That old myth that you need to spend 10,000 hours on something to be good at it – BUNK. The author spends a chapter or two explaining how his method works and then the rest of the book is about how he tested his methods, learning five new things on his “to learn” bucket list. It’s very interesting stuff.

 

So, that’s my list for 2015. Give these books a chance!

Stay tuned for my review of One Summer by David Balducci…sigh. It’s only 300 pages. It’s only 300 pages.

Thanks for reading!

 

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Book Review: The Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather

Atopia ChroniclesMy sister recommended this book to me because I’m currently working on a novel of my own that has a thing or two to do with virtual reality, although this book takes the topic in an entirely different direction than I have in my novel.

The Atopia Chronicles is a novel in six parts about an advanced technology society living on an island, called Atopia, in the Pacific. The virtual reality comes in the form of nano technology that resides in your body, so you can carry it around with you. It can filter out unwanted visuals and people, and you can virtually ‘go’ anywhere and do anything.

One of the major themes in this book is the implications of life altering technology. If there’s one thing that mankind does to a fault, it’s take great technological advances and use them in the worst possible way. Here is book that explores all the ways in which this technology could be used and abused. The end result is that it basically destroys everyone’s lives. I also thought the author did a good job of exploring how the world would be affected and not just the people at the center of the narrative.

This book asks some pretty deep questions like: Will this kind of technology really solve all the world’s problems? What would happen if the technology fell into the wrong person’s hands? What happens when you can give people everything they could ever want? What really makes people happy?

The thing I didn’t like about this book were the characters. For me, there was a lot of explanation about the technology and not enough character development. Also, I read half of this before we left for vacation last month and found it really hard to remember who the characters were when I finally picked it back up last week. It was only a couple of weeks but apparently the characters weren’t strong enough to stay in my brain for that relatively short amount of time. So, firstly, I don’t know enough about these characters to really care about them. Secondly, I felt like the characters were selfish and self absorbed and they kind of deserved the bad things that were happening to them…

But…I liked this book enough to finish it, so I’d probably give it a B- overall.

Stay tuned for my ‘Best of 2015’ post, where I share with you the best things I read in 2015 and also, my next review will be my book club’s selection for the month: One Summer by David Balducci – which is contemporary fiction…dun, Dun, DUN… Oh my gosh, there’s feelings and exactly zero robots, so we’ll see if I can get through it…

Thanks for reading!

 

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Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

TheRestofUsJustLiveHereI was really excited when I got the message from my local library that it was already my turn to check out the ebook version of The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. And also annoyed.  The problem with putting ebooks on hold is that you never know when you’re going to get them and then you only have seven days to read the thing before it gets sent back regardless of how busy you are that week! I love that I don’t have to go to the library, but I hate that there is so much pressure to read something right this very second… #firstworldproblems

Anyway, I loved the Chaos Walking trilogy, and I’ve been waiting for Mr. Ness to come out with something that was equally engaging. So, when I read the author’s brief one or two line synopsis somewhere, I thought, “Killer concept, awesome title. Can’t wait to see what he does with this.”

The main character in this book is Mikey – he and his friends are ‘normal’ kids that live in a world where crazy supernatural stuff is always happening and threatening to destroy the world – like vampires, ghosts, etc. – but the people at the center of all the crazy are these “indie kids” – Chosen Ones – who all have kitschy names like Satchel. They run around causing and solving these supernatural disasters while everyone else just, well, lives there.  We get just a little snippet at the beginning of each chapter letting us know what the indie kids are up to before cutting back into the lives of the normal kids – though they have their own weird things going on, too – and then occasionally we get to see the two narratives cross, very briefly.

It was brilliant how the author conveyed how desensitized the main characters were to the supernatural events happening around them. They would see it or sometimes be RIGHT THERE when it happened – like a pillar of blue light, for example – acknowledge it in a ‘huh, that’s weird’ kind of way and then turn around a go home without another thought about it. Like “This stuff happens everyday and whatever. The indie kids will figure it out.”

I really like how Ness is poking fun at these contemporary YA books that have over-the-top unusual character names. Satchel is the main indie kid, but Mikey lists all the names of the indie kids he can think of and they’re all horrible, terrible names for real people – but are typical YA novel protagonist names (another Satchel – a boy, Nash, a couple o’ Dylans, like, five Finns).  This is one of my pet peeves about YA books – it just seems like every author thinks that their main protag needs a really unique name. I get it – you think your character is the next Katniss. She’s not, sorry. I’ve put down books for good because every single character, young and old, had a weird name. It just isn’t realistic; it throws you out of the story; especially if the setting is contemporary Earth – even if it is a fantasy. Please, rethink that character you named Sunrise or Biffington. Please, for the love. If you want to make up character names, write a fantasy/sci-fi thing set on another world or in the future of this one. /endrant

Another great thing about this book is that the characters sound like teenagers. One thing in particular stuck out to me: Mikey and his friends named an older character “Call Me Steve” and Mikey keeps referring to him as Call Me Steve for a good portion of the book, which made me smile every time I read it. My friends used to do that sort of thing when I was that age (my freshman friends in college called my brother “Robot Stacy”….true story).

So, there were definitely things that I enjoyed about this book- and then there are things that I didn’t.

My main issue with the book is that it reminded me a lot of Red Shirts (by John Scalzi) at the start (which is an excellent read). You have these characters who exist outside the exciting ‘narrative’ and they’re just trying to stay clear lest they get sucked in and (inevitably) get killed. Where the two books differ is that the characters in Red Shirts are active and the characters in The Rest of Us are not. Mikey is the only character who wonders what is going on with those indie kids and is concerned that maybe they won’t figure out how to solve the current crisis before the world is destroyed – but he doesn’t do anything about it. His friend Jared tells him to stay out of it, so he does. End of story. Frankly, I was more interested in what Sachel and Finn #2 were doing than the main characters. But then again, I have a hard time with contemporary YA in general because it tends to be boring and depressing.  So perhaps this is simply a matter of personal preference.

There was also a fairly obvious Chekhov’s gun that if it hadn’t finally happened, I may have just thrown my iPad across the room. But then again, it was also very heavy handed – “Well, of course this thing is happening – the characters have mentioned it six times already!” There are running jokes (which can be clever!) and there are jokes that just run on…

In addition, Ness’ characters are usually pretty broken, and this novel is no exception. Realistically, not everyone has a terrible life; not everyone is depressed and miserable – just sayin’.

I don’t know what’s happened with this author recently, but the last two books I’ve read of his were just underwhelming. His titles are perfect, brilliant even. They make you want to pick up his books, but I just wish there were fewer mentally unstable teenagers, less misery and more protag-ing. He had a great concept, but I think he fumbled it.

The first of Patrick Ness’ novels that I read was The Knife of Never Letting Go – which was weird sci-fi brilliance- loved it. The follow ups: The Ask and The Answer and Monsters of Men were just as good. I would highly recommend all three of them.

This one, I would skip.

Give me a reason to pick up your books again, Mr. Ness. Please.

 

~ ebook checked out from the local library.

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