Monthly Archives: June 2013

KayKay #CRB5 Review #38 Nexus by Ramez Naam

Nexus

**SPOILER ALERT**

My book reviews are written as a discussion of a book, and not as an advertisement.  Please be aware that there may be information that some would consider spoilers.  Continue on at your own risk!

The last of my vacation reads- one I finished on the airplane back to rainy Ohio.   A story about the edge of human initiated evolution written by a computer scientist.  As a former developer and current IT employee, the story peeked my interest. There were action sequences involving the compilation of code- did Ramez Naam pull off the technical complexities of this book? Here is what I thought…

Plot

A few young scientist have figured out how to permanently ‘upgrade’ their minds to be able to communicate and experience each others thoughts.  In addition to this ‘shared conscience’ they can also control each other’s bodies.  For science, this is amazing, but the government (ERD) is scared of this getting in the hands of the wrong people.  The ERD blackmails one of the young scientist (Kade) into helping them conquer the people working on this technology.  The scientist he is supposed to infiltrate wants the technology for a select few, and the government wants it for no one.  Kade wants everyone to have access, and at the end distributes the code to everyone.

Plot Score: 4/5

World Building

In there world there are Transhumans (“A human being whose capabilities have been enhanced such that they now exceed normal human maxima in one or more important dimensions”).  And there are Posthumans (“A being which has been so radically transformed by technology that it has gone beyond transhuman status and can no longer be considered human at all”)

Within the Department of Homeland Security there is an Emerging Risks Directorate (ERD) that was created to counter any advanced technological threats to the US.

World Building Score: 5/5

Characters and Relationships

Kade-The main character who struggles against the purity of science and the realities of how technology is going to be used.  He was a pawn in most of the book, but finally got the nerve to follow his own beliefs (and release the Nexus code to the world).

Samantha Catarnes / Samara Chavez / – Originally a member of the ERD- assigned to protect Kade in his under cover mission., she eventually see’s that the ERD is not protecting people, but using her as a pawn and she leaves to take care of children that were born with Nexus abilities.

Characters Score: 4/5

Life Lessons

1.  The importance of solving problems together “All that we have accomplished, and all that we will accomplish, is the result of groups of humans cooperating.”

2.  This technology is real, and is coming and we must be careful about a war on science (which seems like a natural conclusion of how the government will react) “To understand the future course of this war, one need only to look at the history of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.  Like those two manufactured “wars”, this one will be never-ending, freedom-destroying, counterproductive, and ultimately understood to have caused far more damage than the supposed threat it was aimed at ever could”

3. The importance of empowerment, not control “Buddhism suits me ‘cuz nobody’s in charge.  Mobod’s decidin’ for me if I’m good or bad, goin’ to heavin or hell.  It’s just me workin’ on my head, you workin’ your head, the friggin’ Dalai Lamai workin’ on his head.”

Life Lessons Score:  3/5

Style
Defining Quote:  “Broad dissemination and individual choice turn most technologies into a plus.  If only the elites have access, it’s a dystopia.”

It was fast paced and fun- and yes, I loved the sequence around them trying to put a back door in the code and was on the edge of my seat hoping their code would compile!

Style Score: 3/5

Final Thoughts?

-Bonus Beach Read Score: 3/5

-I am totally excited that the basis of this technology exists today.  It’s amazing what we are learning to do.

Total Score and Recommendation

-22/25- I recommend it, and I have already pre-ordered the sequel.

KayKay #CRB5 Review #37 Kindred by Octavia Butler

kindred

**SPOILER ALERT**

My book reviews are written as a discussion of a book, and not as an advertisement.  Please be aware that there may be information that some would consider spoilers.  Continue on at your own risk!

This was book 5/6 of my vacation reads.  I love Octavia Butler, but I have put off reading this book because it’s about slavery.  I like to read for entertainment (not education), and I just don’t find slavery entertaining AT ALL.  It’s not something I want to read about, it’s not something I want to watch on TV.  Did Octavia Butler change my mind?  Here is what I thought…

Plot

A ‘modern’ (1970’s) black woman (Dana) gets randomly ‘pulled’ into the past by her great-great-great(?) grandfather Rufus, in the 1800’s (he is the son of a slave master on a plantation in Maryland).  Every time she gets pulled back, his life is in danger and she saves him.  Each time she is pulled back she stays until she is really scared and moves back into the future.  This happens several times from the time when Rufus is about 7 until the time he is an old man (and she kills him).

Plot Score: 2/5

World Building
I wondered if Octavia Butler was going to build a ‘Django Unchained’ type of alternate slavery world, but she did not.  Whenever Dana gets pulled to the past, she has to suffer the horrors of slavery- including being whipped and seeing others whipped, hard labor, and expected deference to her ‘masters’.  The author did a good job of illustrating the desperation of that time.

World Building Score: 3/5

Characters and Relationships

Dana- It was interesting to see how Dana changes over the book, and ‘gets used’ to slavery.  And is even reminded by other slaves that she was acting too ‘house’.  “She didn’t kill, but she seemed to die a little.”

Rufus- I had hopes (as did Dana) that he would be different then the other slave owners, but there was nothing stable about his thought process.

Kevin-  Dana’s white husband, who accidentally goes back with her to the past (which is helpful cause he posed as her owner) ends up getting stuck in the past for 5 years, and almost killed trying to help free slaves.  The experience seems to take a bigger toll on Kevin than on Dana.

Characters Score: 4/5

Life Lessons

Slavery sucks.  “Slavery was a long so process of dulling”

Life Lessons Score:  3/5

Style
Defining Quote:  “He was like me-a kindred spirit crazy enough to keep on trying.”

I thought the book was written well.  The subject is what overwhelmed the enjoyability of the book.
Style Score: 4/5

Final Thoughts?

-Bonus Beach Read Score: 0/5- No one wants to read about slavery on the beach.

-“That’s history.  It happened whether it offends you or not.”

Total Score and Recommendation

-16/25- Good book, but not for me.

KayKay #CRB5 Review #36 The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Oceanattheend

**SPOILER ALERT**

My book reviews are written as a discussion of a book, and not as an advertisement.  Please be aware that there may be information that some would consider spoilers.  Continue on at your own risk!

This was book 4/6 of my vacation reads.  The long awaited Neil Gaiman adult novel. I even pre-ordered an autographed copy in addition to pre-ordering the electronic version, so my expectations were high. Was it creepy, mysterious and as well written as I expected it to be? Here is what I thought…

Plot

A seven year old boy’s parents has to rent out his room and one of those renters commits suicide in his family car.  After this there is some strange activity occurring where people start to receive money.  At the end of the lane was a family of 3 women the youngest appearing to be eleven. They know something is wrong and the girl, Lettie, takes the boy with her to bind the creature causing havoc. She does that, butt not before the Monster plants a worm in the boys foot and escapes to our world.  Back in our world the monster appears as a beautiful border in the boys house but she takes over his family. He finally escapes and Lettie helps get rid of her (in the process she “dies”).

I don’t think this book is defined by the plot, which seems weird in summary, but I agree with another review that I read- this book is about a feeling, not a thought.

Plot Score: 4/5

World Building
Sometimes I try to think of new creatures and monsters and worlds that haven’t been written about- and I find it to be very hard. This was an original world full of beauty and mystery and weirdness (and an Ocean the size of a pond-that fits in a bucket).

World Building Score: 4/5

Characters and Relationships

The unnamed narrator is a child wise beyond his years (similar to the narrator in The Universe versus Alex Woods).  He’s a bit of a nerd (no one shows up to his 7th birthday, but he seems to handle this pretty well):

“Growing up, I took so many cues from books.  They taught me most of what I knew about what people did, and how to behave”

Characters Score: 4/5

Life Lessons
“Adults follow paths.  Children explore”

Reminds us to keep our youthful curiosity and look beyond the surface.

Life Lessons Score:  3/5

Style
Defining Quote:  “Nobody actually looks like what they really are on the inside….People are much more complicated that that.”

I am not a big fan of long books full of lots of flowery descriptions and details that don’t add value to the book.  This felt like a long short story and to me, and was perfect. Every word was written to be read and enjoyed.
Style Score: 4/5

Final Thoughts?

-Bonus Beach Read Score: 5/5- I thought it was wonderful to be reading about a magical ocean, while I was floating in the ocean!!

Total Score and Recommendation

-24/25- This is a wonderful read (even if you are not floating in the ocean)

KayKay #CRB5 Review #35 Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

Deadeverafter

**SPOILER ALERT**

My book reviews are written as a discussion of a book, and not as an advertisement.  Please be aware that there may be information that some would consider spoilers.  Continue on at your own risk!

This was book 3/6 of my beach vacation reads.  I bought this book when it was released, and purposely held it for my vacation.  This is the last installment of the Sookie Stakehouse series (not counting the ‘where are they now’ book coming in the fall)   Did the series go out with a bang?  Did Sookie finally pick a mate?  Could I keep up with all the characters without referring to a cheat sheet?  Here is what I thought…

Plot
Sookie breaks up with someone, gets with someone new, almost dies and lots of other folks die.  Sounds like every Sookie book I’ve read.  I guess if you have a working recipe why deviate?   Here are the distinctive characteristics for this plot:   Sookie is arrested and put in jail (overnight) for killing Arlene. Claude, Steve Newlin and John something or other team up to make trounle for Sookie and end up kidnapping her from a line dancing bar. Amelia’s dad and his driver sell their souls to the devil and end up blaming Sookie when things go wrong. After raising Sam from the dead and Eric having to leave to marry someone else, Sookie and Sam decide to give things a go.
Plot Score: 3/5

World Building
This is the world everyone else tries to replicate. A universe where all mythology exists, and even though there are a lot of characters stuffed into these books, everyone was introduced in their own time.

Location Score: 3/5

Characters and Relationships
There were several names I did not remember, or chatacters that deviated from the HBO series, but Charlaine Harris gave proper introductions and reminders.

I have always liked the Sookie character. She isn’t a damsel in distress, she is a normal (OK, maybe not completely normal) girl struggling to make ends meet (although she has come into some money)  She likes to tan and look cute and she cares about manners and what her Gran would think.

I always favored Eric for Sookie, but I have to say that it felt right that she ended up with Sam. I hope things work out for them.

Characters Score: 3/5

Life Lessons
None
Bigger Meaning Score:  0/5

Style
Defining Quote:  “Your life was not right when you were actually surprised that someone didn’t want to kill you.”

Not much to say about style here, the story moves quickly and is interesting.

Style Score: 3/5

Final Thoughts?

-Bonus Beach Read Score: 3/5- Perfect for beach reading!

Total Score and Recommendation

-15/25- If you have been following the Sookie Saga, you should read this one…

KayKay #CRB5 Review #34 The Universe Versus Alex Woods

universeversusalexwoods

**SPOILER ALERT**
My book reviews are written as a discussion of a book, and not as an advertisement.  Please be aware that there may be information that some would consider spoilers.  Continue on at your own risk!

This is book 2/6 of my vacation reads.  I was a bit tired of the discount fantasy books that I seem to keep picking and wanted something different.  This is a coming of age story about a boy who was hit by a meteor.  The prevailing themes are meditation, Kurt Vonnegut and death.  Sound weird?  I won’t leave you hanging, it’s wonderfully weird. Here is what I thought…

Plot

Each chapter is written like a self contained short story, but they also build upon each other to create an overarching story. As a child Alex is hit by a meteor and survives. The Alex we meet (after meteor) seems to have some ADD qualities, in terms of his need for logic and a need to take things literally. He has some social issues as well, but he has an amazing grasp on his peers social expectations. He is also comfortable knowing he will never make the ‘in crowd’ and he does what makes him happy. After his accident, Alex begins having seizures. In order to get them under control, he learns meditation techniques from his Buddhist doctor.  These techniques help him deal with life- including school bullies and an assisted suicide . He befriends an old man- Mr. Petterson, who becomes a father figure to Alex, and his friend.

Plot Score: 4/5

World Building

This book takes place in current day, small town England (where everyone know at least three things about everyone else).  I thought the author did a good job capturing the spirit of a small town.

Location Score: 4/5

Characters and Relationships

This is where the book shines. Alex is written like a real person, completely multi dimensional, and because he’s telling the story we understand his motives. I cant express how much I love this character. I cheered for him against the bullies, I cried for him when Mr Petterson died and I watched him grow into his own man- making his own decisions based on his own morality.
Alex learns from all of his relationships. From his mom, who is a tarot card reader (she owns a shop), he has seen someone follow their own beliefs- even though they are different than the mainstream.  And he has a special relationship with Mr. Patterson, who is like a father to him, but really more of a friend.

Characters Score: 5/5

Life Lessons

Here is what I am taking away from this book:
1. I want to learn to mediate they way Alex does.
2. I need to re read all of Kurt Vonnegut novels (maybe I can get a book club together for this)
3.  I’m an atheist, so this was already my belief, but you must live by your own morality, based on your own research and what you hold to be true. This integrity will keep you on the right path. (And that path will be rocky, but stay true!)

Bigger Meaning Score:  4/5

Style

Defining Quote:  “When you’re writing about a person, you don’t need to describe every last thing about him or her.  Instead you should try to give just one telling detail to help the reader picture the character.”

This was beautifully written.  I love how each chapter was an interesting / funny / moving ‘mini story’ that builds up to a larger story.  It reminds me of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood or David Sedaris.  There was not a lot of extraneous descriptions (as illustrated by the quote above)

Alex’s tone is just wonderfully innocent, and accurate:

“As you probably know, when you’re in trouble already, you can ask a simple legitimate question …and end up in even more trouble”

Style Score: 4/5

Final Thoughts?

-Bonus Beach Read Score: 4/5- Perfect for beach reading!

-There’s so much good stuff in this book, I can’t put it all in this review.

Total Score and Recommendation
-25/25- What are you waiting for?  Read it now!

KayKay #CRB5 Review #33 Magic Awakening by Toby Neighbors

magic awakening

**SPOILER ALERT**
My book reviews are written as a discussion of a book, and not as an advertisement.  Please be aware that there may be information that some would consider spoilers.  Continue on at your own risk!

I had a goal of reading 8 books in 8 days while I was on vacation.  I only completed 6 books, and this was the first one.  This is the second installemnt of the Five Kingdom series. I bought the first three as a bundle based on the sample of the first. The first one was good, and I remembered the plot as I started the second book (which is always a good sign).  Did this journey continue in a satisfactory manner? Here is what I thought…

Plot
This plot was a little light. Zollins magic has started to awake several other magical creatures (dont get too excited bacause most appearances are brief-except the dragon, who reeks havoc on the country side.)  Brancock has kidnapped Zollins girlfriend in hopes that he can win Zollin over to his side (dumbest idea ever).  Zollin saves his girlfriend and dedeats Brancock again…

Plot Score: 2/5

World Building
Zollin moves on from the snowbound village into a bigger city in this story. He isnt there long.  There are minor mentions of dwarves, trolls, etc, and a dragon that has a larger role. It all seemed a bit flat this time around.

There was an interesting twist on the dragon legend (at least one I haven’t heard of): “Gold was the one thing that could be used to control a dragon.  A golden headpiece with a dragon’s name inscribed on it gave the wearer complete control over a dragon.”

Location Score: 3/5

Characters and Relationships

Zollins dad was weird in this book. He is normally the voice of reason, but this time he decided to let his son travel ahead to save Brianna, so he could help the villagers (who seem to hate him).  His dad also goes off on Kelvich out of jealousy. These actions seemed out of character.

Characters Score: 3/5

Life Lessons (fka Bigger Meaning)

None

Bigger Meaning Score:  0/5

Style

Opening Quote:  “The beast fealt the shock of power, although it was deep in its hibernating sleep”

Style Score: 3/5

Final Thoughts?

-Bonus Beach Read Score: 0/5- I couldn’t WAIT to get this one read so I could move on to something else!

Total Score and Recommendation

11/25- I will probably read the third one, since it’s been purchased…but I say stop at the first one.

KayKay #CRB5 Review #32 God Touched by John Conroe

GodTouched

**SPOILER ALERT**

My book reviews are written as a discussion of a book, and not as an advertisement.  Please be aware that there may be information that some would consider spoilers.  Continue on at your own risk!

This is another story based in a world where several mythical creatures are real.  Vampires, werewolves, demons, etc.  (I’ve GOT to pick a different type of book to read) Was John Conroe more successful in setting up a world where all myths are real? Here is what I thought….

Plot

Christian Gordon is a demon hunter.  He can see demons, grab their essence and send them back to hell.  After years of fight training, he utilizes his skills and joins the police force.  Hanging out at a vampire club, he saves a vampire from being killed by a demon (the vampire he saves happens to be his soul mate) After handling an exorcism, a special division of the police force recruits him.  The mystery to solve in this book is finding out who is behind the new drug ‘Hance’ (a mixture of vampire and ‘were’ blood).  The actual mystery seems secondary to the introduction of the world and the characters.

Plot Score: 3/5

World Building

It makes sense that in a world with vampires, there would be other types of mythical creatures.  However, it’s very hard to introduce a huge cast of characters that are memorable.  John Conroe handled this by focusing on vamps and demons, with a slight mention that there are other things out there.  I thought this was a great way to handle things, as it provides depth for future books, but allows us to build a meaningful connection with the characters we get to meet.

In addition, there is a more scientific approach to demons, vampirism and lycanism (involving dark matter, dark energy, probably a little string theory thrown in).  It was an interesting approach.

Location Score: 4/5

Characters and Relationships

What a relief not to have a single weak character.  Everyone was tough enough to take care of themselves (including Gramps!).

Chris Gordon- The main character, a demon hunter, who, after taking some of Tanya’s blood, gets enhanced skills.

Tanya- Chris’s soul mate, a vampire who didn’t speak until she met Chris (and they share a birthday and even birth time)- in fact they have so much in common (even similar middle names) I am worried they may be related!

Lydia- Tanya’s friend/handler and PITA (Pain in the Ass) for Chris (really, his first ‘real’ friend)

Gramps- Chris’s kick butt grandpa.  I hope he plays a bigger role in the future.  When Chris tells him all he had gone through (vampires, demons, job troubles), Gramps is most surprised that Chris has a girlfriend!

Okwari- a former ‘DamnedThing” that Chris rescues, and is now attached to him.  Kind of reminds me of Oberlin in the Iron Druid series- but definitely not as sassy!

Characters Score: 4/5

Life Lessons (fka Bigger Meaning)

None

Bigger Meaning Score:  0/5

Style

Summarizing Quote:  “Now Senka is on her way to Europe to take charge of the vacuum left by Fedor’s death, taking Galina with her.  Your girlfriend is in charge of the New York Coven.”

I did enjoy the fast paced writing in this book.  I really loved that he didn’t overwhelm us with a million different mythical creatures.  I did find some of the book a little excessive in details (did I really need to know that he had a seafood sub for lunch and the brand of the clothes he is wearing??)

Style Score: 3/5

Final Thoughts?

-There was enough here to keep the book moving and make it interesting, but there is enough material for several additional books…this was like a gourmet meal instead of the overwhelming buffets I’ve been getting.

-At the end of the book Chris goes to church and is approached by a angel who tells him he’s doing good, but he could be doing more!  I hope the series doesn’t get too religious…

Total Score and Recommendation

14/25- So far it seems like a good series to invest in, I will be reading the next one.