The Stolen Chapters

September 8, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

chaptersThe Stolen Chapters by James Riley

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Story Thieves was clever, but derivative, populated with characters who were hard to care about in the beginning. The story improved, but about halfway through, I wasn’t sure if I would keep reading the series. By the end of the book, I still had concerns, but it wasn’t terrible, and I had already received the book from the library, so I figured I’d keep moving forward. If nothing else, it wouldn’t take long to read, being a juvenile book, right?

I’m glad events conspired to keep me reading, because The Stolen Chapters is a much better story than Story Thieves. The plot is more complex — Owen, Bethany, and Kiel are suffering from amnesia in a plot that involves them going head-to-head with a criminal genius — and the characters start out being likable, since we got to that point at the end of Story Thieves. Plus, Kiel’s arrogance has tempered, Owen is no longer trying to use his friends for his own means, and Bethany becomes more of a central character in the main plot.

The story starts in media res, with everyone waking up to find themselves in danger, with no memory of how they arrived there. It works well to draw the reader in, since we only get the answers when they do, and it’s a surprisingly complex, clever plot that takes the central idea from the first book and makes something more compelling out of it. This is the book I feel like Story Thieves should have been, but Riley had to cover the events in Story Thieves to get us to the point where The Stolen Chapters would make sense.

I’d recommend this book to juvenile and adult readers with an interest in book-jumping, but the problem is you have to read the less interesting Story Thieves first. I have to remind myself of my graphic novel rule: Don’t judge the entire series off of the first book alone, since first books are mostly exposition. I’m just not used to having to do that with book series, too.

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Skin Deep

April 3, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

skinSkin Deep by Brandon Sanderson

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Stephen Leeds returns in the second book in the Legion series, with all of his 42 personas, once again investigating an unusual crime. This time, a body has been stolen from a research facility. Normally, a missing body isn’t enough to garner his interest, but when he discovers that the body is a guinea pig for a new kind of cellular information storage, he decides to get involved. It doesn’t hurt that he’s being offered a lot of capital for the job, and neither does it hurt when he discovers that the information in the body’s cells could mean the end of humankind.

The story is interesting enough, but it’s almost like Sanderson can’t decide if he wants to tell a story about the mystery, or a story about Stephen. He’s dropped hints in both novellas that maybe Stephen’s understanding of his personas may not be correct, and that mystery was more interesting to me than the other one. I understand Sanderson wants to write a third book in this series, and I’m hoping that it will focus more on Stephen and his personas than these two books have.

Skin Deep is more than twice as long as Legion, which is a plus, since I didn’t feel like Legion had enough time for either story — Stephen or the camera — to get enough going. The plot is a little more elaborate, and like I mentioned above, there’s more attention paid to Stephen and his personas, so I feel like it’s a better story, but I still had issues with it. Sanderson makes sure to cover all bases when he examines how Stephen’s condition would be handled in the real world, so he explains away how he imagines his personas eating food at a restaurant, even though he knows the plates will still be full when he leaves, but it felt like too much detail. On the one hand, if he left it out, someone would call him on it; on the other hand, it feels unnecessarily nitpicky. It’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation, and it makes me wonder if it should have been handled differently.

Also, I wasn’t thrilled with how Sanderson concluded the story. He has an assassin right in front of him, ready to shoot him to silence him, and she stops as soon as he has completed a hostile takeover of the company that has hired her to kill him, which makes him her boss, at which point he tells her not to kill him, and she complies. Huh? Can you say anticlimactic?

Skin Deep isn’t a bad story, but neither is it a great one. It’s somewhere right in the middle, dependable and solidly mediocre. For fans of Sanderson, this might be perfect (even when Joe Lansdale writes a mediocre story, I still love reading it), but I was expecting something more. Maybe the last book will wrap it up in a way that makes it all make sense for me.

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Jedi Apprentice: The Call of Vengeance

February 14, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

vengeanceJedi Apprentice: The Call to Vengeance by Jude Watson

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Overlooking the fact that Tahl became a woman in the refrigerator in the first two books, The Call to Vengeance is a decent adventure story about Qui-Gon straddling the line between the Light and Dark Sides of the Force, as he’s hunting down the man responsible for Tahl’s death. He tells himself that he’s hunting him down to bring him to justice, but he starts to channel Bryan Mills from Taken and struggles to restrain himself.

Watson goes back to doing the stories that she does best, highlighting the relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, which is strained as Qui-Gon stays closed off to his Padawan. Obi-Wan has to learn on his own what Tahl meant to his Master, which doesn’t take long, since he’s already trained to be observant to the behaviors of those around him. The entire trilogy is a bit of a microcosm of the two prequel movies, showing how Jedi form attachments, how they’re detrimental to their duties, and how they can lead to a Jedi’s downfall. Here, we see an alternate take, where Qui-Gon stays on the Light Side (no spoiler here; we know that’s how it will turn out thanks to The Phantom Menace), but it shows how he’s not averse to breaking the law and his own vows in order to exact vengeance.

This book would get a higher rating from me, save for the complications I saw with Tahl’s character. Even overlooking those problems, the story winds up being more mediocre than her other efforts in the series, since most of it is still tracking people down and chasing them across cities and plains.Watson winds up all the elements of the plot effectively, and keeps us guessing from one book to the next as to how events will ultimately play out, and for that, it’s a decent read. I wish she had done better with Tahl, though.

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Jedi Apprentice: The Death of Hope

February 13, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

hopeJedi Apprentice: The Death of Hope by Jude Watson

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Picking up just moments after The Ties That BindThe Death of Hope continues with Qui-Gon chasing after Tahl, his newly-beloved, after she’s been kidnapped by the Absolutes, a totalitarian group that wants to regain control of the planet Apsolon. The story focuses primarily on his and Obi-Wan’s search for her, neatly twisting the Master/Apprentice relationship on its head, as Obi-Wan now has to act as the voice of reason against Qui-Gon’s impetuosity.

The problem is that the whole thing makes little sense. I get that Watson upped the stakes for Qui-Gon by making his relationship with Tahl more romantic, but it doesn’t ring true to me for a couple of reasons. For one, the Jedi aren’t supposed to form these attachments, and Qui-Gon and Tahl are both characters who adhere to their edicts pretty strongly. Sure, Qui-Gon has a reputation for breaking the rules when his feelings tell him otherwise (see: The Ties That Bind), but this is a core part of his Jedi training that he overlooks without much angst or consideration. Both have a moment of hesitation before declaring their love for the other, but it’s brief.

For another, the two were already close friends, and had been for years, before reaching this point in the last book. I’d like to think that, without their pledging their lives to each other in the previous book, Qui-Gon would still be going on this chase to find her. Instead, she creates a forced relationship that only serves to drive Qui-Gon forward. It bothers me, because their relationship before was one that supported the idea that men and women could be friends without it becoming anything more, but now it’s just another romantic subplot used to drive a man’s character development. It’s disappointing, especially in a juvenile series where Tahl serves as a strong role model for young women.

If Watson had made this just a subplot, I could overlook it to some degree, but this is the main plot for the entire book. I think Watson is trying to show us how attachment can be bad for Jedi, giving us some foreshadowing into Obi-Wan’s relationship with Anakin in about fifteen years’ time, but by converting Tahl from an independent character into Qui-Gon’s girlfriend, she turns her into a trope instead of a fully realized character. She captures the emotion well (enough so that I’m surprised this is a book written for younger children), but she also does a disservice to one of her best characters.

This book is such a disappointment. I may have been predisposed to finding fault with it once I realized in the last book that Watson was setting up Tahl to be another woman in the refrigerator, but this book made it clear. There was no reason related to the plot for Tahl to die, save to spur Qui-Gon down his own path of development.

 

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Jedi Apprentice: Deceptions

February 8, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

deceptionsJedi Apprentice: Deceptions by Jude Watson

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I’m not going to lie: I got confused about where in the chronology I should have read this. Technically, this is volume nineteen of the Jedi Apprentice series, but it falls right after The Shattered Peace across the timeline of the books, and it falls right after The Dangerous Rescue according to the publication schedule. I now see that these books are intended to bridge the gap between Jedi Apprentice and Jedi Quest, so I expect I should have waited and read this in series order. Oh, well.

Deceptions is split into two parts, the first involving a senatorial inquisition into the death of Bruck Chun, who fell to his death during a fight with Obi-Wan in The Captive Temple. Bruck’s father has hired a lawyer to determine Obi-Wan’s culpability in the death, and the first half of the book covers that inquisition. Bruck’s father and his lawyer have an agenda, and Watson does a great job of highlighting how unfair the inquisition is. Obi-Wan is cleared, but still feels guilt over his involvement in Bruck’s death, even though he isn’t the one who caused the death. It doesn’t help that Bruck’s brother, who has been a witness to the inquisition, tells Obi-Wan afterward that he holds him personally responsible.

Twelve years later, Obi-Wan is a master himself, with his own Padawan, Anakin. It’s three years after Qui-Gon’s death, and they go on their first mission together, and of course it involves Bruck’s brother. He’s started a Utopian society on a massive starship, his intent being to live outside of society and governments. The only problem is the Jedi Council gets word that not everyone is there willingly, so they’re sent to investigate.

The book ends a bit too neatly for me. Everything is resolved, grudges are cast aside, and characters realize the errors of their ways. That’s par for the course when it comes to Star Wars, but it doesn’t feel earned in this book. I think it’s because each portion of the book is relatively short, and the characters aren’t given enough room to develop.  Instead, Watson seems more focused on Obi-Wan and Anakin’s relationship, giving us hints toward what we know is its conclusion. In addition, in the first half of the book, Qui-Gon doesn’t support Obi-Wan the way he had in earlier books. The whole thing felt tone-deaf.

The story is engaging and compelling, but Watson falters here. I think her trying to force the two series together is the cause, but the two foreshortened stories that make up the book don’t help, either. It’s certainly not the worst Star Wars book I’ve read so far, but it’s far from the best. Based on the earlier books in the series, I know Watson can do better than this.

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Jedi Apprentice: The Dangerous Rescue

February 7, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

rescueJedi Apprentice: The Dangerous Rescue by Jude Watson

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The trilogy surrounding Qui-Gon’s abduction comes to a close with The Dangerous Rescue, which picks up just moments after the end of The Evil Experiment. Obi-Wan refuses to leave the lab where Qui-Gon is imprisoned, and he stays to help him escape and bring Jenna Zan Arbor, the scientist who imprisoned him, to justice. Of course, nothing is as simple as that, and the two of them, with the help of Adi and Siri, another Master/Padawan pair from the Temple, race to discover the connection between the scientist and a notable Senator from the Galactic Senate.

I had high hopes for this volume after The Evil Experiment set up the events so well, but I was a little disappointed in how Watson brought it all together. The story gets a little convoluted as several characters travel from planet to planet to gather all the clues, and sometimes it feels like the author brought in characters just to get herself out of a hole. There were strings of coincidence throughout to bring all the loose points together, and while it’s easy to say the Force brought them all together to solve the case, it’s a bit of a cop-out.

Watson still brings this trilogy to a satisfying close, but the journey to get there strains the willful suspension of disbelief. I understand there’s another trilogy in the remaining seven books, and I hope she handles the plot a bit better in that one.

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Alien: River of Pain

January 31, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

riverAlien: River of Pain by Christopher Golden

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This is the third book in the so-called Canonical Alien Trilogy, which ties in with the first two movies in the series. Out of the Shadows covered the time between Alien and AliensSea of Sorrows covered the time two-hundred years after Aliens, and River of Pain covers the time just before Aliens. Specifically, it covers the formation of Hadley’s Hope, the colony on LV426 where all the devastation before the movie takes place.

Interestingly, fans of the movie who watched the extended director’s cut of the movie will already be familiar with some of the details in this book. Golden uses dialogue and scenes straight out of the material that was cut for the theatrical release, as well as using material from uncut scenes. He blends it together to make the book more like an Expanded Universe book for the Alien franchise, telling us more about Newt and her family. It works well, namely because Golden’s characterization skills are good.

By the time Ripley and the Marines arrive on LV426, Newt is the only remaining survivor of the colony after the aliens got loose in the compound, so all the characters Golden creates are new. Newt is the focus of the story, but we also learn about her brother and her parents and all her friends in the colony. Colonial Marines are present in the story, too, which is a revelation, as they’re not mentioned as having a presence in the movie. The strongest relationship in the book exists between Newt and Captain Brackett, a new arrival to the colony and the new CO for the Marines.

The thing is, in order for the book to fit in with Aliens, we know everyone has to die by the end, and we know more or less how it happened. Golden does a good job of giving us more to care about — Captain Brackett has his hands full bringing his marines back under his control and dealing with rogues, for one — but in the end we know it’s going to end poorly for almost everyone involved. This was an issue with Out of the Shadows, too, but I think it works better here because we can flow straight from this story to Aliens to get the full extent of the book. After finishing the book, I re-watched the movie, and I think it helped form my opinion of the book.

I think it’s safe to say that anyone reading this book is already familiar enough with Aliens to get the most out of it. Folks who aren’t familiar with the movie might be confused, and see the ending as a let-down, but seriously, who’s going to be reading this book if they aren’t already a fan? Like me, folks who read this will segue straight into watching the movie again, and that’s the right way to do it. Just make sure to watch the director’s cut to get the most out of the story as possible.

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The Ghoul King

January 27, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , , )

ghoulThe Ghoul King by Guy Haley

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The Ghoul King follows the adventures of Quinn, the Knight granted his position by the Angels, a race of beings that not only rule the devastated wastelands of the United States, but also might be the ones who caused it. Like The Emperor’s Railroad, the story is not told from his perspective, but is instead related to us through someone who accompanied him on the adventure. The story isn’t told strictly from his perspective, though; a beginning and ending chapter give us additional information about Quinn and the world he protects, and we start to see some of what lies behind the complex structure of religion and science that populates these novellas.

The Emperor’s Railroad gave us a post-apocalyptic story with zombies, and The Ghoul King gives us another post-apocalyptic story, this time with vampires. In neither case is the story about the creatures; instead, they’re about this future and how it came about. In the first novella, Haley hints at these Angels as not being as supernatural as the citizens believe, even though we see things that aren’t natural. The Ghoul King follows that same setup, but we start to see more of what lies behind the Angels, and we start to get a clearer picture of just how this world came to be.

Also like the previous novella, Haley spends a good chunk of the story building his world, but not at the cost of the story. We get bits and pieces of what’s happened here as we travel with Quinn on his adventure, but only when it’s relevant to the story. In The Ghoul King, much of that detail has to do with what came before the apocalypse and how it affects the world they’re living in now. We still don’t have all the answers, but I suspect that will be forthcoming in future novellas.

Anyone who enjoyed The Emperor’s Railroad shouldn’t hesitate to start on The Ghoul King. It follows the story Haley began in that novella without being a retread of the entire story, and it gives us further insight into Quinn as a character. These two novellas are rich and detailed, and it makes me look forward to the next story in this sequence. It’s just a shame I have no idea how long it will be before I can read the next one.

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Sons of Light and Darkness

November 14, 2016 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

lightSons of Light and Darkness by Adam Ingle

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Mestoph — a devil — and Leviticus — an angel — are best friends. They have been for centuries. They’ve been such good friends that they barely managed to survive a failed attempt at the end of the world a few years ago, an attempt that the two of them orchestrated. They’re now effectively on probation in Heaven and Hell, and when they catch word of an attempt to take over both from the fallen angels, they see an opportunity to win their way back into good graces with their employers.

Sons of Light and Darkness is a sequel to Ingle’s first book, Necessary Evil and the Greater Good, but it’s not necessary to have read that one first. I’d recommend it, of course, but the stories feature some of the same characters instead of being a continuation of that story. It’s more a James Bond sequel than a Song of Ice and Fire sequel, if that makes any sense. Ingle explains enough of what happened in the previous novel to set the stage for how it affects the current story, so new readers (or readers, like me, who forget too much between one book and the next) can jump in without missing too much.

The characterization is good here. Mestoph and Leviticus carry over well from the first book, but the additional characters feel more realized than the secondary characters from Necessary Evil and the Greater Good. Experience is good! Also, I think it helps that the story stays entirely in the realm of the afterlife instead of also carrying over into the real world (though I did find myself hoping for an appearance from Sir Reginald Pollywog Newcastle III). The adventure scenes are appropriately over the top, since we’re dealing with gods, angels, and demons here.

The story is well-constructed, without any loose ends that I could see. Details that were used to establish setting were used as plot points later in the book, the progression from start to finish made sense, and the conclusion was logical without anything feeling forced. I wasn’t thrilled that it ended so suddenly (seriously; when I turned the virtual page from the last sentence, I thought I was missing part of the ebook), but I guess Ingle wants us ready for book number three.

If you read Necessary Evil and the Greater Good, you should read Sons of Light and Darkness. If you didn’t, and you have a penchant for profane, irreverent adventures of angels, demons, and all the unusual characters they encounter along the way, then you should definitely try these books. I mentioned in my review of the first book that it reminded me of how Quentin Tarantino would direct American Gods, and that applies here, as well. If that sounds like your thing, then these books are for you.

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MEG: Primal Waters

November 9, 2016 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

primalMEG: Primal Waters by Steve Alten

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I read MEG based on a blurb on the cover of the book: “Jurassic Shark!” At the time, I figured a description like that would make it either awesome or terrible. The book straddled the line for me — it was horribly written, but entertaining as all get out.

Since then, Steve Alten has been a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. I haven’t read one of his books since The Loch in 2005, namely because I’ve been trying to read more than just schlock in recent years. Still, when I saw the ebook edition was on sale for a few dollars, I figured a quick schlock read might be just right for Halloween.

Make no mistake: This book is pretty terrible. The characters are wooden and one-dimensional, the protagonists are barely likable, the dialogue is either cheesy or clunky, details from this book are inconsistent with those from previous books, and Alten can’t seem to decide if he’s writing nonfiction or fiction. The story relies heavily on coincidence, covers emotional moments with the subtlety of a cast-iron skillet in a barfight, the villains are more Snidely Whiplash than Hannibal Lecter, and Alten spends a bit too much time on the family dynamic of the main character than the giant sharks. He should know by now that readers are coming to read about the giant sharks and just get right to the point. The MEG books are like porn movies in that way (though there is a scene where some of the characters swim through whale cum).

That being said, Alten gets too obsessed with the details of the Megs, telling us more than necessary to show how much he knows about the giant sharks. It reminded me a bit of Dan Brown’s style, and trust me, that’s no compliment. How many times do we need to hear about how the Megalodon is the apex predator? It turns out it’s about as often as we need to hear how the Meg’s teeth and jaws crush blubber into blobs of fat; in other words, once every twenty pages or so.

So, was it worth three dollars and a few hours? I think so. I went into this knowing it was going to be pretty terrible, but I went in for the giant sharks, and I wasn’t disappointed. Much.

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