Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lock In

Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2014
Rating: 7.5/10

Review:  Fun fact: apparently John Scalzi is one of the authors I recognize on sight. I recognized him at a restaurant, when he was in my neighborhood for the Lock In tour. I didn't go up to him, but instead I spontaneously bought a copy of Lock In despite the fact that I had reservations about the novella prequel, Unlocked.

Turned out, I liked Lock In better than the prequel. In format, the novel very much resembles a detective procedural. Chris Shane is a Hayden, which means his body is paralyzed, but his consciousness basically inhibits a robot called threep. He is starting his first week as an FBI agent, straight out of school. His partner is a much more experienced agent Leslie Vann.

The plot follows a pretty standard format of murder, investigation, plot twist, good guys win, It was entertaining, but not particularly exceptional in any way. I liked the characters though -- everyone seemed natural, quirky, and easy to like. I was a bit taken aback by how fast Chris and Vann's relationship evolved, but it made sense for the book.

One part of the book that stood out to me is Scalzi's clear intent to paint a much more liberal world than ours. Even though there's conflict and prejudice against Haydens, there are openly gay couples, and cross-gender Integrators (people who carry someone else in their mind), and a very open-minded opinion on whether Haydens are really disabled humans or really something different. Perhaps this wouldn't stand out to someone who doesn't read the author's blog, but it stuck out to me that the world very much conformed to Scalzi's views of how things ought to be. I generally don't mind his ideas, but I wonder if it's realistic to expect some of these things in the near future where Lock In takes place.

All in all, it's a pretty entertaining book. The premise of Haydens works well and is explored in various cool ways (Chris goes through several different bodies in the line of duty and also travels instantaneously). I would definitely recommend it as easy reading -- and I wonder if Scalzi is planning a sequel, there's definitely lots of room left for another story with the same characters.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Queen of Hearts

Title: Queen of Hearts
Author: Rhys Bowen
Series: A Royal Spyness Mystery, book 8
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2014
Rating: 6.5/10

Review:  This definitely qualifies as one of the guilty pleasure  books. I needed something to read for a flight and this was a perfect book to occupy the time.

In this installment, Georgiana travels with her mother to the United States on a cruise ship. During the cruise, jewels get stolen, and Georgiana gets involved in the investigation along with Darcy, who just so happened to be on the ship. Georgiana and her mother travel to Reno to get a divorce (for Georgina's mother) and then end up in Hollywood.

I didn't necessarily like the change of scenery -- I prefer the mysteries set in England, but I guess it's nice to get some variety as this series is getting rather formulaic. I figured out whodunit pretty far ahead of time, but still enjoyed the situational comedy in various parts of the book. It was great to see Queenie stand up for her rights and then quit. Of course, she ends up coming back, but I enjoyed this sub-plot.

Queen of Hearts was a quick and enjoyable read, but at the same time I feel like the author is running out of fresh material. I am not sure whether I would continue with the series, unless I have another flight to fill.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Space Between

Title: The Space Between
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Series: An Outlander Novella
Genre: Historical fiction
Published: 2014
Rating: 7.5/10

Review: I started watching the Outlander TV series now airing on STARZ. Somewhat to my surprise, I am actually enjoying the series quite a bit. I think it might be going a little slow and watching it from a perspective of someone familiar with the plot is probably quite different from a newcomer to the series, but it's pretty well put together. I love the lead actress who plays Claire and the actor playing Jamie has grown on me as well.

Since I re-kindled my Outlander addiction, I bought this Outlander series novella to get back into the series. That's when I realized that I can barely remember some of the details of the earlier books. There were definitely familiar names and characters we've met before earlier in Outlander series, but I recognized very little about them beyond their names.

Nevertheless, the story can be mostly read as a stand-alone. It features Joan McKimmie who is Jamie's step-daughter travelling to Paris with Michael Murray in order to enter a convent there. The reason she wants to enter is convent is because she hears voices in her head and can see auras around people who are about to die. These "gifts" cause her plenty of grief along the way.

It's a quick story and it was over very quickly, but I enjoyed getting back into the Outlander world and getting a bit of action since it's probably going to be a few years before the next Outlander installment is published. I just wish I remembered in more detail the back-story around Comte St. Germain and Master Raymond.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Long Way Home

Title: The Long Way Home
Author: Louise Penny
Series: Inspector Gamache, book 10
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2014
Rating: 7/10

Review: The Long Way Home is the only novel I managed to finish in the last month. I've been busy and stressed, and this is the only book I found sufficiently compelling to pick up. I enjoyed returning to the village of Three Pines and the series' characters.

Armand Gamache has retired and moved to Three Pines with his wife to mend after the events of the previous books. Things are comfortable and quiet. However, Gamache takes on a task of looking for Peter, Clara's husband, who hasn't returned home on the arranged date and that leads them far into Canadian wilderness.

The beginning of this novel was downright slow. I like the cozy aspect of Penny's novels and her focus on characterization and the characters' inner lives, but she went a bit overboard here and spent way too much time on the description of Gamache's life in Three Pines. Very little happens in the first half of the book and quite a bit happens in the last two chapters, so it all feels a bit rushed at the end.

The resolution was not at all what I was expecting, though I have figured out the villain in this book ahead of time. It also left me wondering where Penny is planning to take the series, the book didn't really seem like the start of a bigger arch, the way previous books were. Feeling slightly underwhelmed, even though I've enjoyed reading the book.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Eleanor & Park

Title: Eleanor and Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2013
Rating: 8.5/10

Review: I read a very positive review of Eleanor and Park, so when I needed to pick up something to read on a flight, I decided to give it a try. I was very glad I did, because the flight went by so fast and I didn't even realize we were about to touch the ground until the plane hit the tarmac. That might be attributed to good piloting too, but regardless.

Reading this book made me think about all the trigger warning discussions that were happening recently. Not because there's anything graphic in the book, but because it just jolted me into my high school years so hard that I was shocked. There's just this mentality that I could relate to so well that I felt transported back in time. And I think it'll resonate with people who don't think that high schools years were the best time of their lives.

Park is taking a bus to school every morning. He is not unpopular, but he's also not one of the really popular kids. He is the only Asian kid in school and he's smart, but he mostly keeps to himself. Eleanor is new to the school and sits down next to him on the bus. She is chubby and dresses weirdly and hence she is immediately picked on. Slowly, but steadily, Eleanor and Park get to know each other, fall in love, and start dating.

This is a short book and I finished most of it on the plane, but it was cute and heartfelt and fun while it lasted. Not a particularly action-oriented book, but its magic was in how well it brought forth the idea of falling in love for the first time. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

What We Lost

Title: What We Lost
Author: Sara Zarr
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2013
Rating: 7.5/10

Review: Sam is a teenager living in a small town of Pineview and her life is defined by the fact that she is the daughter of the local pastor, Charlie. It's a hot summer and Sam's life is complicated by her alcoholic mother heading into a rehab and her father being too busy to connect with her. A 13-year old girl, Jody, goes missing and Charlie is in the midst of police and media frenzy as he helps the grieving family and becomes their spokesperson.

It's interesting to see the book take a tragedy like a kidnapped girl and make it part of the scene, but not really focus on it. The focus stays on Sam's inner life, even though she takes part in trying to recover Jody, support Jody's family -- especially her older brother Nick with whom she feels a connection.

At first, Sam's inner narration feels overly dramatic. Her emphasis on how she is treated differently by being a pastor's kid seems blown out of proportion. But, eventually, I started to emphasize with her and and her problems start to feel much more real. The book is very character driven, rather than plot driven. The plot is mostly there to give insight into everyone, this is by no means a mystery type book.

I liked watching Sam figure out how to deal with her conflicts and get her life back on track. I thought the ending was much more positive than would be expected, but not so positive that it felt unrealistic. This is a nice, easy novel to read with some interesting character development, but not much plot. I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Everybody Has Everything

Title: Everybody Has Everything (Amazon)
Author: Katrina Onstad
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2012
Rating: 7/10

Review: I received a copy of this novel as a present and the author is completely new to me, so I started out without any particular expectations. The novel is set in Toronto. Ana and James unexpectedly find themselves in charge of two-year-old Finn when Finn's parents are in an accident. His father dies and his mother is in a coma and their will stipulates that Ana and James would be the guardians for the child. They take on the child and in the process learn a lot about themselves.

Everybody Has Everything is one of those novels where nothing really happens. Half the plot is described in the paragraph above and the rest could be told in four more sentences. This is not action-packed to say the least. But that's not to say it isn't engrossing, because I finished reading the book in pretty much one sitting.

It is one of those narratives that is all about getting into someone's head. And in order to do so, the author is showing the reader their lives, their daily decisions, their reactions, their interactions. I am a bit ambivalent on whether I actually enjoyed getting into the characters' heads. They are both interesting, but at the same time a bit off-putting. All the tiptoeing around each other, all the inner drama, all the indecision were both very realistic and exasperating at the same time.

Onstad did a pretty good job capturing the details, it all felt very natural, but at the same time it made me feel a bit frustrated with the whole thing. The novel wasn't moving anywhere for quite awhile and even in retrospect I don't know why some of the scenes needed to be there at all.

Much of the novel revolves around the decision to have kids or to be judged for not having them. Ana and James are not able to conceive, so they are quite familiar with the latter. However, after taking guardianship of Finn, what's involved in the first decision is quite a shock on their marriage despite the fact that the kid is generally impressively well-behaved in the book. Things fall apart pretty quickly with both parties at fault. There's much in that process that anyone could relate to, but it's a bit agonizing to watch it happening so slowly and obviously.

The ending is actually a bit better than I expected and I was rather satisfied with the wrap-up. The final scene is a bit too literary high-brow for me, but oh well. Altogether, it is an interesting character study, parts of it left me cold and I am not entirely sure this is an author I would pick up again.