Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: I am not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

Author: Dan Wells
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: March 2010

I Am Not a Serial Killer tells the story of John Cleaver. John is a teenage sociopath with all the common characteristics of serial killers, who has designed very strict and important rules in his life to make sure that he doesn’t fall into the horrible life of a serial killer. His rules and his life are on the line, however, when an honest to goodness serial killer starts killing people in his hometown

The story is told in first person through John's eyes, and this is where the book really shines. John is creepy. He's so creepy that you have to keep reading, because you don’t know if he’ll actually let loose and do something terrible or not. For those of you that can’t stand to read about people getting killed, or wouldn't be able to stomach the description of an embalming procedure at a funeral parlor, you might want to avoid this one. If that’s not an issue, this is a very exciting and page-turning read that also has a lot of depth and heart. The book is in equal parts comedy, horror and thriller, with John getting more and more obsessed with who the killer is, why he's doing what he's doing, and who the next victim will be.

Dan and Rob Wells (brother authors) must really like big plot twists, because both of their books take a decidedly interesting turn at right around the midpoint, and it makes for some truly great reading.

There's also something of a twisted love story between John and his next door neighbor, and it really gives Wells a chance to showcase what makes John so different from people who aren't sociopaths, and keeps you turning pages, just waiting for something terrible to happen to that poor girl, or to John as he delves deeper into the Clayton County Killer murders.

Score: 8.75/10- A good beginning to a wonderful series. I will eventually post reviews on each of the next two books, but I can tell you right now that this is one of my favorite YA series of all time and is well worth the read for anyone that's at all interested in serial killers, or just YA novels in general.

I loved
  • John. He's incredibly interesting, and shows how an author can really use the first person narrative for his benefit if he's got a great character.
  • John's relationships with others. Every little detail of his life is so much more interesting because of the way his mind works.
  • The big twist. This one really rocked me at the time that I read it. Suddenly, a whole new story!
I hated
  • The length. I wanted more.
  • There were a couple of places where I thought the pacing could have been slightly improved.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Author: Chris Wooding
Publisher: Gollancz
Date: June 18, 2009 (paperback).

I have a confession to make. I first started reading this book when it came out in paperback a year and a half ago. I'd made it about 35 pages in when something else caught my interest more strongly, and this book fell by the wayside. After recently finishing Retribution Falls, I'm disappointed that I don't even REMEMBER what took me away from this book. I should have had this review up back in 2009, and I'm sorry that many of you have had to wait until now to hear about this great book.

Retribution Falls tells the story of Darian Frey, Captain of the Ketty Jay. She's not much for beauty, but she flies and Frey loves her. The crew...well, they don't quite hold the same place in his heart as the Ketty Jay, but they're all right.

Frey is a small-time smuggler, and occasional pirate (if the job's easy and not too messy, that is). When he gets offered a once in a lifetime opportunity, he's hesitant, but eventually takes the bait. Thus begins the great adventure of our crew, as they're soon on the run from just about everyone in the country, and trying to stay one step ahead of the headsman's axe.

Retribution Falls is a book that I'd immediately put on your to-read list if you're a fan of the "loveable rogue" archetype. I'm talking Locke Lamora, Tom Sawyer, Kvothe (sometimes), Silk, Mal Reynolds, etc. Darian Frey is right up there with them. He's a broken man who sometimes does some pretty low things, but you can't help but love him.

I'd also put this book on your Christmas wish list if you're a fan of adventure books. Peter F. Hamilton's cover blurb says it quite nicely: "Retribution Falls is the kind of old fashioned adventure I didn't think we were allowed to write any more..." I can't agree more. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a book like this, something lighter, but something that still has a deep world beneath it. Sure, the characters all have their problems, but you get a feeling that this is going to be a book where the characters' problems eventually push them closer together and form something special between them, and they do.

Finally, this book needs to go in your to-read pile if you're looking for fantasy with guns. It's nice to see a book where magic co-exists with pistols nicely. It's happening more and more lately, which I think is a good thing.

Speaking of the magic, there's a lot to like here. It's just complex enough to keep you interested, and the magic often has a light-hearted feel to it since it's often involved in some of the more comical aspects of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the Daemonist Crake and his...well, her name is Bess, and that's the best way to describe her.

Don't get me wrong, even though this book is bursting with adventure and there are some very good laughs to be had, there's plenty of serious talk going on as well. These characters are all flying for a low-life small-time pirate captain for a reason, and by the end of the book you'll know them all. They're not happy stories, but they really give depth to the characters, and make those final scenes of action much more meaningful.

I loved

  • Frey. He's just so darned hard to hate!
  • Guns & Magic. It's nice to see them getting along again.
  • The excellent balance of humor and sadness.
  • The characters. We're working heavily with archetypes in this book, but they all have a vibrant life of their own. Very well done.
I hated

  • Some small parts of the ending. It seemed like things just happened a little too fast in places for my liking.
Retribution Falls gets a 9/10. I'm already sailing my way through The Black Lung Captain, the second volume in the series, and it's just as enjoyable as the first. If you're a fan of capers, adventure, magic with guns, or the loveable rogue, you owe it to yourself to give this one a go.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Reason I haven't been around much lately

got her home from the hospital today and everything's great so far! I thought you might understand. Sorry for the lack of new reviews ;)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Review: On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers

Author: Tim Powers
Publisher: Harper; Reprint edition (April 26, 2011)

First, let me just say that...I like pirates. There's just something about a swashbuckling adventure that I can't help but love. So, obviously, I had to try very hard to put my nerdy love of pirates aside and make at least a half-hearted attempt to review the book as a book and not as, "Dude, it's got pirates."

On Stranger Tides is a novel by Tim Powers. Qualifications? Yep, he's got 'em. Two World Fantasy Awards, and this novel was optioned for adaptation as the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. After reading this book, I could easily see why.

All the elements of a great pirate movie are there. Humor, action, and a surprising amount of dark magic are contained in this 300 page novel. I felt that the pacing of this novel was excellent and the characters were deep and enjoyable creations. One thing that disappointed me a little bit was the characterization of Beth. To be honest, she felt a little too flat for me, being the only female character with more than 3 lines, but I was willing to forgive her, since for large portions of the novel she didn't really have much of a chance to stand up for herself and really be a strong character.

Also, I have to say that the ending of the book didn't really appeal to my need for completion. I'm the kind of guy that, if I can get it, wants every loose end tied up nicely. However, given the way the novel ended, I can understand that Powers was going by the old adage, "In late, out early." The main conflict was finished, and everything else after that couldn't have possibly been as exciting, so he gave us a little bit of closure and dropped the curtain. I don't really think tying up all the loose ends would have made it a better novel, and it certainly could have made it worse.

Overall, I'd say that if you're a fan of high seas action, dark voodoo style magic, or Monkey Island (yes, the creator of that game sites this as a big influence) you owe it to yourself to give this book a go. For me, this book was an excellent way to discover Tim Powers. Obviously he has other novels that have met with greater critical acclaim, but this was fun, well written and enjoyable. This book definitely convinced me that I've been missing out on a great writer.

Final Score: 8.5/10. An exciting, well paced swashbuckling adventure that's deserving of a movie all its own.

I loved
  • The action and adventure on the high seas. Dude, it's got PIRATES!
  • Powers' ability to suck a reader into the story.
I hated
  • The ending without enough closure for yours truly
  • The fact that I kept seeing stupid Johnny Depp in my head every now and again while reading it.

Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Author: Lev Grossman
Publisher: Viking Adult
Release Date: August 2009

From Amazon:
Quentin Coldwater, a Brooklyn high school student devoted to a children's series set in the Narnia-like world of Fillory, is leading an aimless existence until he's tapped to enter a mysterious portal that leads to Brakebills College, an exclusive academy where he's taught magic. Coldwater, whose special gifts enable him to skip grades, finds his family's world mundane and domestic when he returns home for vacation. He loses his innocence after a prank unintentionally allows a powerful evil force known only as the Beast to enter the college and wreak havoc. Eventually, Coldwater's powers are put to the test when he learns that Fillory is a real place and how he can journey there. Genre fans will easily pick up the many nods to J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis, not to mention J.R.R. Tolkien in the climactic battle between the bad guy and a magician.

     The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a great book. If I had to describe it to someone, I would probably tell them to imagine what a book would turn out like if J.K Rowling, C.S. Lewis and Ernest Hemingway all decided to write a fantasy book together.

     As one Amazon reviewer puts it"In 'The Magicians,' Lev Grossman has done something unusual, and remarkable, perhaps even unique: this is a grown-up fantasy. This book is to fantasy what "The Grapes of Wrath" is to travel books, what "The Metamorphosis" is to self-help: so much more depressing and visceral and funny and horrifying, and genuine, and fascinating, and hard to read and therefore valuable..."....Yeah, I guess that's a pretty good way of saying it, too.

     This is one of those novels that a guy like me won't read over and over again, but I'll always remember it. It's got that special something, that something that makes a book stick with a person, makes them think about it at the strangest of times. Understand this, I'm generally a pretty happy-go-lucky fellow. I enjoy a fantasy with a happy ending, I enjoy the confrontation of good and evil. The fantasy written by Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, or even Scott Lynch, is much more up my alley than things like Abercrombie, Baker or Lev Grossman. But, there is no doubt in my mind that Lev Grossman is an incredibly talented writer, and that The Magicians is a great novel. 

     I feel a lot like Patrick Rothfuss who couldn't quite put a finger on what he liked about the book. I think it was very well written, and written in more of a literary style than typical fantasy. The pacing was excellent, plenty of action at the right times to keep you turning the pages. The last half of the novel was miserably depressing to me. It reminded me a lot of The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, characters that seemed so full of potential, but the timing was off for a love story and everyone was far too busy being an alcoholic to really do something with their lives. In this way, it made me think of Bakker and Abercrombie, writers whose characters are much more gray, and where terrible things can happen to any character, at any point. 

     In conclusion, if you're a smarty pants, a person who loves the classics, or just a fan of gritty "Hemingway Fantasy" (I think Dark Fantasy and Gritty Fantasy just sound stupid, and I haven't heard anyone come up with a better term to describe this type of writing) I think you'll really like The Magicians. This book definitely isn't for everyone, and I'm only about 60% sure it was for me, but I still give this book a 9/10, and highly recommend it.

I loved

  • The writing. It was beautiful, and sometimes simplistic, which only made it more beautiful
  • The fear of the future. This is a book where things can go terribly terribly wrong at any moment. You NEVER have the feeling that a character isn't in jeopardy, or that there's some God or magical thingamajig waiting behind a curtain to save them at the time they need it most.
 I hated
  • The depression. Ugh, this book was sometimes depressing to read. I haven't touched the sequel yet, because it's winter time and I'm already a little bummed out. Don't need that crap in my life just yet. I'll review book two next summer :)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review: The Alcatraz Series by Brandon Sanderon

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Scholastic
First Book Published: October 2007

Many people know Brandon Sanderson as the author that's finishing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. Others know him as the author of the Mistborn books, or Elantris, or Warbreaker. But my favorite way to think of him is as the goofball that writes the Alcatraz series.

The Alcatraz books are written for a younger audience, and it shows. Sanderson is downright goofy at times, while still managing to get a solid story out. Older readers will notice a lot of jokes that will most likely fly right over the heads of the younger readers, so there's fun to be had for all ages.

Alcatraz is a young boy who breaks things. Radios. Televisions. Chickens. He can’t seem to touch anything without it breaking. He’s an orphan, who upon his 13th birthday receives his inheritance in the mail from his father…a bag of sand. Oh, and did I mention that there are evil librarians seeking to conquer the world and spread their lies about its history?

There are four books out at this point, and the author is hoping that he'll get around to a fifth one at some point. The first book is titled Alcatraz Vs. The Evil Librarians, just so you can get started.

What I loved

  • The Smedry Talents. Each person in that family has a very peculiar Super Power, and Sanderson really plays with these and makes them into something great throughout the story.
  • The humor: It's over the top, it's downright cringe-inducing for adults in parts, but it's there in spades, and it's plain old fun.
  • It's nice to get a glimpse inside the mind of one of the top fantasy writers of this decade, and see that there's some pretty goofy stuff in that noggin of his.
What I hated

  • A lot of the humor in the books isn't for the children that will be reading them. Some people might hate that, some might not. The kids won't likely notice either way.
The Alcatraz series gets 8.75/ 10, and would be an excellent addition to any twelve or thirteen year old's book collection.

I'll be AtHomeCon'ing this weekend. What will you be doing?

Make sure to head over to to get your AtHomeCon on!

What's AtHomeCon, you ask? Well, I think it's explained quite well here. In short, lots of cool posts from bloggers, authors, etc. There will be readings, flying ferrets, an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, and at least one free 55" TV give-away. Okay, some of those things might not actually happen, but it will still be a great place to check in over the weekend for some very informative and fun articles from bloggers and authors. Have fun, and I'll see you there!