Book Review

Do You Wanna Build a Cyborg?

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I am an avid fan of K.B. Spangler, what with A Girl and Her Fed and the first tie-in novel, Digital Divide. That’s why I got super excited for Maker Space, the sequel to Digital Divide. It came out not too long ago and immediately downloaded it for my Kindle. I jumped in and was not disappointed. Its another fast paced cyber crime thriller, only this time it touches on a cultural phenomenon close to my heart (and my day-job): Makers.

After a massive bomb rocks downtown D.C., Agent Rachel Peng is given a task force and autonomy to work outside the official investigation to ensure that nothing is missed. Her investigation brings her into contact with a community of Makers working out of a decrepit office space nee warehouse that they have turned into a Maker think tank of sorts. Makers are a newly identified kind of human, the kind who revels in constructing marvels of technology and art from otherwise basic components.

Makers tend to be open-sourced and concerned with the betterment of humanity…and having a lot of fun. I’m looking at you, Maker-Faire participants! They are an incredibly strong and welcoming community of people that I have the privilege of working with as an illustrator at O’Reilly Media. We used to publish a magazine called Make that has now spun off as its own company that produces the magazine, how-to books, and even kits to help beginning makers get started. We still help Make publish their books, so I still get to see all the designs for the fabulous projects they have created and are helping others learn how to become master builders in their own right.

But enough on the Makers themselves and my glee at seeing them featured in such a prominent role in a fiction novel. Maker Space turned out to be well worth the wait. It is eloquent, gripping, and exceedingly well-paced. I do have to admit, I was thrown a little bit by the fact that the Boston Marathon Bombing was mentioned in passing when a few characters were discussing preparation for events such as this. It is still so fresh in everyone’s mind out here in Beantown that it was just weird seeing it mentioned in a fictional novel.

Regardless, if you are looking for an excellent procedural cybernetic drama, I highly advise you to pick up both Digital Divide and Maker Space. They don’t rely on any knowledge from the web comic (though I highly suggest going and giving that a try, too, cause there are some excellent inside jokes) and Spangler presents a wonderfully fresh take on crime dramas and cyberpunk. I just wish I’d had the cash to spring for an O.A.C.E.T. badge during the kickstarter….

How nice would a 24-hour bookstore be?

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by  Robin Sloan has been on my “to read” list for a long time. Mainly because I loved the title and because the cover of the book was rumored to glow in the dark (the hardcover totally does!). Once I picked up the book though, I couldn’t put it down! Mr. Penumbra’s is a story about a young man who has lost his way in life and has landed the night-shift at an odd 14-hour bookstore full of odd characters and books that aren’t actually for sale. That’s as much as I can really divulge about the plot without giving away some major spoilers, so that’s all I’m giving you.

 

This book is a riot and a wild ride. Seriously. Its a treasure hunt and book lovers porn, all mixed up with the modern age and literary conspiracy. The characters are lively and fully developed and they bring you into their world and share their passions and their pains in such a way that you can’t go to sleep until you find out whether they will succeed in their quest or not. I may or may not have lost a lot of sleep to this book…

Once I had finished, I immediately went to see what else Sloan had written. I found two other works of his Amazon: Ajax Penumbra 1969 and Annabel SchemeAjax is great as it is a short story that follows one of the primary characters as he is first introduced to the nutty world of the 24-hour bookstore, before he comes to own the store for himself. I loved getting to read his book.

Annabel Scheme though is…well…I was not prepared for Annabel Scheme. I had gone from this slightly magical real world of Penumbra and dove without warning into a hard sci-fi noir, reminiscent of a mashup between the Dresden Files and Snow Crash. Once I got my feet back under myself, it was a hoot and I desperately hope that Sloan brings this world back to enjoy again, as there is a lot of material there.

Overall, I this is an author I really think you should check out. You should also check out his website for some more fantastic stories and articles. I especially love that Escape button…

 

The Once and Future Nerd

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The other day, I received an email from a podcast series entitled “The Once and Future Nerd,” wondering if I eve reviewed audio media and whether I might be interested in taking a look at their series. I almost said no, since most audio media just puts me to sleep unless I’m reading along, but I figured I should at the very least give them a try before passing judgment. And I am very glad I did.

“The Once and Future Nerd” is a delightful podcast, comprising of approximately 20 minute tracks, following the adventures of three modern high school students who were launched into a fantasy world. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, needless to say it is engaging, and I’m slowly working my way through the back episodes as I draw flowcharts for work. They are all available for free on their website, through iTunes, or Podfeed.

This podcast features a full cast of characters and voices, with a delightfully rich narrator and fully developed characters that translate well through audio. I think it gets off to a bit of a slow start, but once you’re past the first ten minutes, you’re hooked and there’s no going back. I love the different tones the narration takes for the modern world versus the fantasy world, and then how those tones clash while at the same time mesh to create a rich tapestry for the story to be told from. I think you should definitely give them a listen, though fair warning there is a bit of harsh language. Not a lot, I just like to give some of you a heads up. I hope you’ll check them out!

Watercress vs. Crescent – Neither are Rapunzel

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Now that Undeliverable is well launched, and the rush of promotional blog things are somewhat out of the way, I can get back to doing what I do best: writing and talking about books. So, what have I been reading while I’ve been trying desperately NOT to think of sales numbers?

Well, I have been indulging in a bit of YA Fantasy, thanks for asking. My copy of Cress finally arrived and I devoured it, just like any good salad…I mean story. This is the third installment of Marissa Meyer‘s Lunar Chronicles, and, as my roommate and boyfriend will attest, I was put-out when I hit the end of the book, to put it mildly. The first three books are 1500 pages to set up for a revolution, and by the time you hit the end of the Cress, the revolution is hardly a sneeze away from starting. And now I have to wait another year until I’ll get to read Winter. Write faster, Marissa, write faster! 

If you couldn’t already tell, I rather liked this one. I feel like her writing has matured a little bit over the last three books, and she isn’t trying as hard to force the fairy tale to fit. The fairy tale storyline more effortlessly overlays the science-fiction world, with characters that really draw you in. That being said, the story jumps from person to person to person, trying to give us the entire scope of the revolution, which was at times frustrating when I just wanted to follow one of the groups for a little while. At no point was I actually confused by the jumps, I just wished we weren’t following so many different ones. That should be well resolved when we start the third book as we’re now down to just two different groups of heroes to follow.

Overall, I highly recommend this author to anyone who enjoys YA fantasy and sci-fi, as it straddle that genre line, just like Star Wars, with almost as much political intrigue. They are well written, unlike certain OTHER YA which I will not mention in this post, and actually do a good job of character and plot development. Now excuse me while I go hold my breath for the final installment…

Anyone like a Plum?

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Janet Evanovich has done it again. Takedown Twenty is a thoroughly entertaining and brilliantly funny slap-dash adventure featuring Stephanie Plum. In this installment of this comedy of errors, Stephanie is tasked with bringing down a popular figure in Trenton, even though everyone knows he’s a wet work guy. They all still view him as the lovable old man.

 

Evanovich had a bit of a slump a few books ago where they felt rushed and tired, but she’s back to full form with this book and if you’re looking for a slapstick comedy with an engaging plot, this is definitely your kind of read. My only complaint with her novels, as I stated in my last post, is that her characters never grow or change. Stephanie is in her same poorly decorated apartment, she still can’t decide between two gorgeous men, and she is still making a hash out of both her work and social life. This book is only for those who would like a bit of fun without anything heavy getting in the way.

If You’re in the Mood for Some Urban Fantasy

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So I thought I was being all clever before the break in setting up my posts to auto-update. Then I come back to find this had failed to load. And then in the process of trying to get it to post, it got lost, then got posted somehow, but lost all of its content. Don’t ask me how, I have no idea. Needless to say, I’ve been trying to fix things, then there were bike accidents and a nasty knock-you-down cold, but I’m back now, promise! And here’s what this review SHOULD have looked like a month ago:

First I found the TV show, then I was introduced to the LARPs, and finally, I found the novels. Totally the bass-ackwards way to go about discovering the Dresden Files, but I am finally all caught up! I have read the entirety of the published works related to Harry Dresden and I am very happy to recommend them to anybody who has a hankering for some decent Urban Fantasy. Jim Butcher has created a phenomenal world and excellent characters.

The basics: our world has a hidden sublayer of magic users, with only one official Wizard listed in the yellow pages. Harry Dresden. No love potions, serious inquiries only, please.  He deals with monsters and demons and vampires and werewolves, and, more than anything else, idiot, evil humans. Oh, and don’t forget the Fae, they’re a doozy and a half.

The best thing about this series is it isn’t stagnant. Some series, like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels, you know exactly what you’re going to get when you go in and the characters don’t really develop much over the entire series. Its still fun, and quirky, but there isn’t a whole lot of human growth happening. But Butcher is a master at making sure all of his characters are constantly challenged and growing, in very realistic fashions. They’re very much like Kim Harrison’s novels in that respect.

So, if you’re looking for a new urban fantasy, give Dresden a shot.

Finally Got Around to the Gods

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I know, I know, I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman‘s Dr. Who episodes, and I adored Good Omens, but it took me forever to get around to American Gods, which, according to some people, is a crime. And, now that I’ve read it, I sort of agree.

This book was phenomenal. Seriously eye-opening about the American immigrant experience, but written by a brit. It was a bit mind-blowing how entirely spot-on his characterization of Americans were, in particular with their relationship to religion. We have a young man, just out of prison, who ends up in league with what is left of the old gods, in a battle against the new gods. By the end of the book, things are a bit less clear than all that, but that’s where we start.

As always, the writing is flawless. Gaiman’s got the best voice, and I was engaged and enthralled through the entire work. I don’t want to say too much, for those of you who haven’t read it, but it seriously makes you sit down and think about religion, consumerism, and our modern culture. It should be required reading for every American young adult.

 

On the Misbehaviour of Dieties

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Aaaaand my auto posts failed during the whole hullabaloo of holiday shenanigans, which I’m just noticing now, so, sorry for being absent for two weeks, folks! There’s a new book that has been sweeping the bookclubs, and is even in production for a film treatment (though I’m still not certain whether it is for a TV show or a movie, go figure…) called Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips.This book proposes that greek gods have been alive all this time, if not exactly well, and living it up in a terrible little row house in London. They are not doing so well, waning belief has taxed their powers, and they are all working day jobs (Aphrodite is a sex-line seductress). It’s a cute concept, and I like the fact that they are working dead-end jobs, just like most of the population, it gives it a unique twist.

However, there is something about the book that just rings false. It’s a hard to pinpoint vagueness. It has nothing to do with the writing itself, or the characters, or the plot, but there is just this ephemeral boringness that haunts the page, which definitely shouldn’t be there, what with the hijinks this crew get up to.

Part of it might be the fact that for centuries old deities, the gods are somewhat lacking in depth. They’re flat characters without a lot of oomph to them. Caricatures almost to a one. And since they comprise most of the cast, that hurts the book somewhat. I think that when they put this on film, it will show a whole heck of a lot better than it did on paper, but if you haven’t yet picked it up, I’d wait for that version. Its got a stellar cast that will be able to fill out all these characters quite nicely. (Walken as Zeus, how can that not be awesome?)

It is a tidy little beach read, though, if you’re in need of something like that right now. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Toys in the Attic

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I’ve been in a mood for plays recently, and the next one I picked up was called Toys in the Attic by Lillian Hellman. I’d found it lying in a pile of free old books outside a used furniture store, and thought it sounded promising. Either it would be something cute and fun or deeply unsettling, and I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s a deeply unsettling story about two old women who are pretty set in their ways and the sudden reappearance of their good-for-nothing nephew with a young bride and oodles of money. Where he got the money, nobody knows, and this set-up throws the balance of power that has always existed in the house completely out of whack. It even manages to drive a wedge between the sisters who have managed to co-exist in the house together for years.

It is a tense, witty, and occasionally funny, exploration of human emotion and trust. I’d love to see someone stage it someday, and, if you like a good play, this is an interesting read. Almost said fun, but that’s not really the case since you end up feeling uncomfortable for a good portion of it–in that good way that comes from a really well constructed scene of conflict.

Hidden in This Post

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In the midst of trying to learn to write my own one-act plays, I turned to the master of snappy, witty dialogue, Aaron Sorkin, and his one-act “Hidden in This Picture.” Sorkin is most known for his television work, including West Wing, and for the fact that his characters are constantly running at the mouth and fit more information into a quarter inch of script than most playwrights could dream about. This one-act is not an exception.

In it, the main characters are trying to film the final sequence of their war film: hundreds of tired and injured marines traipsing over the hillside in what is ostensibly not-America, timed to the setting sun. No retakes possible. But then a cow wanders into the frame.

They try desperately to do something about it, then give up, and eventually just pretend they always meant for it to happen that way and doesn’t just add a certain kind of commentary to the whole piece?

It is Sorkin at his finest, full of interpersonal problems, dry wit, and heavy on the banter. I was laughing my head off by the end of it, and will definitely be taking some lessons away to work with some of my own play projects down the line. I’d love to see this one staged at some point, so drop me a line if you’re doing it!