Review: “Side Effects: Book One: First Days,” Dusti Dawn Rose

Pros: Detailed prepper/survivalist tale
Cons: Rough; slow; sometimes confusing or inconsistent
Rating: 3 out of 5

Side Effects: Book One: First Days (Volume 1), by Dusti Dawn Rose, tells the tale of Em and Drew, along with Em’s roommate Anna, a little boy, and a few others who get sucked in along the way. The zombie apocalypse has happened, but Em’s father has been prepping her and her best friend Drew for the end of the world since they were children. Em decides to take Anna, and they pick up a 4-year-old at an accident site. Em and Drew seem to take the idea of the zombie apocalypse happening remarkably in their stride. They take it equally in stride when the kid claims to have prophetic dreams and visions.

It’s clear that the real meat of the story for the author is the prepping and survivalism. Those get loving drawn out over a fairly long space, whereas the zombies and the bad guy humans are almost afterthoughts. On the one hand, I’ve been wanting to read something more like that. On the other hand, First Days glosses over so much that the rest becomes unbelievable. There should have been more amazement or disbelief on the parts of the characters when things like prescient dreams and actual zombies entered the story. Instead the author raced right past those.

When I hit the end there’s a little preview of book two. I was very ambivalent as to whether I cared enough to read it or not. Some of the characters had some decent depth (especially Anna), but overall I didn’t care enough about the characters or their travails. It’s clear the author has some skill, but that skill also needs polish and honing.

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Link: Prime Day

Haven’t quite gotten to the review-writing again, although I’m sort of starting to do some cooking and I only have a few boxes left to unpack. Here’s something useful in the meantime. Prime Day is on July 11, with a huge number of discounts and sales:

Posted in News & Musings

Resource: John Grisham’s Rules of Writing

Since I’m still not writing reviews at the moment (still unpacking, still divorcing, still having trouble staying awake), I can at least share a good link I came across this morning: John Grisham’s Rules of Writing. As always with writing advice you take what works for you and discard the rest, but I think this is a pretty good set of very basic guidelines.

Posted in Writing

Scarcity

Sorry about the lack of… anything, really. I’m apartment-hunting. I’m college-hunting. I’m getting divorced. Yes, kind of all at once. I’m really hoping to get back to posting reviews, but I just keep falling asleep in the middle of the day, multiple times, because I’m overwhelmed and exhausted. On a day when I forgot to take my morning meds I found out that I’m still suffering from aphasia-like symptoms, it’s just that the meds cover them up. For a few weeks after the initial dissociative event I couldn’t find most of my words. Scary and frustrating.

I want to write a post about the bread books we like to use whenever we volunteer to bring breads to friends’ celebrations. Hopefully soon. They aren’t really the usual picks that people post about, so you might find it interesting.

I also want to write the reviews for the books I’ve read in the last couple of weeks. Fingers crossed. I might resort to doing “short take” versions so I can get them out of the way and move on to new books.

Don’t get me wrong. Things should work out okay. It’s an amicable divorce, and I’m actually looking forward to learning to be an ultrasound specialist. I think it’ll be fascinating. But right now I could use a month-long vacation someplace tropical.

You know, like Tahiti. I hear it’s a magical place.

Posted in News & Musings

Review: “Earth Alone,” Daniel Aronson

Pros: Interesting start to a military sf story
Cons: One big plot hole
Rating: 3 out of 5

Daniel Aronson’s Earth Alone: Earthrise Book 1 depicts a dystopian future in which huge centipede-like aliens regularly try to invade earth. They have a handful of extremely nasty attacks, so people die en masse and horribly. Because of this war all people are drafted into military service for five years at the age of 18. We follow Marco and his adopted sister Addy as they go through an incredibly punishing basic training.

 

The entire book is about Marco (who would rather be a librarian and a writer), Addy, the new people they meet, and how they all (or most) survive basic training. From latrine cleaning to weapons training it’s all there. 60% of the world’s population is gone thanks to these aliens, and it’s crucial that the military turn out tough troops ready for what’s ahead.

I wouldn’t say the characters are the most three-dimensional I’ve ever seen, but they do have depth to them. It’s just enough to be able to say that Aronson produced some good characterization, but not enough to make me shed any tears over a character’s tragedy. Marco tended to magically find the best in everyone, which seemed a little unlikely, but not too bad. The basic training, too, doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, but it still held my interest.

The biggest problem I have is this: nukes. They’ve already nuked the alien planet once. The author explains that now they’re in a war of attrition, but there’s no reason given for why we haven’t just kept nuking them into the stone age. This isn’t a situation where they have to worry about the global politics of nuking a neighbor. The enemies aren’t humanoid, so there’s no empathy issue to worry about. This is a pretty big plot hole, because without some kind of legitimate explanation, the entire premise of the book is cracked open. Maybe the aliens have a huge fleet that serves as their home now and it’s a lot harder to nuke a fleet than part of a planet. Something like that. As long as there was a reason that made sense I’d be happy, but unless I missed it, it’s just a gaping plot hole.

I haven’t yet decided whether I’m going to read the next volume.

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Review: “Wired,” Douglas E. Richards

Pros: An interesting take on high intelligence
Cons: Some of the hammered-in details weren’t ones I could agree with
Rating: 4 out of 5

Wired is the first book in a series by Douglas E. Richards. In it, Kira, a biology prodigy, kidnaps a man, David Desh, who’s been sent in turn to capture her. She’s learned to amp up the power of the human brain to stratospheric heights, but only for an hour at a time–and with some unwanted side effects. Just to make her even more of a mark, in one of her amped-up sessions she developed a tonic that doubles the lifespan of a human being. Amped-Kira decided that David is the one person in all of this she might be able to convince and to gain the help of, while everyone else just wants to put her in a cage and harvest her inventions. David’s been told that she’s a terrorist planning to kill nearly the entire species with a targeted Ebola virus, so he has a lot of reason not to believe her side of the story.

 

I felt the will he/won’t he of Desh’s loyalties was reasonable. Usually such things go on way too long past the point where the person should understand who the good and bad guys are, but it just isn’t as easy this time, and I like that. It’s genuinely not as obvious to him who’s doing what.

There are two basic side effects to the one-hour super-intelligence drug. First, massive munchies. Second, sociopathy/extreme selfishness. For most of the book it’s billed as an inevitable side effect of high intelligence, which I found off-putting. It does become less straightforward than that eventually, however.

In some of Richards’ other books I’ve found his enthusiastic dives into subjects to read like soapboxes. In Wired, it comes off less as though the author is lecturing to the reader. However, he still does enjoy getting into his subjects, so you do need to be a fan of more mentally-exploratory SF as opposed to action SF. I think Wired reads more professionally than some of his books. It’s always good to see an author grow in talent and skill!

While this is the more exploratory sort of SF, that spends much of its time discussing and expanding upon interesting possibilities, there is action here and there. David used to be Special Ops, and someone has usurped a portion of the military to send after David and Kira.

There is a bit too much “ooooh Kira” love in here. She’s not only beyond a genius IQ, she’s beautiful and incredibly charming to boot. It’s weird, though, because usually when this happens it’s because the character is the same gender as the author and is acting as a stand-in for how the author wishes he or she could be. In this case, given that each character is very superior in their own way, and it makes sense for extreme people to come together for this, I think it’s reasonable. (And you won’t hear me say that very often!)

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Short Take: “Black and Blue,” James Patterson, Candice Fox

Pros: Decent detective story
Cons: A lot of unlikable characters
Rating: 3 out of 5

James Patterson and Candice Fox are the authors of Black & Blue (BookShots). The “BookShots” indicator means this is a novella, a short book meant to take up an hour or two. I find it great for when I just need a little break. In this case, the tale involves a woman who’s trying to steal a boat, and the owners of the boat who are on medically borrowed time if no one stops her.

I swear it seems like all the main characters (or major adversaries) in crime drama books are now from the foster system. I know it’s an easy way to give them “issues” to work out, or ways to empathize with other not-so-nice people, but I think it’s getting out of hand. Pretty much all of the characters in this book are difficult to like, which also seems to be a current trend that might have gotten out of hand.

It’s nice to see that Blue does make mistakes, particularly early on (I dislike infallible protagonists). I also like it when victims find ways to fight back, and we do get to see some of that. Guns with “silencers”, however, are not actually silent.

The story was reasonably good and I’ll say I love the ending, although I won’t go into more detail than that.

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Review: “Trapped,” Douglas E. Richards

Pros: I think it works as a children’s book
Cons: Oops, didn’t see that it was a children’s book…
Rating: 4 out of 5

I started reading Douglas E. Richards’ The Prometheus Project: Trapped (Volume 1) because I’d been intrigued by one or two of his other books. This one sounded interesting as well, but I totally failed to note that it was a children’s book. Because of that, I started out thinking that the book was waaay over-explaining things and thus being totally condescending to its audience. I’m not familiar with most children’s books, but I did at some point realize maybe I should check Amazon and see–and yep, it’s under children’s fiction. So okay. I don’t think it’s being condescending any more.

At any rate, this is a story about two kids, Ryan and Regan–older brother and younger sister (yes that should have tipped me off. Shush, you!). Their family recently moved to the middle of nowhere, and the kids overhear their parents talking about top-secret projects and riddle-passwords and things like that. The kids decide they have to figure out what’s so important and thus set about breaking into their parents’ place of work. Mind you, I’m not buying it. Supposedly the lack of security is simply temporary, but given how cheap security cameras can get, I fail to believe that a place surrounded by razorwire and invisible lasers has yet to put up cameras every ten feet or whatever, and I also fail to believe that it has so few security guards. But hey, it’s a kids’ book, and that isn’t what you want to focus on.

After getting through various security measures, the kids find their way into what seems to be an underground alien city, where they find all the scientists celebrating having broken into said city–until, that is, a swarm of big insects appears and seems to eat everything except the kids–equipment, scientists, and all. The kids find that the doorway is closed now, and they’re going to have to apply everything their parents have taught them about the scientific method and puzzle-solving in order to save the adults and make their way out.

As an adult, I found chunks of this book boring or condescending, with plot holes included in a handful of places. Well, most of my lack of enjoyment was caused by my lack of awareness of this being a children’s book. There are still some plot holes here and there, but I think kids are at least less likely to notice them or be bothered by them.

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Short Take: “Cross Kill,” James Patterson

Pros: I do like crime dramas
Cons: But maybe not this one
Rating: 2 out of 5

James Patterson’s Cross Kill: An Alex Cross Story (BookShots) has Alex Cross and his partner, John, helping with a before-school meals program; they’re in attendance because of nearby gang activity. An old enemy of theirs (Soneji) who’s supposed to have been dead for years appears and in shooting at them, lands a head shot on John.

Alex goes more than a little crazy trying to track down Soneji while John hovers between life and death and nobody else believes it could be Soneji. It’s a halfway decent book, rendered almost entirely unreadable by the total cliffhanger of an ending. Generally the point of a short story/novella/”BookShot” is to provide something you can relax and read in a short time. Ending it with a vast hole in the story is incredibly annoying, and watching Alex go crazy over Soneji wasn’t enough to hold my interest through the entire piece of fiction.

Thus, summary of story: Alex goes crazy (with a little pushing), John might die, and there’s no half-satisfying ending.

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Short Take: “Come and Get Us,” James Patterson and Shan Serafin

Pros: LOVE the main character’s narrative voice
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

“Bookshot.” What a great name for a type of book short enough to be downed in one quick shot, just like whiskey (especially in a season when everyone’s main character seems to be a whiskey-based alcoholic–except this one). I like it better than “novella”, which is, I think, a term most people aren’t that familiar with. Come and Get Us (BookShots), by James Patterson and Shan Serafin, was a great short read. Corporate lawyer Aaron Cooper hasn’t told his wife Miranda why the two of them and their toddler, Sierra, have to go meet a man named Jed, but it’s going to become very important to all of them when a vehicle behind them sends them crashing off the road and into a ravine. Aaron is badly injured, and in order to travel at a speed that’ll give Miranda any chance of finding help in time, she has to leave little Sierra with Aaron.

I love Miranda’s inner voice; she’s snarky without being overly biting. It’s also the sort of snark that you can imagine yourself using to keep yourself sane as you race to find help and escape some enemies that crop up. There aren’t many characters in here, but the authors put a surprising amount of personality into them in the short space. Miranda and her enemies cross paths in several interesting ways. Miranda in some ways is a soccer mom, but she has some athletic history that gives her a boost. Still, it flavors her thoughts:

1. I heard a pop.
2. I crashed into an obstacle …
3. I realized it was a man.
4. He and I locked eyes in a moment of mutual shock.
5. We agreed not to be friends.

I’m rather psyched to pick out a bunch more of these “bookshots”, especially when trying to waste time.

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