Posts Tagged ‘Crossover Fiction’

little brother

Premise: When terrorists attack San Francisco, killing thousands, the city becomes a police state. Techy teenager Marcus and his equally savvy friends are caught in the middle, interrogated by the Department of Homeland Security for crimes they did not commit. When Marcus is finally released, he decides to show the DHS why their invasive tactics fail.

About: I was super excited to read this book, having recently heard a lot about Rand Paul’s filibuster on civil liberties. I confess, though, when I first read this book, I rolled my eyes at all the talk about a “police state.” But a few days later, the San Bernardino shooting rocked my state and this book became a little more relevant.

In this book, Marcus argues that terrorists are only getting better at avoiding our counter-measures. And unless we are improving at the same rate or more quickly, how can we expect to stay ahead of the game? We can’t. So when US-loving hackers like Marcus, the thoroughly teenaged rebel protagonist, find ways around security, we should be grateful that they pointed out the loophole before a terrorist did. This is one of the points Marcus tries to make to the DHS. They don’t appreciate this work, however—they bully him for making their jobs more difficult.

Overall: I honestly found Marcus more than a little obnoxious, but, well, my husband is in law-enforcement. Other than the lack of character sympathy (character-development took a backseat to worldbuilding and thematic development), this novel sports great techno writing, a believable (and foreseeable) Dystopia and an unusual take on civil liberties, hackers and whistleblowers. There’s nothing else out there like this book, for teens, that’s for sure.

Recommendation: YA, Adults-who-YA, Dystopia-addicts.

***3/5 STARS for uniqueness

Awards: Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (2009), Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (2008), Locus Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Book (2009), Golden Duck Award for Hal Clement Award for Young Adult (2009), Sunburst Award for Young Adult (2009)

John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (2009), Emperor Norton Award (2008), Prometheus Award for Best Novel (2009), Sakura Medal Nominee for High School Book (2010), Florida Teens Read Nominee (2009),Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2013), White Pine Award for Best Canadian Young Adult Novel (2009)

                                CityofDreamingBooksCityofDreamingBooks2

About: Optimus Yarnspinner, a young dinosaur aspiring to authorly fame, has a problem. His writing mentor’s last wish was for him to travel to the far off city of Bookholm and find the author of a mysterious, unsigned manuscript. What’s a dinosaur to do? Off he goes, unwitting of the dangers awaiting him in Bookholm—and its underworld, the Catacombs. Published 2004 in Germany.

This book.

This. Book.

The City of Dreaming Books was translated from the German (and before that, from the “Zamonian,” as you will read!). I rarely read translations, but I’m so glad I read this one. A friend recommended it to me. In fact, she did one better: she bought a copy and gave it to me. So I knew it had to be something special.

And it is.

What I Loved: (1) The illustrations!!! Oh my. I LOVE illustrations and adult books rarely have them. They are absolutely delightful and done by the author himself. (2) The world of Zamonia, its city of Bookholm (doesn’t that just sound so German?) and the city’s underworld, aka the Catacombs. (3) The clever humor. There are several clever bookish jokes—including a subtle one that runs throughout the entire book—and they’re a lot of fun to discover.

This book is so completely unique, I guarantee you’ll never find another book like it. Unless it’s by Walter Moers, of course.

What I Didn’t Love: (1) The characters didn’t draw me in the way my five star reads must. Five star books must make me really care about or at least be interested by a character. Unfortunately, I never became invested in the main characters of this novel. Not to say that I didn’t grow fond of a few characters, but there was very little psychology or soul-searching (what I’ve heard termed “interiority,” in the writing biz), and I personally need that element if I’m going to adore a book. (2) The tension and pacing didn’t dazzle me, either. I loved the adventure, but without better pacing, tension or interiority to keep me hooked, it unrolled too slowly to keep me reading all night. The setting details slowed the plot waaaay down. (3) This book lacked the precise, poetic or lyrical prose that often contributes to a compelling atmosphere or mood (as in, say, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys quartet). This may be because the book is a translation (and I’m afraid this is one reason why I tend to avoid translations, although I’m sure this is an unfair tendency of mine that I should quash without mercy). However, I almost always find this device necessary in a five star read, and while the unique setting, illustrations and humor of this book lent it a certain atmosphere (one that I occasionally found delightful), the prose itself lacked the necessary care to compel me onward with continual delight, foreboding, intellectual interest, etc.

Recommendation: Even though this book wasn’t a five-star favorite of mine, I think it could be a five-star for a certain type of reader. It is very clever and well-written. I think it will probably appeal quite a bit to any booklover who is looking for a unique adventure and would score “thinking” over “feeling” on the Meyers-Briggs personality tests. You doesn’t even need to be a fantasy-lover to love it. This is a book for bookahalics, and the nods to book culture are everywhere! The bookaholic who recommended it to me isn’t a big fantasy reader and she told me it’s one of her all-time favorite books.

3.5/5 stars

emperorsedge

Premise: Amaranthe, an ex-corporal in the emperor’s army, and Sicarius, an assassin outlaw, gather together a surprising band of adventurers, determined to clean up the city and regain the emperor’s favor.

About: A fun self-published adult Fantasy series. The legend reads thus: “A HIGH FANTASY NOVEL IN AN ERA OF STEAM.” It was a 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee and came highly recommended by a fellow reader of Fantasy whom I can’t thank enough. (Thanks Corryn!!!!)

What I Love: (1) I love the heroine, Amaranthe. She’s my new fave. She drew me in very quickly and (2) her adventures kept me eagerly reading along. Those two elements are what I most love about this series—the talented, self-deprecating and quirky character of Amaranthe and her knack for getting out of sticky situations. It feels similar to YA Fiction, except that there are no genre expectations forcing the author to, say, rush the protagonist into a romance. It’s very refreshing! Don’t get me wrong, romance would be a really fun bonus. But so far this series is really about the various characters gaining redemption in the eyes of their sovereign. I suspect it will evolve into a further political plot, but right now I’m content with the adventures, which are truly inventive. (3) I love the humor. My goodness do I love the humor. It’s largely character-driven: the characters, who all have drastically different personalities, are constantly poking at one another to get a reaction. There’s a great group camaraderie in the band of adventures. The appearance of this character-driven humor (which doesn’t occur until after the first few couple of chapters, when the cast of “heroes” comes together) dramatically increased my interest in the story. (4) I was shocked and pleased to discover that much of the series is available through our library system. That’s really nice because while I am excited to read the books when they come out on Kindle, I would prefer to buy them in hard copy, if I really love them.

What I Didn’t Love: (1) It could be edited more carefully. I don’t think these books were just “thrown together,” exactly, because the big stuff—character, plot, worldbuilding—all work together well enough; however, I do think details of the characterization, worldbuilding and humor could have been further sharpened. With those improvements, this series could really shine.

Overall: So far, I give the series four stars because not only did I get the first three books really cheap (the first book is free on Amazon), I’ve also really enjoyed them thus far! The adventure plots and humor are simply too fun to be missed.

I hold on to the hope that some publisher might buy the rights to the series so that Lindsay Buroker might have a chance to clean it up. It could happen. (Please, somebody, make it happen!!)

Recommendation: Kindle readers. Fantasy lovers, adult and young adult alike- I think this series would appeal to both crowds of readers.

****Four Stars

AtlasShrugged atlasshrugged4

Adult Fiction; Dystopian (Sociological Sci-Fi); Published 1957

Premise: The world is falling apart around Dagny Taggert and Hank Reardon as they struggle to save their beloved industries from their strangely powerful, pervasive enemies. But who, exactly, is their enemy?

About: Part of what makes this book so interesting is that it’s part novel, part philosophical treatise. I really enjoyed the novel and learning about Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism. While I don’t agree with the moral part of her philosophy, I agree with a lot of the economic part. However, I can’t say that even the economic portion was quite thorough enough or correct enough to say, “Yes, I approve.” I hear that her non-fiction work is more thoroughly developed, as far as philosophy and theory, although I haven’t read any of it for myself, yet.

BEFORE YOU READ ON: I generally try to avoid spoilers, in my reviews; but this review is going to contain a lot of spoilers about Ayn Rand’s political position and the point she makes in Atlas Shrugged because it’s pretty much impossible to critique these things separately from the book. (It is a VERY political, VERY polarizing book.) I really hope that if you’re considering reading this book, you’ll skip the “What I Liked” and “What I Didn’t Like” sections until you have read the book for yourself. Discovering Rand’s perspective was a huge part of the fun—for me, at least. Do please, however, skip down and read my “Overall” and “Audiobook” sections of the review, if you’re interested.

SPOILERS!!!

What I Liked: (1) This novel kept me up at night. It’s a study in slow-burn tension. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. (2) It introduced me to libertarian thought, something I was almost completely unfamiliar with. (3) It breaks down the idea of economic centralization and shows, with examples, why it might harm an economy, if implemented as irresponsibly as the Jim Taggarts of the narrative did. It also strongly conveys the conservative argument that socialism takes incentive away from businessmen, inventors, workers, etc. (4) It interested me in politics by giving me a new perspective on the confusion that is contemporary American politics. I didn’t know where to begin, before reading this book, so I have to thank it for helping me forward. (5) It provides a very pro-American viewpoint that is lacking in the public schools I attended. I had absorbed a very negative view of America by the time I went through public high school and my first two years of college. But this book—among other things—showed me that things aren’t as black and white as my teachers (or other people in my life who would disagree with my public school teachers) would have me believe. (6) The book is just so…triumphant. A lot of the book feels like the best moments in other books, when your hero kicks the antagonist’s booty. Oh, here’s a slightly spoilery Catching Fire example: when Peeta drops the baby bomb on live television, and the capitol citizens end up calling for a halt to that year’s unpopular hunger games. At that moment, you’re just like, HAH TAKE THAT, PRESIDENT SNOW! GO PEETA!! That’s what reading Atlas Shrugged felt like, to me. There are so many great moments, particularly from Dagny and Hank.

What I Didn’t Like:

(1) Its portrayal of socialists is flawed. It simply is. I don’t believe all socialists are like Jim Taggart. I think a lot of self-described socialists honestly believe that economic centralization is the answer to world poverty. That doesn’t make them evil, bloodsucking moochers. It means they are compassionate people who, I believe, rely too heavily on the government for social salvation. In fact (just to throw in one ideological disagreement I have with this novel’s message), I like some “socialist” practices and policies because I think (a) the policies can work to benefit the poor, if done right, and (b) that individuals do have some obligation to the community. To give one small example: free lunch for underprivileged school kids. I would vote for that, in my community, as long as the policies made sense. Why? Because, using my brain and heart to think this through, I decided that these kids are doing their part by going to school and it will only help the community to have them being properly fed, if they aren’t getting the right nutrition at home. I wouldn’t vote for laws about this on a federal scale because I think the specifics of the policies should be kept local–the local communities know what their kids need better than the federal government does. It’s simply of matter of “Which way does it work better?” But I don’t think that’s a bad tax on our community’s hard workers, as long as the majority of voters approve. (And yes, I realize that unions and other organizations passed important standard-of-living controls on corporations.) So basically, my complaint is that Rand does not honestly portray the protests of her opposition, in this book. Either that, or she just didn’t understand her opposition. I would have to read her nonfiction to know whether or not she understands the heart of socialist thought.

(2) And, for another ideological disagreement with the novel: Unlike Rand’s heroes, I don’t think that all taxes should be abolished. I believe the government needs some taxes to keep running and doing its primary job of protecting us from our enemies and ourselves. I don’t think a completely free market would provide safe service in every realm (such as law enforcement. I don’t see how law enforcement could safely and successfully be privatized, although I admit I’m new to libertarian thought and haven’t read all of their ideas on the subject). (3) Another thing: making money is not the highest virtue. Sorry. Frugality and hard work certainly are virtues, but making money is not the highest of callings. I truly believe that some Americans—e.g. wounded veterans, physically and mentally disabled, and many mothers, who work more often than not on unofficial “jobs” like keeping house, keeping children and keeping sane–cannot and/or should not have to be monetarily self-sufficient, as Rand seemed to believe. (4) The marriages. Marriage, in this book, is a horror zone. That’s not surprising, considering Rand’s ridiculous string of affairs, but I’ll leave it at that 😉 (5) ALL HUMANITY MUST WORSHIP THE HEROES OF INDUSTRY OR THEY SHOULD JUST DIE (nope, sorry).

END OF SPOILERS!!!

Overall: Fabulous novel with some flawed philosophies and portrayals. Despite my qualms with it, it’s been a long time since I loved a book this much.

Audiobook: Scott Brick is freaking fantastic. Great narrator. Loved the audiobook.

*****FIVE STARS

SPOILERS!!!

Characterizing Quotes:

“I want to be prepared to claim the greatest virtue of all—that I was a man who made money” (a hero of the book, 96).

“No one’s happiness but my own is in my power to achieve or destroy” (798).

“Accept the fact that the achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness—not pain or mindless self-indulgence—is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and result of the loyalty to the achievement of your values” (1059).

“If you choose to help a man who suffers, do it only on the ground of his virtues, of his fight to recover, of his rational record, or of the fact that he suffers unjustly; then your action is still a trade, and his virtue is the payment of your help. But to help a man who has no virtues, to help him on the grounds of his suffering as such, to accept his faults, his need as a claim—is to accept the mortgage of a zero on your values” (1060).

2008 Cover First Edition Cover FrontierWolf

YA/Adult Historical Fiction; originally published 1980

Premise: Twenty-three year old Alexios failed his last command miserably, but he’s determined to prove himself when he’s given a second chance: a new post commanding the feisty legionnaires on the edge of the Roman Empire—the men known as “The Frontier Wolves.”

About: Apparently Rosemary Sutcliff is quite famous in Britain for her legions (hah, pun intended) of fiction about Roman Britain. This particular book was recently re-marketed as YA fiction (in 2008), but it could also be really appealing to adults. I think Sutcliff actually wrote it as adult historical fiction that also appealed to youth. But Alexios’s age—and the lack of sexual content—make it appropriate to young adults and even children who are good readers.

My Thoughts and Feels: One Goodreads reviewer mentioned “understatement” as one of Sutcliff’s best tools in this book, and I agree, especially in relation to the characters. Compared to the flawed, loud and lovable characters of much modern fiction, these characters seem simple and quiet. There’s nothing particularly special about them—they are understated. But when they fight, you cheer; and when they die, you ache. Alexios is a good, old-fashioned hero. He accepts his mistakes, learns and pushes on until he overcomes his next challenge, and his next, and his next. I love his character. As a whole, the others fade into the background, usually with one or two telling characteristics to tell them apart.

Usually, when I’m unimpressed with the cast of characters, I knock a star or two off the rating. But I’m going to go unprecedented with this book and give it five stars anyhow, because the setting was enough of a character to keep me enthralled. I absolutely fell in love with AD 300s Britain.

Also surprising is the very slow plot in this book. I forget exactly where the plot actually began, but it was somewhere near the halfway point. Thankfully, the commander had enough work at the fort that I hardly noticed the plot lack until later. (It reminded me a lot of Lady Knight Keladry’s command at Fort Haven, in the Protector of the Small Quartet by Tamora Pierce.) So I decided not to take off a star.

Overall: So there you have it: a book that manages, with little to no character development and a plot lag of epic proportions, to five-star impress me. Just a good, old-fashioned hero on a good, old-fashioned quest (of sorts). No girls, no dramatics, no contrivances, no voice, no modernism, no head-games or trickery. Just Alexios, his honest mistakes and his hard-earned successes.

I already checked out another Sutcliff book that turned out to be a part of the same series. I didn’t know that Frontier Wolf was part of a series, even after I finished it, because it flowed so nicely as a standalone. But I’m definitely going to read more. And I have my eye on another of her adult fiction titles as well…

Recommended: Yes, absolutely! To fans of historical fiction and British history that isn’t epic or boring. I would also recommend this to parents who want to get their teens interested in historical fiction.

*****FIVE STARS