Sunday, August 11, 2013

REVIEW: Vortex by S.J. Kincaid

Vortex (Insignia, #2) Vortex by S.J. Kincaid
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I thought after the events of book 1 Tom would learn his lessons and be cautious and prudent in book 2. Nope. *anger eye-twitch* He acted the same as before. No character growth. No lessons learned. Dude was fucking TSTL.

*flips table*

Rambling rant ahead.

+ the main character

Tom pissed off every influential and powerful person he came across. He pissed off people he needed help from, people he couldn’t afford as enemies, people who could make his life very hard for him or put an end to his life altogether. They were bad people so I understood the reasons for his flippant attitude but that was no excuse to go and shake the fucking beehive.

Tom wanted to become an Intrasolar Combatant and fight epic battles among the stars, yet every single action of his showed otherwise. Dude was unbelievably self-destructive. I would admire his courage to stand up to the bad guys and fight for his ideals and not take the dirty path to attain his dream if he wasn’t such a filthy hypocrite. I was frustrated at how Tom never considered what it really meant to be a Combatant or realized the great depth of his hypocrisy if by some godforsaken miracle he does become one. To become a Combatant meant to become a pawn of the bad guys and perpetuate the corruption, oppression, and everything that is wrong with society and the world.

For someone who helped his father swindle, no matter if their targets were bad guys, Tom had little right criticizing others for swindling themselves. Yes, those people were evil capitalists, but that just meant they were swindlers of a much higher level. The point is that Tom was no paragon of righteousness yet he acted as if he was much to my irritation. Hypocrite!

Tom knew how things worked in the dystopian world yet he bumbled along through life like he didn’t. He thought he could just head-butt his way towards his goals. He was so astoundingly bull-headed that he took the phrase “dumb as bricks” to several new levels.

Tom failed to practice vital discretion with his technopathy because if people found out about his very rare ability he would get a one-way ticket to the laboratory. He never once thought to train his ability and use it to survive and get the upper hand. For instance, if he thought to use his technopathy for espionage, many bad things could have been easily avoided. So fucking easily.

Tom acted with no consideration of the consequences whatsoever, impulsive as fuck. He ignored countless pieces of advice and warnings, common sense be damned. He was so insufferably TSTL that when one of the bad guys made good on his death threat I felt no pity. I actually felt a little joy that it happened, a little disappointed that it didn’t happen sooner, and a bit surprised and befuddled that it didn’t happen more often considering the growing number of enemies Tom made as the plot progressed.

In summary, the main character was TSTL on so many levels, levels that I have not even begun to scratch the surface of, that hardly a chapter went by where I didn’t think he was an absolute waste of space. A discussion of Tom’s personality flaws and dumbass decisions could fill up a book on its own.

+ issues with other characters

I also took issue with other characters. Of course, they were nowhere near problematic as Tom.

Elliot was one of the cyborgs and Intrasolar Combatants, and I didn’t like how he was used as a prop character. He had no purpose other than showing up very conveniently to show Tom the errors of his ways and simultaneously show the readers how dystopian and shitty the world was. Just when I thought things couldn’t get more contrived with Elliot, it did. Elliot underwent a sudden change of personality for a dramatic scene towards the end. The scene was supposed to be this gleam of light in the dark, designed to bring a sense of hope to the story so the readers would believe things could change for the better. However, all I could think of was that Elliot got infected with Tom’s TSTL-ness. Holy hell, Tom’s TSTL-ness was contagious!

Heather was another cyborg and a Combatant like Elliot, and I didn’t like how she was portrayed negatively. Heather was self-interested, self-empowered, and a sexual character, and for these qualities she was inflicted with a Madonna-whore narrative complex. As one of the prominent female characters with Wyatt and Medusa, Heather was the one with the sex appeal and sexual interests, and she alone was made out to be a bitch. Nice.

Blackburn was one of the bad guys, a mad scientist trope. I found it very odd how things between him and Tom were, for the most part, drama-less. I expected the two to duke it out after what happened in book 1. Instead, I saw Blackburn helping out Tom a few times. The fuck? It was just very inconsistent how Blackburn’s character was established from the ending scenes of book 1 where his true self was finally revealed. Vengeful. Paranoid. Has a loose screw. The guy should be trying to get Tom on a lab table to be prodded, poked, and vivisected.

Last but not least, I wish there was more nuances to the evil capitalist bad guys. Not that these characters weren’t believable, but at their very core they all seemed to blend together and the traits that make them different seemed superficial.

+ characters I liked

About the only characters I liked were Wyatt and General Marsh. I liked Wyatt because among Tom’s cyborg peers she seemed to be the only one who had any sense and who took things seriously. She was one of the few characters who would be the least likely to make a stupid mistake and get killed. Quite pitiful the cast.

I liked General Marsh because he was a dimensional character. I saw him as a good guy despite the bad things he did. I didn’t like what he did but I understood his reasons. He fully understood the dystopian world and the necessity for change, and he didn’t hesitate to get his hands dirty. Whether readers like him or hate him, at least someone was doing something to change the world, something that was actually productive. I wished the book featured more of General Marsh. His appearances were very few for someone who was an important character.

In Conclusion

I rate Vortex 2-stars for it was okay. Despite the aggravation that was Tom, the book was engaging. I liked the science fiction elements and the world building.

If you like this series, check out Psion Beta and Data Runner.

Goodreads | Amazon

Saturday, August 10, 2013

REVIEW: The Bell Tower of St. Barnabas by Alice Keats

The Bell Tower of St. Barnabas The Bell Tower of St. Barnabas by Alice Keats
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book cover and description made the novella look like a typical Boys Love manga, and it really did read like one. The usual tropes were there: a school setting, an unrequited love, and at least one of the boys was handsome and had great appeal to the opposite sex, generating groupies and predictable jealousy issues. The only thing missing was the obligatory consummation scene at the end, which was a disappointment. Oh well. It didn’t affect my rating negatively.

What could have affected my rating negatively was the angst. As a hater of angst, I appreciated how the brisk pacing and viewpoint shifting kept the angst to a minimum. I liked how Caleb’s viewpoint was the dominant one but not the exclusive viewpoint. Thus, I didn’t have to deal with Caleb’s brooding for any minute longer before the desire to skim started to arise.

I really liked how both boys were friends from the start because it made the boys’ feeling very believable. There was no blemish of instant love. Caleb’s obliviousness and Gabriel’s longing feelings could have easily come off as annoying but didn’t. I liked how it didn’t take too long for them to get together, and even though a lack of communication remained I liked how they made efforts to overcome it. Caleb and Gabriel were adorable.

Also adorable were the boys’ two friends who sat with them at lunch. Jinx and Elliot were a gay couple, and they could have rivaled Caleb and Gabriel for the reader’s attention. Yet, they nicely shared the spotlight and never took it away from the book’s main couple. I loved how for all four boys the issue of being gay was largely a non-issue and that the focus was on the boys’ feelings for their lover.

I was also fond of Emmeline. She was decked in pink and sparkle and had a stubborn and airheaded demeanor like a fairy cliche. What stopped her from being a nuisance was her genuine efforts to grant the wishes of true love. Emmeline was actually quite droll.

One character that did have me concerned was the evil female cliche. In this novella, the cliche took the form of a schoolmate who did not want the boys to be together because she had a crush on one of them and wanted that boy for herself. Thankfully, at the end she turned out to be a nice girl and things resolved amicably. I did wish, however, that the conflict with her had been resolved sooner. It lasted too long for my liking.

In Conclusion

I rate The Bell Tower of St. Barnabas 3-stars for I liked it. In addition to reading like a typical Boys Love manga, the novella also read like a contemporary fairy tale. Small magic brought the two boys together but it was true love that bonded them. It was that kind of fairy tale. I liked the nice balance between angst and sweetness. The writing was kind of cheesy but jovially so. The novella was a safely enjoyable mm-romance.

Goodreads | Amazon

Friday, August 9, 2013

REVIEW: Sidekicked by John David Anderson

Sidekicked Sidekicked by John David Anderson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Superhero fictions tend to fall into two camps: campy and meta. This Middle Grade fiction fell into camp meta, and it fell flat on its bottom with a splat. Ouch.

+ the main character

I struggled to like the main character because Drew was quite nettlesome. I was aware that because he was only 13 years old I should cut him some slack, and I did. I cut him lots of slack, despite the jabbing fact that the people in charge thought he was mature enough to handle and keep chemical weapons and to go out on the street and fight bad guys. What was I saying, again? Oh yes, I cut Drew lots of slack. Still and all, by the middle of the book, I had to wave the white flag. He had shown not an inch of character growth. Not a fucking inch.

Drew was one of those brats who lives a good life but thinks they don’t. What we had in first person narration was complaints about how unhelpful his superpower was, how his superhero partner sucked, how much he disliked Gavin, and how much he liked Jenna and wished she would reciprocate and stop spending time with Gavin. Rinse and repeat. I understood his complaints for the most part were meant to be humorous in a sardonic manner but none of it amused me.

I felt bad for Gavin for how Drew treated him, and I was already feeling bad for Gavin for being typecast as a slow witted jock. Drew’s fellow sidekick did nothing to him to earn his enmity except for being everything Drew wanted to be: tall, handsome, muscular, popular, and having a superpower that is “combat compliant.” Drew’s jealousy was a pain in the neck. I hated how none of the characters called Drew out for the crap.

What was worse was that accompanying his jealousy with Gavin was his possessiveness with Jenna. She was his best friend yet Drew treated her more as a go-to emotional comfort blanket than as a friend. She was there for him many times but the few times when she needed him he doesn’t deliver. To my horror, Drew worked that “Nice Guy” attitude where if a guy is a nice to a girl for a certain period of time she must reward his niceness by being his girlfriend. No. Just no. 13 years old and already his feet were on the road to dick-hood.

In addition to Drew sucking as a decent person, he also sucked as a sidekick. His super senses could be extremely useful in crime-fighting, investigation and espionage for example, if only he would realize it and quit shallowly seeing superhero-ing as all about the epic battles. He never really did much to my exasperation. I struggled to understand why Drew continued to stay in H.E.R.O. when many times it seemed like his heart wasn’t in it. Now, to be fair, I also blamed the program and Mr. Masters, the person in charge, for not doing right by him. Ugh, so much incompetence.

Anyway, I had difficulty believing how Drew managed to survive with so few injuries when things could have easily taken a turn for the tragic. He had incredible luck let me tell you. Now, Drew did make smart decisions, but they were very few and far between, and that’s why I took issue. The kid was very smart, but just like his superpower, he never made full use of his brain as often as he should have. He had so much potential but displayed very little of it.

+ the plot

For most of the book, Drew was a passive participant, which made for a dull read. Not that Drew didn’t do anything, it was just that he could have done more, and he could have done it with a lot less whining. The plot didn’t hit the ground running till halfway through, and even then it wasn’t running fast. Action scenes were scant and fleeting. I could forgive all these things if the book brought any worthwhile commentary about the superhero theme. It brought shit.

Well, things weren’t all bad. The best part of the book were the twists towards the end. They completely surprised me. Unfortunately, they also put in a crimp in the portrayal of strong female characters, and the book was already dripping in machoism. It was depressing that even the good things came with some problems of their own.

Rubbing salt into the wound was the lackluster ending. I think I saw half of an inch of character growth from Drew at the end. Talk about pitiful. The other characters were equally disappointing as well, especially Titan. When the story revealed what happened in the past that put him into depression, it turned out to be something stupid and cliche. Oh, boo hoo cry me a fucking river. I wanted to bitchslap the dude... and maybe also tie him to a rocket and launch it to the sun. Man, what a group of shitty characters.

In Conclusion

I rate Sidekicked 2-stars for it was okay. The book was engaging but it failed to meaningfully explore the superhero theme and, more importantly, it failed to entertain me. If you plan on picking it up, I recommend borrowing over buying. Or better yet, try The Cloak Society, a better Middle Grade superhero fiction.

Goodreads | Amazon

Thursday, August 1, 2013

REVIEW: Surrender by Lee Nichols

Surrender  (Haunting Emma, #3) Surrender by Lee Nichols
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book 3 concludes the Haunting Emma series, and what a boring series it was. Truthfully, it shouldn’t have been a series at all. The story had some good things but they were very diluted by scenes that often went nowhere and conflicts that were extended way, way beyond their shelf life.

The beginning of book 3 was slow, so slow that it should have been condensed to a few chapters and started towards the middle of the book. The middle was better but useless chapters still plagued it. Consequently, I skimmed because my patience was gone. I couldn’t be bothered to wait any second longer for the characters to finally deal with Neos.

+ the characters

You would think massive time and energy would be spent in preparation for the fight against the ultimate villain of the series, but no. The characters were winging things. I was shocked and angered by how the characters failed to make defeating Neos their fucking priority. Really? A psychopath from the fucking grave was on the loose and boy troubles were their main concern? REALLY?!

The one character who showed any commitment and serious preparation to defeat Neos was Bennett, which was good... if only he wasn’t using a highly-addictive, highly-hazardous power-boosting drug to do it. *facepalm* Boy was more likely to drop dead before he could do anything.

I was vexed at how Emma ignored and enabled Bennett’s drug habit. She spent more time thinking about how she could get some decent alone time to make out with her boyfriend than she did about the fact that her boyfriend was a junkie and she should help him. I was already struggling with the fact that she picked the “bad boy” over the good boy, Simon. It was not until in the middle of the book did she finally recognize Bennett’s drug problem, but to make matters worse, she helped shit and they broke up. Stupid teenagers.

You ask where are the parents? Well, Bennett’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Stern, kicked Bennett out of the house in the beginning of the book and were useless as could be. They were only there to look after the kids, which they did a horrible job of. Emma’s parents, while they finally came back and stayed with Emma, were almost as terrible parents as the Stern’s were. They did little parenting, and none of it showed me that the characters truly took the issues seriously. We finally get some needed parental presence in the story and it turned out to be flaccid. Four parents, all of them fucking useless!

So I put my final hope with Max, Emma’s older brother. I had hoped when he came back in the middle of the book he would finally bring Emma to proper sense and purpose but, alas, no. I foolishly thought optimistically.

+ the ending

After several listless chapters and characters, Neos finally showed up at the end. I was disappointed how it was the only the time in book 3 he showed up, how his appearance barely lasted for a few scenes, and how utterly weak his presence was compared to the previous books. It was the final showdown yet the ultimate villain got treated like an uber tired loose end.

I hurt my eyes from rolling so much from how it all depended on Emma, the special snowflake, to defeat Neos. If this book had any sense of realism, the silly girl would have been dead in the beginning... of the series.

The only solace I found with the ending was that everyone fought and survived and that the romance between Emma and Bennett, despite a few deus ex machina, resolved satisfactory. I may have been frustrated with the characters but not so much that I wanted any of them to suffer tragic fates, which is the greatest compliment I can give to them. Seriously with sincerity. I even got a little sad for the few characters who died in the previous books.

In Conclusion

I rate Surrender 2-stars for it was okay. If you plan to pick up this boring cliché trilogy, read the books back to back. This is a series where it’s hard to remain invested and remember things if you don’t. I only recommend picking up this series if your library has nothing better at the moment for you to read.

Goodreads | Amazon