Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review: Foreign Agent

Foreign Agent Foreign Agent by Brad Thor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thor's definitely got a gift for high action, but when it comes to storytelling, I got a pretty strong sense of "been there, done that" from Foreign Agent. I mean, you can only do so many stories about ISIS and Russian terrorists before you start turning your one-story-a-year series into so much 24 on repeat. Not to mention the fact that this book takes place largely overseas, thus making it feel a bit detached compared with some of Thor's other recent books involving major threats on American soil (movie theater shootings, Ebola outbreaks, and the like.) But that's why the high action is there, to balance this book's storytelling pitfalls. Never mess with Scot Harvath, that's a rule of the book world.

Also, this is probably the first book I've read that features a black site in, of all places, Malta. As much as I don't want to believe the land of my mother's mothers would include a black site, let's face it, there are probably more out there than we even realize anyway. And at least there's a nice little scene, in between the usual black-site business, where Harvath gets to sample the local fare. It's only because my mom hates fish, probably, that I've never had aljotta before.

While I've had a bit of a hard time finishing books with my usual speed lately, I'm happy to say that for this one, the usual fast-moving Harvath adventure translated to another fast read.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Review: Kill Shot

Kill Shot Kill Shot by Vince Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Welcome to Part Two of the Mitch Rapp prequel. The first book had the setup to his future career, and this book features his first major roadblock. Betrayal aplenty, assholes in power, and Rapp on the run.

In this book, Rapp's personality shows a hell of a lot more, and perfectly validates the casting of Dylan O'Brien in the upcoming movie of American Assassin. He's really channeling his inner Tom Cruise here, not to mention his inner Mr. Reese.

Yes, really. Mr. Reese. That's what Rapp's going to grow up to become.

Kill Shot does suffer from a confusing time frame (again, it's supposed to be about 25 years ago, but the Cold War is treated like a long-past event, and there's at least one scene where a car that wouldn't exist around 1991 is mentioned), but again, the action and (this time) surprising dark humor more than make up for it.

Now I'm ready to circle back to the first published Rapp book and continue my run through the series from there.

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence - "On Behalf Of Planet Earth, Happy Fourth Of July!"


It's become so normal for our people to hate anything old Roland Emmerich puts out - and even his older, classic works (with the possible exception of Stargate) are fair game for snarkers and sporkers. What, is it so wrong for us to enjoy seeing large casts of characters show massive heroism in the face of planet-breaking disasters time and again?

"They like to get the landmarks!"

Thank God Emmerich, Dean Devlin, and all the other cast and crew involved in this movie don't allow the rampant negativity to get to them. They just keep on trucking as only they can.

Also proof this movie is cool -
it shares a screenwriter with The Amazing Spider-Man movies.

And by keeping on trucking, they've put out a product that holds up to its predecessor and then some.

The beauty of the original Independence Day lies in so many key inner aspects. Chief among them - it's clearly got the seeds planted for a massive, possibly Star Wars-sized saga, but the movie itself is totally standalone. We fans were thus able to spend twenty years (or less, in my case - I don't think I got around to seeing the original till maybe 2004, when I was ten going on eleven) patiently waiting for a follow-up, but satisfied with what we had to date even as the sequel languished in Development Hell. Not only that, but its visual effects spectacularly combined the influence of schlocky fifties sci-fi with groundbreaking modern-day realism like nothing else before, or since. It's so influential, especially in terms of visuals and storytelling, that it's hard to think of a more recent alien-invasion movie that doesn't owe a huge debt to Emmerich.

Yes, even the smaller, less visually spectacular ones like Signs.

So, when we get the long-awaited sequel, what's Emmerich to do but return the favor by tipping his hat to all these spiritual successors to his 1996 smash hit? You get your Transformers - the original from 2007 basically morphed into Independence Day with the introduction of the Area 51-style base beneath the Hoover Dam, and in Resurgence, the infamous near-sucking-up of Hong Kong gets emulated with the sucking-up of most of Asia by the new mothership's massive gravitational pull. You get your Pacific Rim, with the Kaiju-like Big Bad - and hey, speaking of Kaiju-like stuff, Emmerich's improved considerably in this area since his 1998 Godzilla movie, the effects of which have NOT aged well. You get your Battle: Los Angeles, with the aliens going after the water - except they're not trying to steal the water, per se, but I did promise to keep this review spoiler-free. And you get your Falling Skies, but that similarity is an extreme spoiler. You'll know it when you see it, if you watched Falling Skies as religiously as I did for five summers in a row.

As with the original movie, Resurgence has a huge and memorable cast of characters to help it stand out. Many favorites from '96 return - David Levinson's still as Goldblum-ish as ever, his father's aged gracefully, Hiller and Whitmore's kids (now played by new actors, and I'm more than a bit bummed Mae Whitman didn't come back to play Patricia Whitmore) are ace pilots for Earth Space Defense, and as for President Whitmore himself, he lends a touch of gritty realism by being very visibly affected by PTSD from his psychic mind-rape at the hands of one of the aliens. Dr. Okun is also back, despite having apparently died in the original (it's made clear very quickly that he was in a coma the whole time), and his role in the sequel is far more important than ever before - and I'm not just talking about for comic relief either.

Then there's a whole array of new characters, including hotshot pilot Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth, finally getting his time to shine after spending almost four years in the relatively thankless role of Gale Hawthorne), his best friend Charlie (who's basically me as a pilot - clumsy, dorky, and piss-poor at picking up girls; and hey, we're only a year apart in age, according to one of his lines of dialogue!), President Elizabeth Lanford (the sort of actionized Hillary Clinton analogue every genre franchise needs), and General Joshua Adams (veteran character actor William Fichtner, whom I've been seeing a lot of lately as I've slow-binged Prison Break Seasons 2 through 4), who combines aspects of President Whitmore and General Grey from the first movie. Speaking of Grey, he gets one brief cameo (and the movie's dedicated to Robert Loggia's memory), and there's another returning character who dies in the new mothership's arrival. I shit you not, your jaw will hit the floor.

It's a destructive movie on a scale not seen anywhere else. But at its core, Independence Day: Resurgence carries the same basic message as its predecessor - a deep faith in the resolve of the human race. Twenty years ago, the world was a lighter place, between major periods of conflict - the Cold War having just ended, and the War on Terror still half a decade away. But in the alternate universe of Independence Day, we banded together not only to repel the alien invaders, but to rebuild our world in record time after the three-day War of '96 ended. Nowhere is this more clear than in the international cooperative efforts of ESD, or in the new Washington DC, which looks like a futuristic vision à la Minority Report, combining rebuilt landmarks like the White House and Capitol with a modern, skyscraper-heavy skyline. The War on Terror never happened in the ID4-verse, because the human race knew that there were bigger issues to worry about than terrestrial ideological conflicts. And so, when the aliens come back more armed to the teeth than ever (they have teeth, right? It's hard to tell), we immediately band together again for survival in the face of insurmountable odds. It may be a time of peace, but it's a time when battle-hardened warriors train the next generation.

Like so.

As the real world grows increasingly cynical and hateful, it's refreshing to dip into fantasy and sci-fi worlds built on hope and faith in humanity. So, as with last year's underrated classic Tomorrowland, it's no wonder this grade-A movie isn't getting the respect it deserves. Like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, when Resurgence ended, the theater burst out in applause in spite of the thorough thrashing the movie got on the internet.

Thank you, Cosima. <3

Do yourself a favor and go see Independence Day: Resurgence in theaters. If nothing else, the sight of Jake borrowing from my own White Shadows playbook with the epic one-two fuck-you punch of giving his enemy a middle-finger salute while pissing on their personal property will make it worth the ticket price.

Remember - Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Review: The Epidemic

The Epidemic The Epidemic by Suzanne Young
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Eerily, I read this one not long after picking up Stephen King's latest, End of Watch, which also deals with suicide - or so it appears, as the deaths in King's book aren't technically suicides, being supernaturally and externally influenced. King did, however, mention the concept of suicide clusters, which of course got me thinking about The Program and all the rest of the books in this series.

With the conclusion of the prequel duology in this book, we finally have a much better idea of how and why the suicide epidemic in The Program originated. I long suspected that threatening to commit teenagers en masse for "deviant" behavior would be the primary cause, and guess what? I was right. It's not so much to do with loneliness or depression, although naturally those figure in heavily too. But threatening to wipe teenagers' identities for the simple crime of being human, having imperfections? That's some dirty Nazi-level atrocity right there.

I found the original series a great concept to start off with, and it hit a bit of a roadblock in The Treatment, but the two prequels have brought the high-quality origin story the previous books needed so much.

Even better, Young's not done with the world of The Program yet - I hear she's already planning a new follow-up to The Treatment. It'll just have to live up to the standards of The Epidemic, but I have faith in her ability to bring the thrills and feels.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Review: Redemption

Redemption Redemption by Debra Driza
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I forgot how long it had been since I read the first two books in this trilogy - in pretty quick succession, too, if I remember correctly. Because of that long gap, it took me a while to get up to speed when starting this third and final book, and as a result, I found it a little hard to keep focused on the first half of the book or so. But then the second half, when Mila and company make their way to an elite boarding school linked to the conspiracy surrounding her creation, that's when the action really picks up and reminds me why I got into this trilogy (one of the more underrated pieces of YA lit out there) to begin with.

All of that action builds up, on and on into the final pages, and does NOT let up. Especially at the very end of the book, which boasts one of the most "WTF?" endings in YA history. No kidding.

To Mila 2.0, I now say ave atque vale.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: Before the Fall

Before the Fall Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

If you went into this book thinking that just because it comes from the creator and head writer of Fargo, it would be something in the same'd be dead wrong.

That's probably my biggest disappointment, the fact that Before The Fall lacks the larger-than-life, philosophically waxy, creepy delights of the FX anthology series - or the classic 1996 film it's based on. In its place, Hawley instead serves up a platter full of loathsome rich people, mostly indistinguishable aside from the fact that some (mostly those who don't die in the plane crash) are more disgusting and detestable than others. He kills off most of them, except for the little kid of one couple, and an artist who happens to catch the same private plane. These two are easily the most likable in the cast (well, one's a kid, what'd you expect?), but if we're supposed to spend the next 350 pages or so trying to get to the bottom of how and why the plane crashed...

Sorry, Hawley, but I couldn't invest in this story. Well, there's always the next season of Fargo.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review: The Crystal Bridge

The Crystal Bridge The Crystal Bridge by Charlie Pulsipher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is two high-stakes adventures in one - the first, a YA fantasy involving a pair of teenagers and their space-time-continuum-breaking egg-shaped device, with which they find their way to an alternate world full of elves who don't call themselves elves, and the second, a techno-thriller where one man works on a computer so powerful it starts to develop a mind of its own.

In other words, it's the logical offspring of Warcraft and Michael Crichton, with particular influences from Jurassic Park and Timeline, and also Illuminae (my friend who turned me on to this book having noticed that particular parallel between the two books' AIs) and the Machine from Person of Interest.

It's a real rule-breaker of a book, which might explain why it's not officially published yet.

This first book is available on Wattpad, but only this one. I'll have to put off reading Books 2 and 3 until I can get myself a Kindle and an Amazon account. Or I could try and see if my library can be convinced to have the ebooks available in their system somehow, the way I did for Brett Michael Orr's magnificent debut, The Bureau of Time.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: Ruined

Ruined Ruined by Amy Tintera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought Tintera did a great job with her sci-fi dystopian debut, the Reboot duology - especially given its always-fascinating use of the undead. This book shifts into fantasy and yet stays a little more grounded in reality, because even though there are characters with powers, they're mostly supporting characters, while the book itself deals largely in inter-kingdom intrigue and one of the main characters disguising herself as the crown prince's betrothed.

The first half of the book is a little slow-moving, even with Tintera's addictive prose to keep me going. I was just waiting for something to happen, and around the halfway point, that was when the book really took off. The action flies in the second half, all building up to the huge cliffhanger ending - let's just say things get pretty bloody.

So, a three-star beginning, and a five-star ending. I definitely want more.

And one more thing - I liked how the majority of names in this book, of names and people alike, seemed to have a certain Spanish flavor. It lends this book some uniqueness in the sea of fantasies modeled after Britain (Throne of Glass), ancient Rome (An Ember in the Ashes), and even Malta (The Young Elites).

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Review: End of Watch

End of Watch End of Watch by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first book in this trilogy, being a straight-up crime thriller, was quite outside of King's comfort zone. In retrospect, it kinda showed in the tangled mess that was that book's storyline.

Finders Keepers had a more streamlined story, and I found that book a massive improvement because I connected so much better with it. Especially with the character of Pete Saubers.

For End of Watch, the paranormal hints at the end of the second book come to the forefront as the Mercedes Killer himself transcends his brain-dead state, using a deadly combination of science and the supernatural to insidiously sneak into people's minds and make them kill themselves. His weapon of choice? A dangerously mind-altering "Fishin' Hole" game, available as a demo in a Game-Boy-style handheld. That, there, is the King-style horror this trilogy needed, and what better way to cap off the series in style than with its most radical stylistic shift yet, back to basics for King?

This entire trilogy has a way of sticking with you, but perhaps none more so than this book, because of the sheer horror of Brady Hartsfield and his diabolical ways of taking out his enemies.

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Review: Dreams of Gods & Monsters

Dreams of Gods & Monsters Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a brick. This was a giant apocalyptic golden brick.

It took me a long time to read it, because I had to be sure to appreciate it all.

Sometimes, I had trouble remembering where everyone was, because so many plot threads were flying at once in the face of the dreaded Arrival.

But hey, more Karou and Akiva? More Zuzana and Mik? And Eliza...oh, Eliza. I always have a bit of a soft spot for people raised in freaky doomsday cults - that's really no way to live. Especially if you happen to be the prophesied "chosen one," which means they'll deprive you of all agency in your life just because they think they can.

Cultism in general is for no, according to this book. Don't just go along with the groupthink. Especially supposedly heavenly-ordained groupthink.

But hey, I'm glad I finally rediscovered this trilogy, because now I really know what I was missing - the setup for this here thing of beauty.

To the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, I say ave atque vale. (Does anyone know how to translate that into Seraphic?)

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Review: Days of Blood & Starlight

Days of Blood & Starlight Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm so glad I re-read Daughter of Smoke & Bone, because I loved that one enough that I'm now happily blazing through its sequels back to back. One thousand pages and then some. My next review after this one will be for Book 3, but for now, let's focus on Book 2.

First off, maybe it's just me and my liking for the color red, but this has my favorite cover in the trilogy.

Second off, it's great that we get to split the story between the human world and the angel world. It does have the unfortunate side effect of making it hard to tell where and when each new chapter takes place - it would help if there were some kind of header on each chapter saying, for instance, "Morocco, June 15th, 10pm." Eventually, though, it becomes easier to tell where each chapter takes place.

As for characters, we get a little more Kazimir-annoyance, a lot more Karou-Akiva tension (and while Akiva doesn't seem to have much to do for most of the book, there's one part about 400 pages in where he finally validates his entire presence in this series, setting in motion some game-changing events), and of course Zuzana and Mik. Forget Karou and Akiva, Zuzana and Mik are my DoS&B series OTP. They're too funny, too adorable, and too precious for this world.

This world which is really going to change in the final book.

Bring it on.

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Review: Soldier

Soldier Soldier by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Julie Kagawa is dangerously good at what she does, blending fantasy and sci-fi like few other writers whose name isn't Marissa Meyer. As the Talon Saga reaches its midpoint (third of five planned books), the frenzy of action and intrigue and international conspiracies builds up to new heights. More than ever, we see the evils of both sides in this war, with Talon selling out their kind to the Order of St. George as they, like so many other so-called "Christians," hide behind their religion and use it as an excuse to persecute those they consider "lesser." The Order, in particular, reeks of so much toxic masculinity that you can't help but loathe them all.

As for the ongoing story arcs with Ember, Dante, Riley, and Garret, these keep going in new and unexpected directions. I only wish that the book could have included more of Dante's POV, although his role in the story, while small, proves quite important. Without Dante, we wouldn't have a window into Talon. The Ember-Riley-Garret love triangle gets some twists to keep it interesting, too. Although the last of these, I was hit hard by, because as usual, that's my ship going down in flames there!

Small flaws aside, though, Soldier keeps Kagawa's latest, best, and most addictive series going with all the forward momentum it can muster and then some. I can't wait to continue the story next year with Legion!

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Review: Dark Energy

Dark Energy Dark Energy by Robison Wells
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Robison Wells (and Dan Wells too) have always been relatively hit-or-miss for me. This one, I'm sorry to say, is more of a miss. The story spends most of its time moving as slow as molasses - which is exactly what you don't want in a book this short. In other words, it's like a bad episode of The X Files. The use of Native American culture and traditions as part of the whole alien backstory is welcome, though, because it calls up some better X Files memories - especially when various Southwestern locations come into play. Unfortunately, the story doesn't really add up to much, especially since it spends so much time focusing on barely-funny boarding-school antics that when the alien mysteries finally come into the forefront, it feels like too little too late.

At least this book's a standalone, and I'll probably still pick up whatever Wells (either one of them) puts out next. I'll be a little more cautious, though.

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Review: Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just as I started reading this book, I noticed that its GR average rating looked a little low, so I was worried that as far as Alice in Wonderland retellings go, this would be a little less on the Splintered end of the quality scale, and more on the After Alice or Alice in Zombieland end.

Nope. It's definitely more on the Splintered end - and, dare I say, even better than Splintered, or at least the first two books in that trilogy (I think Ensnared was Howard's high point on that series.) It's a short read, but also very quick-paced and addictive, especially as we follow Dinah's journey towards discovering the deadly intrigues of her father's royal Wonderland court. The King of Hearts isn't the nicest guy around, and that's an understatement. He's every bit as evil as any fairy-tale wicked stepmother you can think of.

You know what they say - "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die."

I need the second book ASAP. Especially since it's got a title as awesome as Blood of Wonderland.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Review: Let the Wind Rise

Let the Wind Rise Let the Wind Rise by Shannon Messenger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's been a painfully long wait for the conclusion to this trilogy which does for sylphs and other assorted wind spirits what Rick Riordan did for various classical pantheons.

It was very much worth the wait.

Vane and Audra take the fight to Raiden in this final adventure of theirs, and it's a long, intense fight, with everyone involved getting battered and shredded by their weaponized winds (and those of their enemies, of course.) Messenger jam-packs this book with all that supernatural action, as well as some excellent (and, often, excellently juvenile) humor, like Vane's discovery that sylphs prefer to "freebird." And, of course, the feels. There's one death in particular that is just...damn. Instant reader wreckage right there, and me and my Flash-level broken dude tears were no exception.

It's a shame Vane and Audra's story doesn't get the attention it deserves in the YA world. It helps that the content is kept at a high-PG level, so it could easily appeal to middle-grade readers and be a great gateway to YA, up there with Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.

I can't wait for whatever Messenger gives us next. In the meantime, to the Sky Fall trilogy, I hereby say ave atque vale.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Review: The Last Star

The Last Star The Last Star by Rick Yancey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I went into this book with very low expectations because of my considerable disappointment in The Infinite Sea. After reading this book, I've concluded that this series would have been better off as a duology. The trilogy we got is two reasonably good books (hyped way too much, I think, but not bad at all) sandwiching a choppy, unfocused mess in the middle.

The good thing about The Last Star is that it's something of a return to form, focusing again on the war against the Silencers and the rising 5th Wave of brainwashed human soldiers. It's been a while since I read the second book (I don't think I've picked up The Infinite Sea once since I read it 18 months ago or so), but as I remember it, one of my biggest issues with that book was its long stretches told in different POVs from Cassie's, and the POV switches weren't indicated in any way. (Or maybe I'm confusing this with the fourth Virals book, which I read around the same time, and which I distinctly remember having a few distracting POV switches without any kind of tag to indicate them.) Here, however, not only do the POV switches happen more often (which helps keep the story moving that much faster, and more linearly - something I didn't like about The Infinite Sea being its irritatingly poor pacing), but they're also very clearly indicated when they happen, which helps matters considerably.

On the storytelling front, the book isn't without its flaws. For instance, the whole Cassie/Evan romance thing. I've never much liked Evan - I thought he was too much of a typical pretty-boy bad-boy, although at least he has a more legitimate reason to feel as tortured as he does. Again, though, what the book lacks in romance (sometimes I think I'm the only one wishing Cassie and Ben could be a canon pairing - it's like Clary and Simon all over again), it makes up for in action. Particularly in, for instance, its opening scene, where a priest (Catholic, unless I miss my guess) presides over what looks like an ordinary Mass, only to turn it into a bloody-murder Silencer-worshiping ceremony instead. I'm still not sure if that was Yancey's way of suggesting that men of God are more gullible and, therefore, more easily swayed by the Silencers (which is probably just my strong aversion to religion rearing its ugly head.)

In the end, this book rescued the series for me, and now I'm actually looking forward a bit more to seeing the 5th Wave movie (for which I'm still on a waiting list at the library.) Although I can imagine a lot of fans wouldn't like it, particularly with its ending aping one of the more controversial YA series finales of recent years (I won't say which one - that alone would be a massive spoiler), I, as one of the few who enjoyed that controversial book anyway, found this book's conclusion satisfying all the same.

Ave atque vale, 5th Wave trilogy.

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Review: The Last Full Measure

The Last Full Measure The Last Full Measure by Trent Reedy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It seems that with each new book in this series, the US is getting dangerously closer and closer to fulfilling Reedy's prophecy - one that I really hope never comes to pass. It may not even be the same privacy-rights issue over federal IDs the way this trilogy presented the initial cause of its Second Civil War. It may be something else, like LGBT+ rights (an issue that went surprisingly untouched throughout this trilogy - and on that subject, when I told my dad the premise of these books, he immediately, semi-jokingly, suggested that the current transgender rights issue was the cause of this Second Civil War), or the bigotry promoted by Der Fuehrer Drumpf.

Either way, one can only hope that enough people will have read this trilogy and taken away the warning signs. Allowing America to devolve into a Second Civil War just because compromise is so out of the question for some of the hardliners in charge in the government would have so many horrifying ripple effects. Not only would this open the door for even more corrupt types to take over and force their own visions on society (as happens in this book with the white-supremacist Brotherhood of the White Eagle), but what about the rest of the world? Reedy paints a grim picture of what would happen if the US were so focused on containing its own crisis that it couldn't stop a power vacuum from forming elsewhere. This gives rise to a resurgent Soviet Union, an Israel forced to defend itself against Middle Eastern annihilation like never before, and China rattling its sabers at sea, among other unwanted turns of events.

And meanwhile, for PFC Daniel Wright and his compatriots, the war turns very personal, very fast, as they realize just how much it's not over. The United States can't help them. Idaho's government can't help them. The Brotherhood (comprised, no doubt, of the sort of men whose warped religion, smallness of junk, and raging inferiority complexes have turned them into incredibly hateful SOBs) is turning Idaho into its own racist, sexist playground of horrors. And for what endgame? Nothing but destruction and death (one death in particular had me in tears), all because some of these people just couldn't get their way before and jumped on a chance to hit the reset button?

War is hell. And maybe there's never really a victor, no matter what goes into the history books.

Reedy may be done with Daniel's story, but his rich, spot-on world-building could be equally well-served penning a spin-off or two focusing on the larger World War III conflicts going on beyond the Pan American territory.

In the meantime, to the Divided We Fall trilogy, I hereby say ave atque vale.

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Review: American Assassin

American Assassin American Assassin by Vince Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been meaning to try out Vince Flynn's books for a while, especially since his name is often mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Lee Child or James Rollins. It wasn't until they announced some casting choices for the planned movie adaptation of this book - namely, Michael Keaton as the elderly mentor-type, and Dylan O'Brien as the American Assassin himself - that I finally had the motivation to read this. Then I went and announced on Twitter that I was adding this book to my to-read list effective immediately, and a surprising number of Twitter denizens praised my decision - including Proxy Snyder.

The only real issue with this book is that I sometimes had trouble telling whether or not it was supposed to take place in the past, or in the present day. I mostly blame the back-cover blurb for that because of its indication that it's set "two decades after the Cold War," around the time of publication, but in-book chronology indicates it's pretty close to the Lockerbie bombing of 1988, and characters still speak of the KGB in the present tense, so it's most certainly set in the very early 90s. Which makes sense, since this is a prequel, as I understand it.

That said, though, it's a good story, in which we learn about first the training of Mitch Rapp, then his earliest missions taking on terrorists of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Revenge is a pretty powerful motivator, as in Rapp's case where the Lockerbie bombing took the life of someone very close to him. Helping him out on his missions is how perfectly undetectable he is. Old Man Hurley sure gets a nice surprise when he first tries to take him on in a fight, and underestimates him to the point where he only manages to "win" by resorting to the cheapest of cheap shots - grabbing Rapp's balls. There's also the fact that Rapp's got dark enough features to blend in, chameleon-like, in most Mediterranean and/or Middle Eastern settings. Like Beirut, where most of this book's action takes place.

Reading the IMDb message boards, I've noticed a lot of people proposing their own alternative casting choices for Rapp, other than Dylan O'Brien, whom many of these message boarders perceive as too white (never mind the fact that he's mostly Mediterranean and has said he's been told to stay out of the sun while filming Teen Wolf lest he tan too much) for the part. (Such other choices include Elyes Gabel, Tyler Posey, and, of all people, Ryan Eggold. What, none of them could consider Brett Dalton, if they were looking at New Tens broadcast-TV action-thriller bad boys?) But none of those alternatives have O'Brien's excellent range. Just look at the sharp contrast between his two most famous roles - jokey, clumsy, hilarious Stiles Stilinski...

...and the battle-hardened, lean, mean, fighting machine that is Thomas.

I get way too much mileage out of that Scorch Trials electric tazer rifle GIF already. Judge me.

Bottom line, this is a great story, and if they make it official and cast Dylan O'Brien as Mitch Rapp, I'll have even more reason to part with my money for a movie theater ticket.

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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Review: Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Daughter of Smoke & Bone Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first tried reading this book maybe three years ago, and for whatever, found myself completely unable to get beyond page 20 or so. At the time, I put it down to the dynamic between Karou and Kaz - I somehow got it into my head that he was supposed to be the main love interest for this book, and let me tell you, I thought he was an absolute tool. As for Karou, I thought she seemed pretty bland as a character, especially given her strange, evil-Adele way of thumbing her nose at Kaz.

Then, after so many years of avoiding this trilogy, I decided to reread The Raven Boys, which I also similarly gave up quickly because of my initial inability to connect to the characters. And I found Stiefvater's book really benefited from the second read, which allowed me to catch up on the series just in time for The Raven King. In addition, my dear friend Sierra discovered my Goodreads profile and found that we had wildly differing opinions on Daughter of Smoke & Bone, which served as another factor to convince me to reread this book.

Upon doing so, I found myself able to get past the point where I gave up before when I finally realized, "Oh yeah, Kaz isn't the main love interest after all! He's just an unimportant tool, and we're supposed to hate him!" And that's when I also got a glimpse of Zuzana, whose presence made a stronger impact on me because she was just so damn funny.

And, from there, I was able to discover just what I was missing. Globetrotting adventure, angels and demons with twists, magic wish money, picturesque Prague setting for most of the action, and then...Akiva and Karou. Now this romance is much more like it! They really work well together - and together, they give Zuzana a chance to utter some lines that, when I read, them, made me laugh out loud. No kidding. I'll never see the words "mating" or "seed" without thinking of Zuzana again.

I especially liked Akiva because he reminded me a lot of my own angelic character, Alex Snow - particularly in terms of physical appearance. Although Akiva is way more idealized, he and Alex look similar enough (particularly in terms of skin tone) that he could be Alex's next cosplay. When he's done with his impressions of Scott McCall or MK from Into The Badlands, that is.

So, all in all, despite the shaky start, this first book in the trilogy turns out to have been completely overlooked by this reader, writer, and fanboy. Luckily, I've got Books 2 and 3 waiting in the wings. For those reads and reviews, stay tuned.

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Friday, June 3, 2016

Review: The Inquisition

The Inquisition The Inquisition by Taran Matharu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Well, it would've been, could've been, worse than you would ever know..."
-Modest Mouse, "Dashboard"

I'm sorry to go there right off the bat, but that title is just begging for this point to be made:

And as for that cliffhanger Matharu left us with last time, along with the one he gave us this time, I hereby present my idea of what must be going on in his head:

So...The Inquisition. Mercifully, the title group only really appears during the first quarter of the book or so, because as interesting and high-stakes as the whole trial thing is, it turns into an absolute farce - and not in a good way - very quickly. It pretty much takes on the sort of kangaroo-court proceedings my fellow Americans and I can expect if the Nazis - sorry, the GOP - win the White House this year. (God forbid.) And speaking of all the Nazi horrors Der Fuehrer Drumpf must have in mind for my country, in this second book, Matharu raises the racial-tension theme up to eleven (almost said "up to elven" there, haha). By the end of the book, it becomes clear that the orcs aren't all the enemy, not even close. And that there's a certain conservative-type cabal in Hominum, bound and determined to reshape human society in their own image. False God much?

As for our heroes, it's been a year since the end of The Novice, and none of them are, well, novices anymore. Training is over. These guys and gals are pretty hardened now - especially Fletcher, who's noticeably grown up (but still can't grow a decent mustache.) And on the demon side, there's none better than our little Toothless-esque Salamander, Ignatius, who takes all the levels in adorable in this book.

Together, they journey into the dangerous jungles of the orc world - the same jungles featured on the book's cover, where Everything Is Trying To Kill You. Just look at the description of the guy who accidentally wiped his arse with the wrong leaves (and in a place like this, are there really any right leaves for the job?)

All this action and adventure, of course, leads up to a cliffhanger even more gnarly than the first one, if anything. Well, it's much less sudden than that of The Novice, but still. I reiterate:

Taran Matharu, you bloody genius.

I really, really hope that next year, my library gets with the program and orders The Battlemage well in advance of its release. Seriously, library, being forced to do special orders like I did for the first two Summoner books is not helping your business.

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Review: Demigods & Magicians: Percy and Annabeth Meet the Kanes

Demigods & Magicians: Percy and Annabeth Meet the Kanes Demigods & Magicians: Percy and Annabeth Meet the Kanes by Rick Riordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven't been able to read these stories with the rest of the world because, as usually happens when an author puts out bonus e-book novellas, I'm forced to wait for a print compilation because I have no e-reader. It's worked out well for me on, say, The Bane Chronicles, or I Am Number Four: The Lost Files.

For some reason, I was never as big a fan of The Kane Chronicles as I was of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. But after reading these three crossover stories, I think I might have to reread the Kane trilogy at some point, if only because I know better now how well these two sets of heroes work together. Rick Riordan's got himself an excellent mythological multiverse going, and every aspect of it must be appreciated.

The best part of this book, however, is the sneak peek to The Hidden Oracle right at the end. I've been pretty pumped for that one for a while (unfortunately, the library's got a LONG waiting list), and now, I'm even more so. Apollo seems like a surprisingly lovable assbite - a side of him I don't think we got enough of in the old Camp Half-Blood books.

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Review: Once a Crooked Man

Once a Crooked Man Once a Crooked Man by David McCallum
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As Jethro Gibbs might say, "Don't quit your day job, Duck."

I probably wouldn't have picked up this book at all if not for the fact that its author stars on one of my favorite TV shows. Reading it, I found it to be a fairly enjoyable read, with the same sort of mix of crime and humor that I've come to expect from James Patterson, particularly in his NYPD Red series. However, this book was also strongly impacted, negatively, by its meandering storytelling. The central mystery kept taking a backseat to a bunch of flashback sequences, many of which involve teenage or young-adult love. They seem more than a bit nostalgic, and I'm not faulting McCallum for that, but the way they enter the story feels more than a bit shoehorned in. It gets extremely distracting after a while because it keeps grinding the story to a halt like in "Kill Ari, Part II" when Gerald couldn't operate the stick shift on Ducky's old Morgan. ("Good God, man, use the clutch!")

For further NCIS-inspired reading, I think I'd rather look at a Castle-style defictionalization of McGee's - sorry, Thom E. Gemcity's L.J. Tibbs adventures.

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