Month: April 2014

Review: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

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Title: Dark Eden

Author: Chris Beckett

Publication Date: April 2014

Genre: Science Fiction

 

Overview: John’s family lives in Eden, a dark, wild planet once visited by people from Earth. They’ve spent the last 150 years in the Circle Valley waiting for Earth to rescue them, living as hunter and gatherers in the same spot that their forefathers were abandoned in generations ago. But the valley is dying. There isn’t enough food and no one has left to find more. In a fit of frustration, John destroys the center of their home and departs for the Dark Place beyond the valley bringing with him a group of ragtag youths.

 

For Fans Of: William Golding, Orson Scott Card (circa 1985?)

 

World-Building: Eden is pretty interesting as far as settings. It’s a land where there is no external light source and where the animals are mostly six legged and have mandibles (feelers on a mammal would be called _______?) It’s human inhabitants are almost cult-like and it’s surprising that they have absolutely no modern knowledge–presumably their forefathers were stranded astronauts– and live primitively. I found the more interesting parts to be in the time spent outside of the Valley. The developments that John Redlantern and his friends come up with are relatively simplistic, but enable them to encounter some fun and scary creatures.

 

The culture I found a little unsettling at times if only for the sexual practices. Beckett is not graphic in any of this, but some of it gave me the creeps (i.e. John and the group leader)

 

Character Development: John is consistently self-centered. That wasn’t so bad except that he’s indulged through to the very end without any real consequences despite a number of instances that seemed to be foreshadowing otherwise. I liked Tina; she was probably the best character. I liked that she had to become responsible and didn’t shirk from it and I liked that she was realistic about the people around her. Beckett sets her up initially as someone who’s a bit vapid, but she doesn’t stay that way.

 

Plot: There’s no real plot or end to it. John’s screwed it all up royally and it kind of just ends with him running from his screw ups like he did the whole book long. That’s not to say it’s bad. It felt like the way to end it for him, but there wasn’t some overarching plot or purpose to his adventures. Don’t expect a real conclusion to them.

 

Rating: 3.5

 

Notes: I received this copy from netgalley.com as an eARC. Dark Eden is an Arthur C. Clark award winner.

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0804138680?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0804138680&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Book Depository Link:  http://www.bookdepository.com/Dark-Eden-Chris-Beckett/9781848874640

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Review: Trinity Rising (The Wild Hunt #2) by Elspeth Cooper

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**Please note that this review may contain spoilers. If you’ve not yet read the first book, you can find my review of it here**

Title: Trinity Rising (The Wild Hunt #2)

Author: Elspeth Cooper

Publication Date: 2012

Genre: Fantasy

Overview: Teia is a clans girl in the plains. When the clan leader starts to plan an attack against the Empire like Glwyth of old, Teia finds herself filled with horrible visions–the Hunt will destroy the Empire, the Veil, and the world. Teia flees, despite being six months pregnant and the new chief’s concubine, in order to warn the Empire after her clan fails to heed her warnings. Meanwhile, Gair is sent to the desert in an attempt to find a way to weaken Savir.

For Fans Of: Elspeth Cooper, George RR Martin

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Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

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Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Author: Mark Haddon
Publication Date: May 2004
Genre: Contemporary/Mystery

Overview: Christopher can’t sleep. When he can’t sleep, he goes outside; he likes the night-time for walking because it’s quiet. But then he stumbles across his neighbor’s dog who is not only dead, but murdered. He then goes about the neighborhood detecting. Christopher is about to find out who killed his neighbor’s dog.

For Fans Of: Jonathan Safran Foer

This is yet another book I feel requires a less formal review. I loved Christopher and could see my brother and friends in him. His worries and straight-forward thoughts and communication were so true to my experiences. Also, I loved his one joke.

More importantly, I think Christopher’s family hits home for families with autism. The truth is most families struggle to cope with autism in all its forms. Abuse, affairs, divorce are all common after an autism diagnosis. Christopher’s family struggles with some very real problems. But Haddon also does a great job of showing the love and dedication that come with autism. The willingness to fight to see the world do right by your family and those you love was so well represented.

Overall, I thought Haddon did a great job showing both the very serious and humorous sides of autism without using the typical savant trope or making Christopher ever less-than-human.

Rating: 5

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Curious-Incident-Dog-Night-Time/dp/1400032717
Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Curious-Incident-Dog-Night-time-Mark-Haddon/9780099470434

Review: Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper (Wild Hunt Quartet #1)

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Title: Songs of the Earth (Wild Hunt Quartet #1)

Author: Elspeth Cooper

Publication Date: 2011 (MMP2012)

Genre: Fantasy

Overview: Gair was a knight for the Church until he is accused and found guilty of witchcraft. He’s branded and outcast, left to die. His only hope is a mysterious old man named Alderan. They depart for Alderan’s home, where people who can hear the Songs of the earth are trained to control their powers. There he learns that a force much greater than the Church is about to wreak havoc on the world, a force that comes from his own kind.

For Fans Of: George RR Martin

World-Building: This book is mostly set up for the rest of the quartet. In it, we learn all about the general set up of the world: its government, magic, threats, and general history. The descriptions of these are thorough, if not always riveting. Overall, Cooper makes it enjoyable, but it at times feels like the book is all world building and no plot.

Character Development: The main character, Gair, is interesting. He doesn’t really grow too much throughout this book, but I suspect that has much to do with the first book setting the background for the next three. What we do learn about him is interesting, he has a conflicted past, some self-doubt, and a great deal of inner strength –not to mention power. I thought the most interesting part about him is his history with the church. As a former novice, later cast out by the church, he has a lot of continued faith, calling for help from the Goddess whose people so violently rejected him. I suspect this will be one very interesting thread later in the series.

Plot: As I said before, this is really just the layout and set up for later plots. As far as the plots in this book itself go, it is very slow. I think it will pick up a lot in pacing and interest in later installations. The bits of plot that have formed and will be carried out are very promising. I’m interested to see how Cooper contrasts Gair with Savin and to see how the Church plays into the plot later on.

Rating: 3.5

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Songs-Earth-Wild-Elspeth-Cooper/dp/0765368501/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397503030&sr=1-3&keywords=elspeth+cooper

Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Songs-Earth-Elspeth-Cooper/9780575096165

Review: Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera #1) by Jim Butcher

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Title: The Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera #1)

Author: Jim Butcher

Publication Date: October 2004

Genre: Fantasy

Overview: Calderon is the only point in Alera where a land invasion is feasible and Bernardholt, a steadhold, lies in the middle of it. When the King’s messenger, Amara, finds out about a revolt that will lead a horde of Marat (animal-bonded warriors) through the valley, the King sends her to “protect his interests” in the valley. With the help of the steadholder, Bernard, his sister Isana, and their nephew Tavi, Amara will have to defeat the traitors and an army of savages.

For Fans Of: Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson, Ursula K. LeGuin

World-Building: Butcher does a good job of creating the Calderon Valley. The layout makes sense to persons familiar with stories about settling (Steadholds are pretty much just Homesteads). The furies are really the weakest point of this. There’s no clear distinction on what they can and cannot do, they have directly correlated powers–wood furies can bend and manipulate wood, for example– but they also have some emotional impacts on people and it’s not clear whether there’s a limit to how much they can manipulate people’s emotion. Also, earth and fire furies seem to have actual animal-ish embodiments, but it doesn’t seem to be the case for water, air, or metal, for no clear reason.

Character Development: I really enjoyed Bernard and Isana. Both were strong and very clearly identifiable personalities and voices. Butcher does a great job with having clear, emotionally complex, strong women. Isana, Odiana, and Amara are all clearly powerful, firm in convictions, and clever. I loved this. As a downside, I thought Tavi was overly praised (at least I expected him to be more important and interesting because of the amount of hype he gets on the back cover).

Plot: I thought the plot went well enough. Some of it was more believable than other parts. I thought Tavi and Fade were kind of just there to give Butcher a way out sometimes. Other than that, I was let down with the Isana Odiana side story. It was filled with a lot of near-death savings that didn’t really need to be there, or at least could have been a little less miraculous.

Rating: 3.5

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Furies-Calderon-Codex-Alera-Book/dp/044101268X

Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Furies-Calderon-Jim-Butcher/9780441012688

Review: Renegade by Laura Wilcox

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Title: Renegade

Author: Laura Wilcox

Publication Date: NA

Genre: Fantasy/ YA?

Overview: Andrew Simmons is a time traveller who has broken two of the biggest laws of time travel: don’t interfere and under no circumstances should you lose your talisman, the means by which time travellers travel. Now, he’s stuck in 1770, trying to get his talisman back. He has five days to find his talisman and get back to his home or he’ll be stuck in 1770 forever and his family will forget he ever existed.

World-Building: The time travelling community is laid out in the novel as extremely self-contained. It’s an ability passed through recessive genes and those who have it are regulated through a shadow government that works more like a noble society than a bureaucracy. This made sense enough to me.

It got a little crazy when Andrew goes back in time. He is stuck in 1770 Boston and the world is foreign to him. There were some very interestingly described scenes that take place in the woods. It felt secluded then, which was appropriate. However, when outside of those scenes there are some continuity issues (at least some things that seemed out of place).

The narration Wilcox uses to construct the world sometimes bleeds into the conversation when a larger narrative passage would do just as well without making the conversations seem unnatural. This isn’t always happening, but instances are throughout.

Character Development: I really liked Daniel and Andrew was fun. I especially liked their interactions and Andrew’s interactions with his best friend. I think there could have been more time building the relationships between characters; it would have added to the overall need for Andrew to get back and the sense of urgency he feels when he realizes that his family will think he never existed.

As an aside, I was surprised Andrew was shocked when he realizes what’s going on with Richard. He seemed to have pointed it out in an earlier scene and then forgets he made the connection.

Plot: The plot moved at a decent pace and, with a couple of exceptions, the events moved well. The last seventy or so pages really picked up speed. The cliff hanger made sense, though I kind of wished Wilcox would have gotten to it more quickly and some of the events were a bit odd. In particular, I thought it was interesting that there wasn’t even a whisper of the time traveller history that Andrew (or the society as a whole) seemed to know about.

Rating:3.5. It was fun, just could have done with some tweaking.

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=renegade+by+l.+a.+wilcox

Book Depository Link: NA

Mental Disability in Literature

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As some of you may know, it’s autism awareness month. This is a very special issue to me; my older brother, G, has very severe autism and my childhood took place in an environment where that was not an unusual or strange thing.

I understand more than most what a mixed blessing a family member with disability can be, particularly when that disability is mental. There are frustrations and anger, but also love and compassion. This is why it irks me when I see most portrayals of mental disability in literature, especially SF/F.

Literature often does not portray mental disability well. Whether out of ignorance or inability to show the complex family and social dynamics, literature (as well as many other storytelling medium) fall far short of the mark. I often find that, in fiction, persons with disability are used more as a plot device than as a character with purpose and emotion. This is not something done maliciously or out of some anger towards those with disability, but perhaps it happens because we take people for granted–people of all shapes, sizes, and ability.

I’ve put below some of my favorite representations of autism and disability below. I’d love to hear yours.

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

A Song of Fire and Ice, George R.R. Martin (This is not for Hodor’s protrayal, which I find largely disappointing, but for his relationship with his grandmother, who loves and accepts him for who he is despite her frustrations.)

Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer