Thursday, July 26, 2012

Omnitopia Dawn

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3 stars
Length: Solidly long (381 pages)
Publication: August 3, 2010 from Daw Books
Premise: Dev Logan is the mastermind behind Omnitopia, one of the most popular online games in the world. It already provides more player universes than any other company, but there's a big expansion in three days and the company is poised to hit the button and go live. The system is vulnerable in that window because of the updates, and rivals are trying to send in hackers to destroy the system. Dev and his team are good, but superior numbers draw closer and closer, even as the system itself starts reacting in unpredictable ways.
Warnings: People being mean to each other? There's a very brief mention of past pedophilia being hidden in one of the Microcosms, but there's nothing nasty front-and center here.
Recommendation: If you're into online gaming of any sort, this one is definitely worth a look, both for the humor about the existing culture and the speculation about what it could be. If you're not....the early parts move slowly, but the middle is quite good once it takes off, so it depends on how much patience you have this week.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ill Wind

I was a little suspicious of Jim Butcher's recommendation at first, since the last thing I read with his stamp of approval on it was the frankly disappointing Child of Fire, but I really couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised.

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 4 stars
Length: A hair on the short side of average (337 pages)
Publication: December 2, 2003 from Roc Books
Premise: Joanne Baldwin is a Weather Warden, able to control air and water to tame storms before they cause massive death and destruction. She's always been nervous about having more power than the other Wardens would like, but now she's taking the fall for the death of another Warden. Being caught will mean the removal of her powers....but explaining exactly what happened will mean her death for carrying a Demon Mark. Her only hope for clean survival is Lewis, a powerful Warden who's been on the run for years himself and isn't exactly easy to find. The other Wardens are closing in, she doesn't know who to trust, and no matter where she goes, there's a storm (yes, a literal one) coming for her.
Warnings: One magical attack that feels very much like violation.
Recommendation: If you think that you're going to scream at the sight of just one more werewolf or vampire or magical detective story, definitely give this one a try. It can get a touch wobbly in places, but it's delightful fun and the heroine feels like an honest-to-god real person; I'm going back for seconds when I have time. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Amulet of Samarkand

Here's the next installment of my young adult series. This time we're skipping back a little bit to a book that friends have been trying to get me to read for roughly five years. I finally got around to it, and this one absolutely does not disappoint.

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 4 stars
Length: Comfortably expansive (480 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: September 29, 2003 from Doubleday Books
Premise: The eleven-year-old Nathaniel is a magician's apprentice, learning to summon the demons that are the source of all magicians' powers. When he is publicly humiliated by an adult magician, he teaches himself magic far beyond his years in order to seek revenge. Bartimaeus, the djinn he summons, is not what he expects-- he had wanted a predictably obedient servant, not someone intelligent enough to second-guess his plans and mock him at every opportunity. When Bartimaeus gains a measure of power over Nathaniel in turn, the two have to work as uneasy allies if they are both to survive.
Warnings: muted child abuse (things like offscreen whipping, humiliation, isolation)
Recommendation: If you're looking for something clever and unusual, absolutely give this one a try. Nathaniel is physically eleven but far older in  cynicism, and Bartimaeus's odd sense of humor really makes the book; it's a lot more interesting from an adult perspective than many books with protagonists who are technically older but stumble through their adventures with no plan. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012


The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 2.5 stars
Length: Ponderous brick (784 pages)
Publication: June 12, 2007 from Doubleday
Premise: Leodan Akaran has tried to be a good king, but his rule of the Known World is based on generations of slavery, cruelty, and drug addiction. He dreams of teaching his children to succeed him, but he's assassinated before he can do so and the invasion force follows close behind. His children are scattered to the four winds to keep them safe; three of them find new homes and identities away from their past lives, while one is trapped in the enemy's stronghold. All of them are drawn together by the desire to defeat the Mein and rebuild their family's rule in justice.
Warnings: Some sex that may well be based on Stockholm Syndrome, gore
Recommendation: If you're really desperate for an ethnically diverse cast of characters or something morally grey without excessive gore, then go for it, but otherwise the characters are too flat and distant to make this one worth it.

I have some quasi-spoilers in here, but I tend to think that if someone's death is mentioned on the jacket flap, I can go ahead and discuss that; the very first page is an assassin plotting the deed, so it's not much of a secret. I also know that the positive and negative sections are quite unbalanced in length, which might point to a lower rating; however, the broad strokes have enough promise to partially mitigate the work's failings.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Santa Olivia

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 4 stars
Length: Solid but not ponderous (341 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: May 29, 2009 from Grand Central Publishing
Premise: When disease cuts a swath across Mexico and America, the US Army moves in and declares the town of Santa Olivia a buffer zone: it is to be renamed Outpost Twelve, and no one can leave. In the midst of this dusty prison town, Carmen Garron meets a man who was genetically manipulated to have exceptional strength and well as a complete lack of fear. Although the man is theoretically sterile, Carmen becomes pregnant just before he is forced to leave before he is caught. Loup Garron, their daughter, grows up to be just as fearless as her father as she tries to hide her differences.
Warnings: one offscreen rape and quite a few threats of it, underage sexuality (mostly between young teenagers of about the same age)
Recommendation: Give this one a try, especially if you've been in a reading rut lately. It hops lightly between many different potential stories and expectations; Carey gives you time to expect that things are going to go one way and then tugs at them to expose all the problems standing in the way of the easy resolution.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Hunger Games

This marks the first review of a young adult book; I'm hoping to do one every other week. The plan is to be fairly flexible and take suggestions so I can get an overview of what the genre's doing. I read this one a few months ago, but I thought it deserved a closer look. Panem (Latin for bread because symbolism) manages to create an intriguing dystopia in a small amount of space, but it's also the home of the latest YA phenomenon. I can never resist trying to figure out why things get popular when they do, although for The Da Vinci Code I have no answer beyond "people like fake scandal and mediocre writing."

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Compact (374 pages in largish-print trade paperback)
Publication: September 14, 2009 from Scholastic
Premise: Katniss Everdeen has been struggling to keep her family safe when her sister Prim, who is only twelve, is selected as a tribute in the Hunger Games. Prim would undoubtedly die in the arena, so Katniss steps forward to take her place and try to live. Not only must she compete against tributes from the other eleven districts, but also against Peeta Mellark, a local boy who once saved her life but may have to kill her in the arena. Katniss must test her skills to the limits if she wants to survive....but can she win with her humanity intact?
Warnings: Many murders of teenagers, some of whom verge on being children; implied threats of torture
Recommendation: This one is short enough and popular enough to be worth reading just for the pop culture heads-up. It's far from the most excellent thing ever written, but Suzanne Collins does pacing magnificently; almost every word feels necessary, and it was hard to set down on the first reading.