Monthly Archives: February 2013

Planet of the Damned (Harry Harrison)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Planet of the Damned is an action oriented sci-fi adventure story about a man trying to save a planet from thermonuclear armageddon.  I guess the most pronounced twists on the standard perfect-hero-saves-the-world formula is a strict deadline looming before all life on the planet is obliterated and the fact that the people populating the threatened world appear at first to be alien and difficult to comprehend even though they eventually turn out to be standard noble savages.  It was written while the Cold War was in full swing, so there is a bit of the whole “war is futile and peace is the only answer” subtext going on that will probably seem heavy-handed to modern readers.  This probably also explains the strict deadline to thermonuclear annihilation, as living under that looming threat wouldn’t have been sci-fi to people of that era but instead a grim reality.  The technology is also decidedly anachronistic in some ways, as the author had no way of predicting the technological innovations that have subsequently remade society.  I wouldn’t say this is a terrible book, but I wouldn’t recommend it, largely because I think sci-fi has evolved significantly since it was written and most things written today are simply better.
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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Silly Mommy, Silly Daddy (Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick)

Recommended, Repeatable

Beth is having a bad day. She refuses to smile despite the fact that all of the adults in her life are doing silly things in an attempt to cheer her up (making odd noises, crawling, having her ride on their shoulder, etc). Her big sister breaks through at the end (it’s a children’s book, so of course we need our happy ending), and it’s a cute, clever book with bright pictures. I think the story is particularly engaging for the adult and the toddler because you can’t help but make silly noises and laugh a little at the adult’s various tactics. It’s probably even more repeatable if you have sister-and-sister siblings in your household, but it’s engaging and worth repeating regardless.

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Posted in Children's/Young Adult

The Enchantment Emporium (Tanya Huff)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The Enchantment Emporium is a female-centric contemporary urban fantasy novel with a smattering of disturbing sex and mild violence.  I’m a little conflicted about how to rate this novel because, while it is imaginative and decently written, I also found it to be disturbingly sexist in a way that made me uncomfortable.  Quite a bit of content in the novel made me uncomfortable actually, from sex with cousins being a common occurrence to the protagonist’s family basically claiming, then “owning” people at their whims.  The setting is quite unique, even though the author uses a lot of common urban fantasy elements.  The plotting is fairly straightforward but wasn’t especially predictable and didn’t drag anywhere significantly.  The characters were a bit weak, but distinct enough that you at least felt like they had a personality, with the exception of the love interest.  I really can’t think of anything that had a similar feel to the one depicted in The Enchantment Emporium and that is for me a very good thing in a genre that is supposed to be about imagination and escapism.  In the end, I decided that this is one of the better more female oriented urban fantasy books I have read, and the fact that it made me uncomfortable probably broadened my horizons and at least gave me some things to think about, so I would recommend this book to urban fantasy fans but would forewarn them that their might be some disturbing elements.
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Tempting the Bride (Sherry Thomas)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
There are a ton of cliches in this book — the friend who’s always secretly been in love with the best friend’s sibling, amnesia, perfectly well-timed recovery from amnesia, one of the protagonists bein an author (shocker). But Thomas expertly turns each of these cliches on its head, giving us layered characters and a wonderfully believable and multidimensionally layered love story. It’s almost like she’s set a challenge for herself: to use all the standard cliches in a creative and thoroughly enthralling way. This was a wonderful historical romance, and though I am usually NOT a fan, this is one of the best historical romances I’ve read in a long time.

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Posted in Romance

The Casual Vacancy (JK Rowling)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
As others have pointed out, this is not Rowling’s first book for adults (she’s written seven others previously, and their titles all begin with Harry Potter and the), but it IS the first book she’s written that requires multiple trigger warnings (see spoilers below).  This is definitely not the Potterverse, but fans of Rowlings will find her humor, her large cast of different, believable characters, and her deftly interwoven storylines have carried through.  The book begins with the sudden death of Barry Fairbrother, who holds a seat on the Pagford Parish Council, and follows the inhabitants of the small town of Pagford through the aftermath of his passing, which has created the titular casual vacancy on the council.  While this sounds rather dull compared to wizards fighting epic battles, the magic here is in Rowling’s ability to bring characters to life and have them interact with each other in fascinating and believable ways.  She has answered the question of whether she can write non-Potter books with a resounding “Yes!”
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Posted in Literary Fiction

All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments (Alex Witchel)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a book that has all the ingredients I normally love: it’s a heartwarming memoir about a daughter dealing with her mother’s dementia, with strong family bonds, fiercely independent female protagonists, mother-daughter-grandmother angst, and warmth. It even has recipes (what a clever touch!) and a lot of loving details about food and rituals. Yet despite it having all of the necessary elements that should have made me love it, I just didn’t. There are some admittedly well-written moments that are touching, sad, or just feel startlingly true and thus wonderful… but overall, I just didn’t connect with this family. The father figure feels like a bit of a lopsided villain/caricature, and the pacing/writing, though mostly clear, just didn’t really grab me. I was excited to find this book, but finishing it felt a bit like a chore…
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Posted in Nonfiction

Trapped Under Ice (M.J. Schiller)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
I’m a big fan of the core concept here: a widowed mother meets the lead singer of a band she’s obsessed with at a rock concert. They feel an instant attraction for one another, and eventually a relationship develops… a rock star and the lunch lady? That’s a fun combination. And I think most of us have had that rockstar fantasy… but, this book suffered a little from the too-many-twists and too-full-of-a-cast problems. There were a lot of interesting things happening — so many that at times, we lost focus on the main love story. Also, bits of the backstory, much of which is told via somewhat disturbing flashbacks are quite dark… so be warned! Despite this, I found this to be well-written enough, and engaging enough to be worth the read.

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Posted in Romance

Reality 36 (Guy Haley, Richards & Klein Investigations #1)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
In this near-future, posthuman, artificial intelligence detective thriller, the protagonists transverse a world fractured by the emergence of artificial realities and arcane laws relating to the rights of sentient intelligences in the attempt to uncover the identity of the one responsible for a multiple homicide of the same individual.  As this description might suggest, this novel attempts to grapple with some weighty moral and political issues in combination with a very complicated setting and intricate plot.  I liked the book a great deal, but I think that maybe the author was trying to do a bit too much all at once.  I can’t point to any one fault that undermines the work as a whole, but the overall feeling I left with was that the author was a bit scattered in what he was trying to do.  Despite this shortcoming, and a very unsatisfactory conclusion which presumably will be solved by the sequel, Reality 36 is really hard sci-fi at its best and most complicated and I would definitely recommend it to any hard sci-fi fan.
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Polar Bolero (Debi Gliori)

Recommended, Not Repeatable

This is a cute rhyming book that is all about the daydreaming adventures of a young bear, who’s unable to go to sleep. It’s sweetly imaginative, and the pictures feature owls, bears, children, and foxes flying and adventuring. It’s bright and well-illustrated, and definitely something you and your toddler will enjoy… I read through it a couple of times back-to-back with my child, but then he lost interest and we moved on. In terms of Debi Gliori books that are very repeatable and worth owning, I would suggest No Matter What.

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Posted in Children's/Young Adult

Jumping Off The Planet (David Gerrold, The Far Side of the Sky #1)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Jumping Off The Planet attempts to meld a dysfunctional family drama with a hard sci-fi analysis of the ramifications of creating a space elevator in a very dysfunctional world.  Unfortunately, the drama feels manufactured and hollow, and the characters are so maudlin, uninteresting, and unlikeable that the book soon becomes a chore to read.  The sci-fi elements relating to the space elevator seemed all right to me, although I am by no means an expert on the subject, but the dour picture of the dysfunctional world economy either displays a profound lack of knowledge about fundamental economic principles or relies entirely on mechanics not explained within the book.  I was predisposed to liking this book due to my fascination with the concept of space elevators and the great amount of space devoted to writing about them, but the feeble characters and odious melodrama made the narrative laborious to get through, and the economic issues proved too distracting for the good space elevator bits, so I can’t really recommend this book to anyone. I declare it a failure in both concept and execution.
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