Month: December 2014

Review: J by Howard Jacobson

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It’s hard to describe my reaction to J by Howard Jacobson. It’s not exactly what one could call positive. Mostly it’s just confusing.

J is about Kevern Cohen, a woodworker in a small seaside village that mostly gets by on fishing and insularity. The world has been through some semblance of a human atrocity, referred to in the story as WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, or WHAT HAPPENED for short. Kevern is basically a hermit and obsessive compulsive to boot. He’s thrown in with Ailinn by town do-gooders, or people who seem to be do-gooders.

The world around the couple is pretty terrible. The people there are mean without cause, constantly apologizing, and unceasingly restless. They have no sense of their past or who they were, but to say that they aren’t city-folk.

There are a lot of plots in the story, but not much of a sense of totalitarianism or urgency in people’s actions. There never really seems to be any suspense.

Perhaps more strange, J isn’t really a character story. Often times it just seems like a story for the sake of being a story. There isn’t any character or relationship building and the plots end without much sense of consequence for what happened.

Compounding the story’s strangeness, the phrasings and compound sentences often make Jacobson’s meaning totally indecipherable.

2/5 stars.

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review via bloggingforbooks.com

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Review: Inked by Eric Smith

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I’m not a big children’s lit reader. There are a variety of reasons why this is, but it largely boils down to them not appealing to me. At this point in my reading, I crave complexity that’s often lacking in children’s literature. So, though I’ll try to make sure to temper that and take this book for what it is, I’m making it known so that you might better contextualize my criticisms.

Inked takes place in a world where your future is tattooed onto your skin in magical ink. You are then bound to a trade assigned to you, largely arbitrarily. Caenum is about to be Inked and to have his future set before him. He’s resentful, scared, and planning to run. An encounter with the Scribes (those who tattoo others) leads Caenum to fun not just because he doesn’t want his future chosen for him, but for his life. With his best friend Dreya and a young would-be Scribe now turned runaway, Caenum must flee to the Village of the Unprinted, all the while struggling with forbidden and extremely rare magical powers that have emerged.

I have the feeling that Caenum is intended to be in his mid- to late teen years, but he reads very much to a younger audience. I initially pinned his age as around ten or 11. His interactions and approaches to problems read young. Caenum does have a “love interest” in his friend Dreya, but their relationship is very G-rated, again, indicating a younger age. It was, in fact, hard to register romantic interest in their relationship overall, with the exception of a few overt attempts to indicate that it exists.

When Caenum and his friends leave, they are pursued by townspeople and the kingdom’s knights. The recently revealed powers of a member of Caenum’s friends have marked them as to-be-hunted. The next third or so of the book follows a series of run-ins, attacks, and escapes through the countryside. Eventually, the group comes to realize that all of them are, in fact, imbued with magic. This, to me, was easily the biggest disappointment in the book. At first, I was excited to see that the magical (read: powerful) character was not the hero. It was exciting because it would have showcased some really great power dynamics and built up relationships, essentially, it would have been a fantasy novel, for kids, from the sidekick’s point of view.

Unfortunately, this did not last.

Not only are all three of these kids magical in a world where magic is so rare that an eleven year old didn’t know that humans could really have magical powers, they find one another in a remote  rural town. It just was disappointing. That all of them had powers means that the story has little to offer in the way of jealousy over natural ability and skill. Though this isn’t necessarily a theme that Smith has to go for, by forgoing it, the story seems lacking in some ways , namely in a level of complexity that reflects the reality of most students’ lives (be they ten or 25).

The plot itself is fast-paced enough that it would hold the interest of a younger audience, though at times it seems Smith is trailing on tangents or hasn’t really integrated all of the plotlines together in a smooth way.

The characters could have used some development all around. It often seemed that there wasn’t a lot of the underlying frustration and fear that, given their situation, I would expect to be present even during down-times. Dreya in particular was disappointing. She often was a damsel in distress for the boys to save or be frustrated by not being able to save her. She screams. A lot.

Overall, I don’t think I’m in love with the book and I’m a bit doubtful that it will be a book that a 12 year old will read and then reread when he’s 15. But, for a younger-aged audience, I think it’s fun and action-packed. It may be a good starting point into fantasy and an approachable enough read to interest a reluctant reader.

I’m not going to rate this one. I’m not sure I know where it would fit into my scale and I wouldn’t want to be unfair or inaccurate (rating systems  of 5/5 stars aren’t my favorite anyway).

I received this book for free as an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

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Ancillary Sword is the follow up to Ancillary Justice, Leckie’s acclaimed debut novel. I have to say, this book was, for me, a more enjoyable novel than the first. Where the first is captivating in concept, its execution is often confusing and too busy. The second, in contrast, has a much firmer footing in plot development, character, tone, and pacing.

Breq has been charged with keeping the system stable following the chaos of the first novel. To do so, she goes to a primary station where the sys Ancillary Sword is the follow up to Ancillary Justice, Leckie’s acclaimed debut novel. I have to say, this book was, for me, a more enjoyable novel than the first. Where the first is captivating in concept, its execution is often confusing and too busy. The second, in contrast, has a much firmer footing in plot development, character, tone, and pacing.

Breq has been charged with keeping the system stable following the chaos of the first novel. To do so, she goes to a primary station where the system governor is housed, Lieutenant Sievarden and a new “baby Lieutenant” Tiarwat in tow. There, she is dismayed to find that the system in inherently corrupt, an entire population of people live in squalor, and the politics of the system have prevented any change, infact they have encouraged active resistance to it despite Breq’s new rank of Fleet Commander.

Maybe its my own adjustment to the gender pronouns (gender and sex are not so much the confusing aspect of Leckie’s gender dynamic, rather the singular feminine pronoun is standard Radchaii and the switch, often frequent and unnoted, in pronoun use in other AJ languages) or the less prominent gender dynamics and sexuality of the supporting characters, but the use of “she” as a universal pronoun was much less confusing and much less preoccupying in the second novel.

The plot in this book is linear rather than multi-temporal. In that regard, the plot is streamlined. Leckie isn’t building two detailed plot lines while worldbuilding, so things were less busy and there was more attention to plot development and character maintenance and development. I thought that Sievarden was a more likeable character, Breq grew into her new one-ancillary state more, and Tiarwat was a pleasant addition to the cast. Not to mention that Dlique, a side character who shows up for about 20 pages, provided just enough humor to balance out some of the more maudlin aspects.

Review: The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F. Hamilton

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I should preface this by saying that The Abyss Beyond Dreams is the first Peter F. Hamilton book I’ve read. So, I can’t really speak to the extent to which it incorporates the rest of his world.

Hamilton’s novel features The Void, a black hole in space that seems to be exerting a conscious will. When a Commonweath fleet is absorbed into the Void, Nigel determines that he must go in after it and rescue the Void’s captives. He arrives to find a fully established planet, Bienvenidos, with a governmental system and religion already taken hold. Time works differently in the Void. In order to save them, he’s going to have to do a lot of work.

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Meanwhile, Slvasta is an ambitious military officer. He’s seen existential threats to Bienvenidos and is dedicated to keeping the planet and its people safe. His dedication teeters on the verge of obsession. When the planet’s government doesn’t take his advice, he becomes wrapped up in political intrigue that threatens a full-blown and violent revolution.

The world that Hamilton creates is extremely rich in detail. The descriptions of the planet, space, and the people are very vivid. He develops a believable and nuanced political system in which most of the plot takes place. It was all-encompassing.

Some of the technology was a bit overly convenient. They know that the Void breaks down technology very quickly and interferes with its ability to function. Knowing that, they bring bio-tech in when Nigel leaves. Despite his presence on the planet for decades, there doesn’t seem to be any degradation of the tech. This to me seemed weird. Then it would often be that the bio-tech was extremely useful. It wasn’t too big of a deal, but it was just a bit strange.

Note: I received a copy of this book for free via NetGalley.