Monthly Archives: October 2012

Night of the Living Trekkies (Kevin David Anderson): A Special Halloween Joint Review

CleverHandle’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Penguinhegemony’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
CH: I hate zombies.  HATE them.  With the exception of Shaun of the Dead, I have loathed every piece of zombie-related media I have ever encountered.  If you told me I’d be writing a five-star review of a “zombies at a Star Trek convention” book, I would have laughed (even though I’m a TNG fan).  I read it intending to provide a counterpoint to Penguinhegemony’s review.  And in a way, I was right: I didn’t like this book.  I LOVED it.  Anderson pulls you in right from the start, with likable characters and a humorous style.  The writing is excellent: Anderson does a great job of building tension, and during some of the more dramatic scenes, I could almost hear a soundtrack in my head.  The plot is fast-paced and engaging, the book is a page-turner (I read it in one sitting), and Anderson keeps you intrigued and entertained throughout.  You don’t need to be a Star Trek fan to enjoy this, but there are a lot of clever nods to the series throughout, including chapter titles borrowed from episodes of the show.  This is the best book I’ve read all year, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys humor, tension, and good writing — even if you hate zombies.

P: I generally like zombie apocalypse stories, but I wouldn’t consider most of them to be something I would recommend.  I picked up Night of the Living Trekkies (tag line: “They thought space was the final frontier.  They were wrong.”) thinking that it would a fun book to make fun of with a ridiculous, easily dismissible premise: zombies at a Star Trek convention.  As I read it, I had the growing realization that it was, to my horror, actually really good.  It solves most of the issues I have with the genre at large: the plot is fun and unpredictable, the characters are well developed and likeable, and the environment is interesting and believable.  Surprisingly, I have to heartily recommend Night of the Living Trekkies as a well developed, action packed read and not just yet another forgettable zombie thriller.
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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Thraxas and the Sorcerers (Martin Scott, Thraxas #5)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Fifth in the Thraxas series, Thraxas and the Sorcerers is a fun, lighthearted, fast moving traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy detective story.  The plot really moves along and focuses more on humor and action than on the more cerebral aspects of the mystery.  The main characters are all well defined and funny; the side characters are more serious, but also decently put together.  The setting is well developed by the previous four books in the series and feels very organic and as realistic as a swords-and-sorcery setting can be.  There is quite a bit of drug and alcohol abuse depicted, so someone who doesn’t want to see that depicted might want to steer clear, but this is no way a trippy psychedelic 60s or 70s throwback fantasy novel.  Overall I would recommend this book as a fun fantasy romp.

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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

One Dance with a Duke (Tessa Dare, Stud Club #1)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
She’s the supposedly overlooked, almost matronly, spinster who loves nothing better than to embroider and plan menus; he’s the irresistibly mysterious duke who rarely shows his face in society.  It’s that unlikely combination of rake and wallflower that shows up a little too often in regency romance.  Add in a dash of murder and an obsession with horseflesh that is probably believable for the time period but not at all my thing, and I didn’t really expect to like this book. Except it’s actually fun, interesting, and well written. Dare is great at miring the readers in scenes that are long enough to really see character motivations and growth arcs, and though they still occasionally surrender to stereotypes and misunderstandings, overall, this is a sweetly sensual, often humorous romance whose characters take deft, surprising turns just as you’re about to lose faith in them…
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Posted in Romance

A Man Without a Country (Kurt Vonnegut)

4 out of 5 Stars

Cut to the Chase:
“You know the truth can be really powerful stuff.  You’re not expecting it…” This is a wonderfully put together collection of essays; Vonnegut’s voice is distinct, cutting, witty and insightful.  The essays are very opinionated and after a while, you can easily predict some of his standpoints, yet they’re expressed so vividly that the collection is still worth reading, still compelling.  He compares Cinderella to Kafka, and then both to Hamlet (there’s a very interesting, but brief, section near the beginning where he includes graphs showing character journeys of each of these stories).  He talks about the war and his childhood as a jokester, admits that his wife is the oldest woman he’s slept with, discusses his writing life, the war, and how he feels as though he should sue the cigarette companies for not killing him off.  This was a quick read that I finished in the bookstore, but then had to buy anyway.

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Posted in Nonfiction

Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a well-written, thoughtful collection of stories focusing on Bengali men and women, largely in the beginning of middle age, who are reflecting on their Indian parents, understanding the responsibilities of parenthood, as well as the full implications of immigration and separation, now that they are becoming parents, and adults, themselves. The tension of culture — generational misunderstandings, the choice to marry an American or adhere to tradition — is a delightfully constant backdrop.  Further, Lahiri has a compelling command over the English language, and every description feels precise and artful.  Yet these stories are ultimately not as compelling or memorable as those in other Lahiri works.  The collection is a quick and enjoyable read, but ultimately, I can’t help feeling that this collection should be celebrated as a technical accomplishment in writing rather than a truly artistic expression of plot and character.
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Posted in Literary Fiction

The Duke and I (Julia Quinn, Bridgertons #1)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Definitely one of Quinn’s stronger works, this is an excellent introduction to her Bridgertons series We have the “Devastating Duke,” who is arrogant partially because he has had to overcome a traumatic childhood (father who ridiculed and ignored him because of his stammer), paired expertly with Daphne, the beautiful but usually overlooked beauty who has grown up surrounded by a boisterous, loving family.  They’re a very nice pairing in part because their backgrounds are so different, one bringing warmth and mirth to the other’s much colder, more solitary existence.  There is definitely some let’s-escalate-this-fight back and forth during the last one-third of the novel that keeps it from being a perfectly reviewed novel for me, but Quinn’s sense of humor (only sometimes over the top), and her deftness at drawing these characters saves it, making it a fun and refreshing read.

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Posted in Romance

Stardoc (SL Viehl)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The first book in a ten book series, Stardoc is split between the everyday medical practice on an alien planet and the overarching plot.  Unfortunately, the overarching plot is not very good, while the medical practice is fascinating.  The characters follow this same divide: the protagonist and her love interests are forgettable while the supporting cast, disposable characters, and even the environments are very intriguing.  Severe pacing issues arise, as we are frequently pulled out of the exciting medical practice to address some tedious plot point in the main storyline  There is some non-consensual sex in the book, so readers who are sensitive to such things should steer clear.  Overall, I have to recommend this book just based on the fact that a blend of an excellent sci-fi medical drama and an unexceptional love story/space adventure is absolutely unique — well worth experiencing once.

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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Chester’s Way (Kevin Henkes)

Recommended, Repeatable

This picture book features Chester and Wilson, mice children who are best friends and a touch on the OCD side, and the indomitable Lilly (of Purple Plastic Purse fame) who ends up the star of any of the books in the series in which she appears.  Lilly attempts to befriend the overly-routinzed duo, who shun her until she saves them from bullies, at which point they all become friends and make shifts to accommodate each other.  This is done so that the message that comes through is “be open to change” rather than “discard your personality so that others will like you.”  The text has a nice symmetrical structure which will make it easy for young readers to anticipate and memorize, and the drawings are charming.  This book is part of the Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse series.

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Posted in Children's/Young Adult

The Strangelove Gambit (David Bishop, Nikolai Dante #1)

1 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a mediocre attempt at a sexy sci-fi swashbuckler that comes across more as a uninteresting wish fulfillment for uncreative teenage boys with little taste.  I understand that the book is an adaptation of a popular comic book character and universe, but frankly the author could have done a lot better.  The protagonist is just about the worst execution the archetype of the anti-hero I have ever seen.  Apparently, the central hook of his character is that he likes to sleep with women. That’s it.  That’s the whole character.  He has a tragic, complicated back story, a dark, repressive, authoritarian world to run around in,  and all sorts of amazing sci-fi abilities, but his driving force, the only time he acts outside of the necessities for the threadbare plot, is when he’s feeling randy.  The other characters are even worse.  He has two sidekicks that are so one-dimensionally boring that I would boo them at a five-year-old’s puppet show.  One of them is disgusting and farts constantly; the other one is cowardly and British.  That’s as deep as it gets.  Minor characters are even less inspired and more disposable; even their names are terrible.  In no particular order of cringe-worthiness we have: Wartski, a woman covered in warts; Mould, a boring professor who just sits around like a fungus; and and Shitov, a sadistic prison commander.  Given that the protagonist is so focused on sex, you would think that there would be a bit more of it, or that it would be particularly exciting, but I think there are two pages of non-graphic sex scenes at most, and they really aren’t very well done.  Strangely, for a swashbuckling adventure, there is almost no action and really very little adventure.  This book lacks imagination in its inception and fails on the execution of its small potential.  I would not recommend this book.

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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

His at Night (Sherry Thomas)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Thomas’s romances are creative, interesting and intelligent — her characters talk of inveigling one another, postulate about art and politics, and debate internally about their prurient thoughts.  This particular novel is no different: we have two well-crafted lead characters, both of whom are thespians (he is an agent for the crown and assumes a facade of staggering idiocy, and she is living under her malicious uncle’s thumb, hoping only for freedom for herself and her aunt).  She traps him into marriage, he is suitably angry, cross purposes, misunderstandings, et cetera.  It may just be me, but there is something about Thomas’s writing which leaves me a little cold — her characters are a little too hard-edged, and though this book at least had enough humor and sensitivity, I find her novels more admirable than enjoyable.  I can read it and say: yes, this was clever, well-plotted, and shows and impressive range of vocabulary with a good attention to detail… but it doesn’t really draw me in. Her books have enough awards and reviews that there must be an audience, and I don’t exactly regret reading this, but I found the book more exhausting than entertaining: the characters, though interesting and larger-than-life, are a little too much, somewhere between superhero and Don Diego, the villains, despite the eventual explanation, a little too one-sided devil, and the plot twists… mostly tiring.

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Posted in Romance