Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sci-Fi: Wool by Hugh Howey

Series: Wool #1-5; Silo #1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date: January 2012
Format: paperback
Source: GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 509
Reading time: about a month

From GoodReads: In a ruined and toxic landscape, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. There, men and women live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them. Sheriff Holston, who has unwaveringly upheld the silo's rules for years, unexpectedly breaks the greatest taboo of all: he asks to go outside. His fateful decision unleashes a drastic series of events. An unlikely candidate is appointed to replace him: Juliette, a mechanic with no training in law, whose special knack is fixing machines. Now Juliette is about to be entrusted with fixing her silo, and she will soon learn just how badly her world is broken. The silo is about to confront what its history has only hinted about and its inhabitants have never dared to whisper. Uprising. 

My review: Despite the intimidating page count and the insanely long amount of time I took to finish this book, Wool is a read I found highly worthwhile (otherwise, I wouldn't have stuck with it for a month). Aiding in this is that if you get stuck in the depths of the pages without enough time to read for a while, it's quite easy to pick up the storyline and characters right where you left them. The plot is complex enough to be interesting but not so convoluted as to inhibit a very leisurely read. (In my case, by leisurely I mean depressingly slow - my fault, not the book's.)

As to the actual content of the novel, it's pretty great. It's well-written, the pacing is consistent, and everything just melds together really well. I was hooked by the first section, though a bit befuddled by the changes in subsequent parts as to who seemed to be the main character, and enjoyed every bit of the 500 pages. The worldbuilding is awesome and could support another epic-length book or two, it's so well-done by always providing readers with just the right amount of information. The characters are equally well-written, with a good balance of psychological insight and actual actions. This definitely makes my list of sci-fi books to recommend to fans of the genre.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Blog Tour Review: Big Egos by S.G. Browne

Publisher: Gallery Books
Date: August 6, 2013
Format: paperback
Source: publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 364
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: Call him whatever. Call him whomever. He can be any legally authorized fictional character or dead celebrity he wants for six to eight hours, simply by injecting a DNA-laced cocktail into his brain stem. It’s called Big Egos and it’s the ultimate role-playing fantasy from Engineering Genetics Organization and Systems (aka EGOS.) And, as one of the quality controllers for EGOS, he’s the ultimate ego-tripper, taking on more artificial identities than advisable—and having a hell of a time doing it. Problem is, he’s starting to lose the ability to separate fact from fiction. His every fantasy is the new reality. And the more roles he plays, the less of him remains. Sure, it’s dangerous. Yes, he’s probably losing his mind. Okay, hundreds of others could be at risk. But sometimes who you are isn’t good enough. And the truth is, reality is so overrated. . . .

My review: I'm of mixed opinions on this one. On the one hand, it has a lot of stuff I should love - satire, speculative fiction, pop culture and literary references, humor. Even the cover looks fantastic, and it pretty perfectly fits what you would expect from the cover of a speculative fiction satire. And yes, the novel is funny in places, and yes, it is an effective satire of modern life and our struggles with identity, with finding out who the "real me" is. Much of the book is a fast read that is simultaneously entertaining and insightful. I think it would make a great movie, one of those psychological mind-blowing thriller-type films that have been popular recently.

But then, for some reason, I was kind of let down overall. I either didn't understand the pop culture references or else found them far too shallow to be truly amusing. I was a bit confused with where the story was going and what, exactly, was happening. The ending was disappointing - I was left wondering "WTF?," unsure as to what the author intended with the final couple of pages. I felt like there were a lot of loose ends left behind, mostly about the ultimate fates of the characters. The conclusion and a good deal of what led up to it just felt unsatisfactory compared to the early promise of the rest of the book.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Blog Tour Review & Giveaway: The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Publisher: Hogarth
Date: July 23, 2013 (US)
Format: hardback
Source: TLC Book Tours
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 282
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Anais Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car. She is headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can't remember what’s happened, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and Anais’s school uniform is covered in blood. Raised in foster care from birth and moved through twenty-three placements before she even turned seven, Anais has been let down by just about every adult she has ever met. Now a counter-culture outlaw, she knows that she can only rely on herself. And yet despite the parade of horrors visited upon her early life, she greets the world with the witty, fierce insight of a survivor. Anais finds a sense of belonging among the residents of the Panopticon – they form intense bonds, and she soon becomes part of an ad hoc family. Together, they struggle against the adults that keep them confined. When she looks up at the watchtower that looms over the residents though, Anais knows her fate: she is an anonymous part of an experiment, and she always was. Now it seems that the experiment is closing in.

My review: To clarify the genre of this novel (the synopsis above makes it pretty clear, but I know there was some confusion when news of the book's upcoming release first appeared on the blogsphere), I saw it as realistic or contemporary fiction about the Scottish foster care system. There are some dystopian elements, especially towards the beginning of the novel, but Anais is an unreliable narrator, so the truth of these is unclear.

The dialect took a little bit of time to get used to (I actually thought it was a typo the first time, oops) but overall was not difficult to read. Because of her actions and self-destructive behavior, Anais is not the most likable character, but her resilience and mentality draw readers into her story. The situations in which she and the other teens at the Panopticon live are tough, gritty, depressing, but they are portrayed very matter-of-factly, without extra drama or sensationalism. It's heartbreaking seemingly without even trying to tug at your heartstrings. You want to feel optimistic and think that everything will work out perfectly for everyone in the end, but at the same time, it's clear that the characters cannot have truly healthy, happy lives while they remain within the system, and the situation is too complex for someone else to simply come in and "rescue" them. The novel is one of the most realistic and effective portrayals of social issues that I have read in a very long time, and I was a bit disappointed to see the story end where it did.

Maturity factor: language (to the extent of causing DNFs for several other reviewers), nongraphic sexual situations and rape, drugs

Giveaway: TLC Book Tours has graciously provided an extra copy of The Panopticon to give away. Open to US addresses only; ends September 10, 2013.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Blog Tour Review & Giveaway: The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough

Series: Dire Earth Cycle #1
Publisher: Del Rey
Date: July 30, 2013
Format: paperback
Source: TLC Book Tours
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 480
Reading time: three days

From GoodReads: In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth. The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures. The planet’s refugees flock to Darwin, where a space elevator—created by the architects of this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura. Skyler Luiken has a rare immunity to the plague. Backed by an international crew of fellow “immunes,” he leads missions into the dangerous wasteland beyond the aura’s edge to find the resources Darwin needs to stave off collapse. But when the Elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler is tapped—along with the brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma—to solve the mystery of the failing alien technology and save the ragged remnants of humanity.

My review: I'm not a huge fan sci-fi involving aliens, but Hough pulls off a combination of post-apocalyptic scenario, alien influence, and a touch of dystopia and zombies quite well. There's lots of action to drive the plot along, plus an unfolding mystery (to be continued throughout the series) of who built the Elevator and what their ultimate intentions are. There was a bit too much political and military scheming for my taste, especially given that I did not always completely understand everything that was going on, but it added to the complexity of the setting. The characters were well-developed enough, given that this is primarily an action-y novel, though I did want their backgrounds to be explored a little bit more so I could get a better feel for where they were coming from. Overall, this proved to be a good, solid read, both exciting and interesting, that leaves the door wide open for the upcoming sequel.

Reminds me of: Icons by Margaret Stohl, but with less malevolent aliens (as far as we know right now).

Giveaway: Thanks to TLC Book Tours, I have one extra copy of The Darwin Elevator to give away! Open to US/Canada mailing addresses only; ends September 2, 2013.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Short Stories: Drown by Junot Diaz

Publisher: Riverhead
Date: 1996
Format: paperback
Source: ARCycling
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 208
Reading time: six days

What it is: A collection of short stories about a Dominican family, especially the second son. Junior grows up first in a poor neighborhood in the Dominican Republic, then as an immigrant in America, and must navigate issues with his family and with his social situation.

Review: I read and enjoyed Junot Diaz's novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao last year, and my favorite story in Drown was "How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie" because it most matched the cynical humor of Oscar Wao. Otherwise, however, the stories in Drown seemed very different from Diaz's novel. The theme of the Dominican immigrant experience was the same, but Drown seemed much more raw and realistic. I didn't really like the characters, whose decisions I often thought were poor, but Diaz's intent to show the grittiness and truth of the lives of similar people was clear. Yet I felt like the stories selected only fragments of Junior's life, and the reader never gained a true understanding of Junior's true character, all of his life experiences or where he would end up. The stories themselves were well-written and, at times, wrenching, but as a whole they left me with a feeling of incompleteness.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Recent Acquisitions X

Yet another week of reading slump. Fortunately, I have three blog tours coming up later this month, so I have much more motivation to read as soon as I head back off to college and get unpacked.

For review:
The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough (TLC Book Tours)

From Random Buzzers:
Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay

The Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni (thanks, Literary Rambles!)
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (thanks, The Book Garden!)

Purchased for school:
Tales of the Tikongs by Epeli Hau'ofa
Little Crow: Spokesman for the Sioux by Gary C. Anderson
Facing East from Indian Country by Daniel K. Richter
A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733-1816 by Claudio Staunt
Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870 by Sylvia Van Kirk
Archaeology of the Southwest by Linda S. Cordell
An Introduction to the Anthropology of Melanesia by Paul Sillitoe
Village on the Edge by Michael French Smith

Purchased used:
What we have here is a surprisingly good haul from the local Goodwill.
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
March by Geraldine Brooks
The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
My Dearest Friend: The Civil War Correspondence of Cornelia McGimsey and Lewis Warlick ed. by Mike and Carolyn Lawing
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Collections and Recollections ed. by Barbara Summerlin
Crossroads by Martha Rowe Vaughn
Grandma's Trunk by Martha Rowe Vaughn

Monday, August 5, 2013

Current Reads

Except for a brief period during the Once Upon a Read-a-thon, I have been in an epic reading slump this summer. Here's updates on the books I am currently agonizingly inching through:

Wool by Hugh Howey
I'm reading the omnibus of this, and the page count is rather intimidating. I made it through the first (short) book/section just fine, but I can't seem to get motivated to continue even though I'm liking the story.

Drown by Junot Diaz
I've read the first story, which was, you know, a short story. I just haven't had the time yet to continue.

The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox
The first 100 pages or so were great, hilarious and, as the title would indicate, very much like Don Quixote. The next pages, though, were not so much fun. It seems like a lot of rehashing the same themes, and the same novels are always referenced and are not ones with which modern readers might be familiar.

Punch and Judy in 19th Century America by Ryan Howard
I've read the first couple of chapters. I think they contain good information, but it's dry and sometimes rambles. I don't think I've retained much info so far.