Month: April 2014

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

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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

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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.

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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

Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

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Title: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry

Author: Gabrielle Zevin

Publication Date: April 1, 2014

Genre: Contemporary/Literary Fiction

Overview: A.J. Fikry is a crabby middle-aged man with a not-quite-failing bookstore, a crumbling social life, and a chip on his shoulder. He’s just lost his wife, one of his few friends has just died, and he’s on the verge of giving himself cirrhosis. Just when things seem to be ready to really fall apart, a woman leaves a baby in his bookstore. Her name is Maya and, for some reason, Fikry can’t seem to give her up. He proceeds to adopt her, and, in the process he changes the small town he lives in forever.


For Fans Of: I’m not really sure. I’ll get back to you on this one.


I’m diverging from my usual format for this review because I’m not sure it fits this book. Zevin has created an artful work. I’d suggest reading her interview with NPR for some of the background in why it was written in its particular style.


I really enjoyed Fikry, but was also left a little saddened by it. It was often very funny, touching, and relatable. Fikry, I think, speaks to the crabby book nerd in us all and Maya is raised in much the same way as I believe many book nerds want to raise their children. Her prose is very well written and the plot is well crafted, if a little slow and, at times, surprisingly predictable.


It’s formed into little snapshots of Fikry’s life, jumping one year to the next without really always connecting the time in between. Fikry’s development as a character is almost more hinted at than shown. It was a bit sad, almost, that we don’t get to see the in-between moments of their life. The format almost denies any real showing of how Fikry changes. It’s interesting. At times I loved it and I often was left wanting more.


Maya is an interesting little girl. It was fun and perhaps the most translatable way I have seen a little girl’s narration done in a while. It was odd, at times, to see her as a child of ten and fifteen. Her speech patterns and thought patterns were often very much the same as Fikry’s (without the cynicism). It wasn’t wholly unbelievable, just a little strange. She was very adult at ten.


The novel was very funny, but at the beginning it was almost too aware of itself. I was surprised by Fikry’s monologue of sorts when his wife passed. It is much better towards the end. Just a bit overly aware at the beginning.

Rating: 4


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Review: Wool by Hugh Howey

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Title: Wool (The Omnibus)

Author: Hugh Howey

Publication Date: January 25, 2012

Genre: Science Fiction

Overview: Jules has lived her whole life in the Silo. No one who lives there can remember the world before it. They only know that the outside is desolate and that the cleaners (those who leave the safety of the silo to clean the cameras) always die. When Jules is picked to be the new sheriff, she finds out that the silo is not just an isolated safe haven, but that it harbors the secrets of a society long since dead.


For fans of: Orson Scott Card, Veronica Roth


World-Building: The world building was crucial to Jules’ narrative. Everything hinged on the way in which the social and technical world around her was organized. In a world in which people are stuck in silo with over 100 floors, the world has to fit together well. Howey does this well. Major equipment and mining occur on the bottom (where resources would likely be more accessible), agriculture is spread evenly throughout and operates on hydroponics, the water is both recycled and taken from an aquifer (It’s not sure where this happens exactly, but at least it exists), and the government is placed at the top. All of this does create a feasible society with a well thought-out social stratification.

Additionally, Howey makes sure to answer the more important questions about the world: what do people do for trade (gain chits), how does the air get cleaned (entire floors are dedicated to air cycling), why aren’t there elevators (I can’t actually tell you this).


Character Development: This is one of the interesting points. Jules is herself throughout, and, while she does find out significant facts about her world, it’s no real surprise that she takes on large burdens and is unafraid of the challenges that face her; her character is that way from the beginning.

Lucas, however, changes a great deal. He starts out as a simple IT support man. He doesn’t really think about the inner workings of the Silo. What I like most about his development is that he takes these revelations and ruminates on them before making any decisions. He isn’t just taking anyone’s word at face value. This makes his later decisions and changes of heart that much more valuable.

An aside: I loved how he acts at the end of Casting Off. I had all of the feels.


Plot: The plot is faced-paced and Howey keeps you moving. Some of the twists are awesome. I will say that there are times when the danger is there just to make things feel more dangerous rather than to serve a purpose to the plot. Maybe if I were reading this as the novellas came out I would have seen them as having more purpose, but I doubt it.


Rating: 4.0


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Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

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Title: American Gods

Author: Neil Gaiman

Publication Date: June 19, 2001

Genre: Fantasy

Overview: Shadow is just about to get out of jail and go back to his wife, Laura. Only a few days before he’s set to be released, he gets called into the warden’s office. He’s being let out early. His wife is dead.

On his flight back he meets Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday seems to know too much about Shadow. Shadow isn’t sure what to think, but accepts Wednesday’s offer for a job. He starts going around the country with Wednesday, and Shadow discovers that there’s a war brewing in America, a war of the gods.


For Fans Of: Neil Gaiman (duh)


World-Building: Gaiman constructs a hidden world within on own. The world of gods forgotten and the gods that are rising. It’s not seamless. There are overlaps that seem to go suspiciously unnoticed by the average population. However, how the world developed is extremely well done. Gaiman gives us a view of the world’s history and its members that is to die for. It’s beautifully developed and described.


Character Development: Shadow, Laura, and Wednesday are interesting characters in the plot. Shadow, as Laura says, is not always alive. Prison has made him almost brutally self controlled. But his adventures with Wednesday show what’s underneath, including a strong sense of  honor and loyalty. Wednesday isn’t who we think he is, but that’s what makes him fun. Laura is interesting (she’s dead after all), but her growth is not insignificant. She stays, at her core, very much the same. But she’s also not as naive as we think she is.


Plot: The plot bends back on itself at times. It’s not a bad thing and really helps flesh out the world within worlds. Some events seem, at first, to happen sporadically, but it’s to the benefit of the plot in the long run, especially when you learn more about the war.


Rating: 4


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Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

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Title: Reconstructing Amelia

Author: Kimberly McCreight

Publication Date: June 20, 2013

Genre: Contemporary, Mystery

Overview: When Kate’s daughter is found dead after falling off of her school’s roof, everyone assumes the worst: suicide. That is, until Kate receives an anonymous text message telling her that Amelia did not jump. Kate is then launched into an investigation to find out what really happened. In doing so, she finds out dark secrets about her daughter’s world–secret clubs, tell-all blogs, and cruel text messages– that Kate is sure led to Amelia’s death.


For Fans Of: Gossip Girl, The Cyberbully


World-Building: Reconstructing Amelia is set in the present day with all its amenities. The part of the world that really takes some convincing is in Amelia’s social life and in the investigation of Amelia’s death.


I understand that Amelia is supposed to be going to a very rich private school. And while I can potentially see secret clubs existing, it’s hard for me to buy into some tell-all gossip rag about the students. I know students can be mean and malicious, and maybe it’s just my own high school experience, but I don’t really buy the idea that someone would go out of their way to chronicle all the gossip that is going on in a small school. That stuff travels fast enough on its own. Let alone that blog becoming popular.


This being said, the gRaCeFULLY blog isn’t really important to the plot at all. All of the blog entries could be taken out and the plot would still move fine, if not more smoothly.


The other part of the story I found difficult to believe was that, in this world, Kate is very active in her daughter’s investigation. This was a wholly unbelievable thing to me. That Kate was permitted to follow leads, view evidence, and come with the detective on her daughter’s case to participate in questioning was ridiculous. This would, in any case or investigation, be a totally biasing, unquestionably forbidden thing. It took me out of the story.


Character Development: Reconstructing Amelia is much less about the characters than the mystery. That being said, there are characters who aren’t built in a way that even hints at their actions in the past. I found that disappointing.


Plot: The plot was fine. It wasn’t a terribly insurmountable mystery what had happened.


Rating: 3


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