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Giveaway: The Running Game by L. E. Fitzpatrick (INTERNATIONAL)

August 12, 2014 1 comment

Brightly colored buildingsIt’s time for the sixth giveaway of 2014 here at Opinions of a Wolf.  Lots of the indie authors whose books I accepted for review in 2014 also were interested in me hosting a giveaway at the time of my review, so there will be plenty more coming up in the future too.

There are TWO ebook versions of The Running Game (review) available courtesy of the author, L. E. Fitzpatrick!

What You’ll Win:  One ebook copy of The Running Game by L. E. Fitzpatrick.

How to Enter:  Leave a comment on this post stating what is the first thing you would do with your powers if you were telepathic.

Who Can Enter: INTERNATIONAL

Contest Ends: August 26th.  Two weeks from today!

Disclaimer: The winners will have their ebook sent to them by the author.  The blogger is not responsible for sending the book.  Void where prohibited by law.

Book Review: The Running Game by L. E. Fitzpatrick (Series, #1)

August 12, 2014 4 comments

Brightly colored buildingsSummary:
Rachel is a doctor in the slums outside of London.  It’s not a great place to live, but it’s safer than a lot of the other options available.  She’s also a Reacher with telepathic powers.  Since she was a young girl, she learned to hide her abilities and always know her exits so she could run at any time.  But when two brothers show up, one a wounded Reacher, and tell her a mobster sent them looking for her, she has to decide whether to run again or trust the brothers.

Review:
Near-future dystopias will never cease in their appeal to me, and so I was fairly quick to accept this one when I was choosing ARCs to read for 2014.  The book offers a grim dystopia but far less running than one would imagine from the title.

The book establishes the overall dreary setting of a dystopia fairly quickly.  Rachel’s work at the hospital and commuting home from it is dirty and grimy. Society is clearly barely functioning, a fact that is smoothly and clearly established.  It takes a bit more time to learn more about the over-arching world, and the fact that Rachel is a “Reacher,” a person with some form of telepathic powers.  For some reason, the government is seeking to eradicate all Reachers, whereas the church, which is illegal, views them as angels sent from above, metaphorically speaking.  It’s an interesting world but our view into it is quite narrow, so there’s a lot of questions left unanswered.

Rachel is a good, strong character who is well-rounded in spite of knowing little of her backstory.  The brothers, on the other hand, are kind of annoying and two-dimensional.  They and the general crime lords/corrupt cops feel much more cookie cutter than Rachel does.  In a way, they drag her down.  It’s hard to root for her when she chooses to cast in lots with this bunch.

Similarly, the plot focuses in on what feels more like a standard crime thriller plot, rather than a dystopian one.  It’s a good crime plot, but it’s not a dystopian one.  The title implies a much more dystopian style book, such as Rachel using her powers to outwit the government and start a new colony or something like that.  Instead it feels a bit more like an urban fantasy style crime plot that just so happens to be surrounded by society breaking down, somewhere out there.    I think marketing it as a running game, rather than as the crime mystery plot it really is hinders the book a bit.  Readers who would like an urban fantasy style futuristic crime novel might miss it, because it sounds so dystopian.  The title and summary give the vibe of a Logan’s Run or Maze Runner style book, when that’s not what it is.  What it is is a perfectly good futuristic crime novel, but that’s not what it sounds like.

Overall, this is a quick-moving tale of futuristic crime with a dash of telepathic powers and an easily imagined setting.  Fans of near future, fantasy, and crime will enjoy seeing the three intertwine.  Those looking for more of a scifi or dystopian focus should look elsewhere.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Series Review: The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

December 21, 2013 2 comments

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Woman's body mirror imaged.Summary:
In the not-too-distant future, the heavily populated world is run by corporations instead of governments. The corps keep their workers and people in Compounds where they’ll be safe from the rampant crime in the rest of the world. Supposedly.  Those who can’t get jobs at a corp must live in the pleeblands, essentially ghettoes.  The pleeblands are haunted by painballers–people who fought their way out of prison in a gladiator-style competition and who are usually now addicted to drugs.

The world isn’t entirely humans and corps, though. There are also a whole slew of new GMO plants and animals, such as rakunks and pigoons.  Children can buy bracelets with live fish inside them as wearable pets.

Jimmy works in a corp with Crake.  Crake is a genius who the corp allows to create basically whatever he wants.  They share a love interest in Oryx, who works with them, caring for the creations Crake makes.  Toby lives in the pleeblands, working in fast food restaurants.  She is being pursued by a violent stalker, who she is sure will kill her one day.  Then she discovers God’s Gardeners, a vegetarian cult that lives on the rooftops of the city gardening, learning all the species of the planet, and preparing for the impending End Times.  And the End Times come in the form of a virus released by Crake to destroy humanity and make room for the new breed of humans he has created in his lab–Crakers.  Crakers are herbivorous, polyamorous, and turn blue when they are in heat.  The pandemic wipes out almost everyone, but not quite.  Jimmy is left to care for the Crakers, and Toby survives, reminiscing about how her life has gone.  And there are some that Crake gave an immunity drug to.  They gather together and attempt to survive, guide the Crakers, and ponder on how things turned out this way.

covertheyearofthefloodReview:
The future world Atwood creates in this series is inventive and engrossing.  Unfortunately, many of the characters and some of the plot fail to fully engage the reader.

The future world, prior to the virus outbreak that destroys most human life, is incredibly imaginative and simultaneously realistic.  It is by far the strength of the series.  Atwood takes real modern day science and intelligently extrapolates how that combined with our evolving culture would affect life on Earth.  The change from politicians and nations controlling the world to corporations doing so makes excellent sense.  The types of animals those corps create are also logical both within that context and from a scientific perspective.  For instance, the mo’hairs are sheep who have had their genetics modified so that their wool is instead human hair to makes wigs out of.  How the world works makes sense and is slightly frightening at the same time.  It’s a subtle dystopia.

The post-apocalyptic setting is slightly less creative.  Only a few humans survive and quickly leave the cities to live in the countryside.  Conveniently, at least half of the group of survivors are from the vegetarian cult, God’s Gardeners, who predicted the end times, and so are well prepared for living in the wild.  This setting is much staler compared to the pre-apocalypse dystopia.  It feels as if the characters are just sitting in a clearing in the woods chatting at each other.  This would not be a problem if the characters were rich enough to sustain the plot when the creative world has disappeared.  But most of them are not.

Atwood is known for writing richly imagined female characters in scifi settings.  Unfortunately, this series is dominated by men, with the women mostly relegated to secondary roles, with the exception of Toby.  Toby starts out strong, and the book focusing on her story (The Year of the Flood) is the strongest of the series as well.  But in the post-apocalyptic setting, Toby loses all of her vim and three-dimensionality.  She becomes a woman obsessed with a man and pining for things she can’t have.  The male characters who dominate the story lack anything compelling.  Crake reads precisely as a slightly creepy genius.  Jimmy is difficult to get to know since he spends most of the series narrating when he is out of his mind from the effects of the apocalypse.  And Zeb reads as a muscled thug who comes to his senses when it best suits him.  None of these male characters show real breadth or true humanity.  They could have carried the story well, although I would still have missed the strong female presence Atwood brings to scifi.  However, these men seem more like caricatures of types of men we meet throughout our lives.

An egg with a handprint on it sits in a nest. The title of the book and the author's name are in gold near it.The plot is clearly meant to show us how the world could be destroyed and also how new life begins, complete with religious mythology.  Some of the plot twists that go with this core of the plot work and others don’t.  For the world destroying, the plot approaches it in two ways.  There’s telling how the world ends from an outsider, underprivileged perspective of a woman who happens to survive.  This aspect of the plot had enough twists and differences, such as Toby’s involvement in the God’s Gardeners cult, that it maintained interest.  The plot also tells how the world ends from the perspective of a man caught in a hopeless hetero love triangle with a kind woman and an evil genius.  This common trope takes no different plot twists or turns.  It is entirely predictable and dull.  A bit of a flop.  The twists in the final third of the story, how the world begins and the last of the prior world fades out with a murmur, does nothing truly daring.  Toby’s romance ends essentially as expected.  Loose ends are tied up.  And the Crakers take over with a new mythology given to them by a flawed human being.  I’m sure this is meant to say something radical, and maybe someday to someone it will, but to the reader who has already read many thinly veiled take-downs of religion and where it comes from in scifi, it was rather ho-hum and long-winded.  Particularly when compared to the much shorter and more richly written work by Atwood taking a similar anti-religion stance: The Handmaid’s Tale.

Overall, this is a series with two-thirds of the plot set in a richly imagined and intelligently extrapolated subtle dystopia future.  The basic plot of dystopia to apocalypse to post-apocalypse is told slightly non-linearally with some interesting poetic-style writing inserted in-between chapters.  Most of the characters feel flat against the rich backdrop, although one female character at first stands out then slowly fades.  Recommended to readers interested in a realistic near future dystopia who don’t mind a rather typical plot and two-dimensional characters will enjoy most of the series, although they may enjoy the first two books more than the third.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap, library, and Audible

Books in Series:
Oryx and Crake, review, 3 stars
The Year of the Flood, review, 4 stars
MaddAddam, review, 3 stars

Book Review: The Devil You Know (Felix Castor) by Mike Carey

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Man with a long shadow that looks like a cross.Summary:
In the near future London, supernatural creatures, particularly ghosts, zombies, and demons, have suddenly shown themselves.  Naturally the religious find this to be a sign of the coming apocalypse, but most people take it all in good stride.  Some even discover that they have exorcism abilities.  Felix Castor is one of these people.  A staunch atheist, he works for hire, rather like a private detective in a Raymond Chandler novel.  He takes a case of a haunting in an archive, but gets more than what he bargained for in the form of an overly-interested pimp, a succubus, and a competing exorcist who oddly bound the ghost so she can’t speak in lieu of sending her off to the after-life.  Although his employers just want him to exorcise the ghost and be done with it, Castor refuses to do so until he discovers just what exactly is going on…., and he just might become a ghost himself in the process.

Review:
This book held a lot of promise to me.  I’m a big fan of both the old-school private detective novels and the more modern paranormal books, so I thought this would be right up my alley.  It fell flat for me, though, although I think that has more to do with me than the book.

First, it contains a very British sense of humor instead of the American kind found in Chandler books.  I know some people find British humor absolutely hilarious, but it always completely fails to strike my funny bone.  I’d read sentences in Carey’s book and know they were supposed to be funny, but they just aren’t to me.  That becomes frustrating the more times it happens in a book, and it happened a lot.

I also, frankly, didn’t like the whole archives setting.  Maybe it’s that I’m in library science and know archivists personally, but it just wasn’t escapist enough for me.  The extensive descriptions of the archives, reading room, and storage, and the librarians’ spaces were dull to me.  I wonder if this is the case for anybody reading a book that takes place largely in a location similar to where they work?  It could also just be that I find archives dull.  I am a reference librarian, after all.

The mystery itself was good and kept me guessing, although I slightly suspect that part of that was due to the fact that the rules of the supernatural are unclear and so Carey has some leeway in taking unexpected turns.  It was the mystery that kept me reading, though, so it was well-written.

Overall, although this book wasn’t for me, it was well-written, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys British humor, detective novels, archive settings, and the paranormal.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

August 23, 2010 10 comments

Book cover featuring a photo of the Starkadders and Flora.Summary:
In an alternate future as envisioned in the 1930s, Flora Poste loses both her parents and finds herself living on 100 pounds a year.  In lieu of getting a job and an apartment in London as suggested by her friend Mrs. Smiling, she decides to live with relatives in order to tidy things up about them.  She decides upon her farming cousins the Starkadders who are all under the whims of Great Aunt Ada Doom who saw something nasty in the woodshed when she was a child.  Flora may have bit off more than she can chew between crazy Aunt Judith, cousin Seth who has more sultry appeal than he can handle, cousin Elfine who flits about the fields and writes poetry, hell-fire preaching Uncle Amos, and sundry other cousins, not to mention the sad bull in the barn.

Review:
Between the general more British style of writing and the accents of some of the relatives, it took me a bit to get into this book.  Once I did though, I found myself lost in the delightful world Gibbons created and wishing the etiquette books Flora religiously uses as her references for life actually existed.

Reading of what was a near future for Gibbons, but actually an alternate past sometime in the 1940s or 1950s for modern readers gave the book a deliciously steampunk quality.  People talk on videophones but they still must run to town to use a pay phone.  Almost everyone seems to have their own airplane that are used for jaunts to London and Paris.  On the other hand, the clothes and hairstyle call to mind the roaring 20s as do the social mores.  This is an alternate history that saw no conservative backlash and yet one that also maintained marriage, beautiful clothing, and fancy parties as the norm.  How could you not want to visit this world?

Each character is well-drawn and easily decipherable from each other, which is a significant achievement given the relatively short length of the book.  Pretty much every character has some flaw, but they aren’t demonized for it.  They simply learn to deal with their shortcomings either by embracing them and making them work for them or re-routing their energies into more worthwhile pursuits.  I can’t recall the last time I saw a bunch of characters with so many short-comings and yet portrayed in such a sympathetic light.

What made me love the book the most though, I must admit, was the main character of Flora Poste.  For the first time I loved a main character who is pretty much the exact opposite of my own personality.  She is calm, even-minded, focused, and gentle, whereas I, I must admit, am much more like one of the Starkadders who she seeks to help.  The Starkadders are the dramatic, emotional type, and Flora, while sympathetic to actual underlying issues, won’t put up with any overdramatizing.  She doesn’t expect them to change the essence of who they are; she just expects them to tidy up a bit and be a bit more reasonable about everything.  The whole concept of being reasonable about things is such a new idea to the Starkadders that it leads to some truly hilarious scenes.

Of course Flora is not without her own faults, which is good.  Otherwise, the book would read as quite judgmental on the poetic types.  Flora can be too quick to get herself in over her head and she can be a bit quick to judge people she’s just met, but these are just her own flaws and she does her best and really that’s all any person can ever really do.

Overall, I absolutely loved this book.  It’s a world that is a pure delight to get lost in, and I foresee myself returning to it again and again as a comfort read.  I highly recommend it to everyone.  Between the character building, the steampunky feel, and the humorous slapstick scenes, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Woman wearing the Earth as a necklace.Summary:
Lauren is an empath.  She feels other people’s pain as intensely as they do.  She lives near Los Angeles in the near future in a walled community.  The gap between rich and poor has increased to an extent that being street poor is the norm.  Lauren’s community is one of the few “middle-class” ones left.  In the confines of the walls, this preacher’s daughter starts to come up with her own religion that she calls Earthseed.  She gets the chance to put it to the test when their walled community is destroyed, and she a few survivors strike north, hoping to find better land and jobs.

Review:
A lot of dystopian novels clearly establish a believable dystopian society, but struggle with characterization.  This was interesting in that it was the opposite.  Butler establishes multiple, easily distinguished characters, both sympathetic and non-sympathetic.  Lauren in particular is believable and understandable in spite of the fact that she’s essentially starting a cult.  Lauren’s inner life is eloquently drawn out in such a way that her actions are almost entirely understandable to the reader, even when they aren’t to the people around her.

On the other hand, the dystopian society was not well drawn-out.  In spite of the fact that the older generations were all around when the shit hit the fan in American society, not a single one of them even attempts to explain why everything started to go wrong.  We get one glimpse of the world between the early 1990s and the US 30 years later in which the book takes place, and that isn’t really enough to establish how the dystopia occurred.  The how isn’t necessarily necessary for stories that take place far into the future, but 30 years isn’t very far off.  It’s reasonable to expect a bit of an explanation for how society fell so drastically apart.

The sections where Lauren discusses her Earthseed beliefs are pleasant to read, but there’s nothing earth-shattering about them.  They’re basically The Secret mixed with Buddhism mixed with Deism.  There was nothing that made me stop and think about my own world-view.  A character does address a similar criticism to Lauren about Earthseed, but she only admits to being “influenced” by eastern philosophy.  Similarly, she won’t admit to creating her own religion.  She insists she just found it.  Whether Butler sides with the critical character or Lauren, I still would rather that the reader saw something appealing in Earthseed, since so many characters do end up clinging to it.  It makes the whole situation a bit less believable.

There is a relationship in the book between a teenage girl and a man old enough to be her father.  It is presented as a bit odd, yet positive.  Honestly, the whole thing made me squeamish.  It might not have if I hadn’t found the older male character creepy from the instant he was introduced.  I’m really not sure why Butler chose to go there.  It certainly has no point in this book, although it might in the sequel, Parable of the Talents.  I hope it was introduced for a reason and not just for shock value.  In either case, I wish he had established a father/daughter type relationship with the teenager instead of the sexual one.

Overall, Parable of the Sower is a pleasant read, but not one that makes much of an impact.  If character studies are more up your alley, and you don’t mind dystopian settings, you’ll probably enjoy this book.  If you want a solidly established dystopia, you should look elsewhere, such as Brave New World or The Handmaid’s Tale.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: SwapTree

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Book Review: Ethan: Site 39 by Otis V. Goodwin

January 26, 2010 9 comments

Book cover--purple light hitting a black and white planet.Summary:
In the near future Earth is destroyed by an asteroid.  Luckily for humanity, a group of people had already departed for Alpha Centauri to colonize the two stars found there.  After losing contact with the few survivors, the Centaurians believed Earth to be uninhabited.  Five thousand years later, their descendants return to an Earth that has recovered from the chaos caused by the asteroid to begin the work of reinhabiting it.  When Ethan, one of the colonists, stumbles upon a residence dug into a mesa made of granite, everything the Centaurians believe about what occurred on Earth in relation to the asteroid is challenged.

Review:
I really wanted this to be a good book.  First I’m a big supporter of indie and self-publishing, as I often find the stories more creative and thought-provoking than those published by big publishing houses.  (See my review of Vow of Silence for evidence of that).  I also thought it was an intriguing scifi storyline.  Unfortunately, Goodwin can’t write.

Oh, he can come up with a great idea for a story, but his writing is terrible.  First, he tells us instead of showing us.  For instance, he’ll say things like “Ethan was thinking how worried he was,” instead of, you know, letting us see Ethan’s worried thoughts.  Whole parts of the story that would have been fun to read in addition to making the book longer he sums up by telling us about it in a couple of sentences, such as “They talked about their planned future together” instead of letting us read the conversation.

Not that I would have wanted to read the conversation anyway, because the dialogue is atrocious.  Every character sounds like an automaton.  They never use a contraction or a simile or anything really that makes a human sound human.  Goodwin tries to explain this as language changing, but even when we flash back to see characters from the time of the asteroid, they speak in exactly the same robotic manner.

The book blurb says that Goodwin is retired from the military, and it frankly shows.  In some ways, this is good.  The military portions in the asteroid flashback are clearly written by someone who knows the military.  However, mostly it’s just a rabid conservatism showing.  We’re talking a world in which the small population of humans rebuilding all automatically fall in love with someone of the opposite gender and that love is automatically, wholeheartedly returned.  It’s like the man never got past the fairy tales told to little girls to realize that that doesn’t happen perfectly for everybody in real life.  Real life just doesn’t work out that perfectly for everyone.  It makes all of the characters unbelievable, whereas having one true love situation would be believable.

Of course, there is no saving the wretched female characters.  Goodwin seems to be only capable of writing the completely helpless sobbing woman or a woman who is essentially a dude with boobs.  God forbid a woman be strong and feminine simultaneously.

I feel kind of bad saying all of this, because his overall storyline really is good and creative.  It’s what kept me reading the book in spite of cringing and rolling my eyes.  What Goodwin should have done is acquired a writing partner who could write his storyline on the sentence level well.  Then he would have had a great book.  Unfortunately, he didn’t do that.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Free copy from book promotion agent via LibraryThing‘s EarlyReviewers Member Giveaway program.

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