Kindness for Weakness - Shawn Goodman
My first post! =)

Summary: A kid named James lives in a town. He has no friends, his dad hates him, and his mom is defenseless and does nothing to care for him. His brother is a tough guy who does drugs and has friends. Because of that, in order to try to be content in life and in order to be popular, James begins dealing drugs (I believe crystal meth) for his brother. The police catch him and send him to Juvy. There, he meets a kid named Freddie, whom he befriends. At Morton (the Juvy place), James is made fun of because he is not like the rest of the kids there, and Freddie is made fun of because he is a homosexual. The head guys at Juvy also make fun of them. There, Freddie and James befriend each other, and they learn about life and how to be themselves and stick up for who they are and what they believe.

My Opinion: This is a really good book. It is well written, the dialogue is accurate, and it shows that you should always be yourself, though it may be hard, because if you’re not yourself, you will not be satisfied. It was also a good eye opener to us about the outcasts of society who are different than us, and it lets us know them better and also accept/respect them for who they are. Overall, this book was great, and it was worth reading. I’m not a fan of these kind of books, but it was far different from any book of this genre I have read. 

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It’s rare that I describe a book as “delightful”. “Delightful” implies, for me, at least, a book so good that I actually feel physical buoyancy while reading it. The Anubis Gates is one of those rare “delightful” books. It’s about a man named Brendan Doyle who, at the behest of an eccentric old man, travels back in time to 1810, and gets stuck there. At first, it seems a little like Back to the Future in the Regency era, complete with goofy misunderstandings and fish out of water antics, but takes a sharp left turn when Ancient Egyptian magic gets involved.

I won’t ruin too much, though, because a majority of its appeal comes from being surprised at how everything connects. The great part about it, though, is its lack of pretension. It doesn’t make a big deal about its own cleverness: instead of flaunting its elaborate worldbuilding and knowledge of history, like some other historical fantasy and science fiction novels, it lets the audience fill in the gaps, and doesn’t assume too much. If you don’t know about the Regency, it doesn’t matter, because Powers doesn’t constantly hit you over the head with things specific to that time. I also appreciate the lack of put-on Britishness: normally, when an American like Powers writes a book set in old time England, you hear a lot of lines like “Give us some bees and honey guv’nor but watch out for the bloody bobbies”, and often sound like they’re trying too hard.

Fortunately, there’s none of that here. One minor issue I have with this book, is that it’s a bit slow in points, especially in the beginning, but once it gets going, it reaches delirious heights of “I can’t believe he’s doing this.” Another is the slightly politically incorrect Egypt sections, with their cheesy, descriptions of that country’s inhabitants, but they’re milder than all three Indiana Jones movies combined, really. Other than that, this book was great. A perfect brainy beach read for the warmer months ahead.

Grade: A

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As anyone who knows their conspiracy theory lingo or has watched an episode of The X Files knows, “black helicopters” are vehicles that some people believe malevolent agents of the government fly around in to look menacing. While I personally don’t subscribe to that theory, or most other conspiracies, really; some people are deathly afraid of these things, and hide out in the wilderness with gun and food stashes to avoid them. This book is from the perspective of one of these people, and details her life, and subsequent downfall. The writing in this was terse and fast moving, and the plot was, like  Maggot Moon, mainly based on implication and inference. The protagonist doesn’t explicitly mention militias or suicide bombings, but you can definitely guess that’s what she’s talking about.

The use of in media res and non-linear storytelling was definitely original, and made for a more interesting reading experience. The author does a good job of making you sympathize with a person who is obviously amoral and possibly insane, and doesn’t belittle or disparage conspiracy theorists no matter how easy it would be to do so. Quite thought provoking.

Grade: B
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The last dystopian novel I read was M.T. Anderson’s Feed. This book is its polar opposite. Instead of being about a corporate run hell, it depicts a government run hell, and is as hopeful as that book was stomach-churningly depressing. It’s about a kid named Standish who grows up in a version of Britain heavily implied to be run by Nazi Germany. Unlike Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle which deals with  a similar scenario, it doesn’t outright state that, though. Everything is implication in this novel, including Standish’s homosexuality, and the identity of the so called “land of Croca-Colas” he dreams about.

The dystopia itself is made up of jumbled bits of other settings: the run-down, veddy British state of V for Vendetta, the Stalinist purges of 1984, and the Nazi run government of the aforementioned Man in the High Castle, but this isn’t really the point of the story. It instead seeks to tell a simple story of the resilience of the human spirit in times of trouble, and on that level, it succeeds. The writing is darkly humorous, and also Dashiell Hammett-level laconic, and the chapters are concise, so there’s no real padding. I wish the author did more with her setting, but that probably would have just served to slow it down. The unnecessarily graphic/gross illustrations might not have been needed, though, just saying. Over all, worth checking out.

Grade: B+
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What attracted me at first was the cover and the title. I judged a book by its cover, but don’t we all? I have been feeling like appreciating heart-broken teenage novels. But I do not like the ones with whiny girls that hunt down the most d-bag guy they could find. But according to the back reviews I have jumped ahead of myself. They critique the novel as, 

“Smart, honest, and full of achingly real characters. And it made me laugh. What else would you want in a book?” -Melina Marchetta

It seemed like I would not be disappointed in the book based on the reviews. But the summary of the book was terrible. Amelia is a fifteen awkward teenage girl that loves to read books and mature her mind. This doesn’t change the way she feels about Chris. Now what could be so bad about Chris? HE’S TWENTY-ONE YEARS OLD. He works with her at her job.
The book switches off between Amelia and Chris, but you mostly read about Amelia. And another important thing to know that I only fully noticed in the half of the book is that this is set in Australia.
Amelia immediately as soon as the book starts, falls in love with him. He affectionately calls her, “Youngster” as if she doesn’t realize how much he doesn’t see her as an equal. Of course, there are cute point of views between he and Chris from Amelia’s view that I could relate to, being fifteen years old myself. But it doesn’t excuse how ignorant she is about her relationship limit between her and Chris is. Even if she does “read” classics, that I haven’t read I feel like I’m more mature than her. This interfered with the way that I read this book because I felt like I was reading about a super smart thirteen year old fall in love with her older brother.
The one thing I did like about this book is that the author actually gave Amelia a chance with Chris. She didn’t look down on Amelia, making her look absolutely pathetic (even though she was at times)
Laura Buzo spins a new kind of relationship that actually makes Amelia and Chris’ relationship work at times. I loved that part. But the part about making me laugh was not true, there is not one funny part in this book. None at all. The book is basically about their woes of life and how they’re not brave enough to do anything about it. All they do is mope around the “Land of Dreams” (the store that they work at) and talk to each other about it. Amelia woes are with her family life, and Chris’ is about a trashed love.
If you want to forget about your own troubles and feel like a young awkward teenager again, read this book. It has its good point and its bad. But its not a bad books overall, no matter how much this book conflicts with my values in life. 
*Warning* For a fifteen year old girl, she goes to a lot of College Keggers where some bad stuff goes down sometimes. For example, a lot of alcohol drinking which is the leading problem for a lot of the bad examples this book sets.  Just a warning you youngsters.
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Now, if you really enjoyed Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, and can’t bear to hear a word against it, I suggest abandoning the reading of this review. Now that I got that out of the way, I can begin. Steampunk used to be one of my favorite genres. It combined everything I enjoyed about kids’ books: cool tech, flights of fancy, plucky heroes/heroines, the 19th century, and England. I had heard from people praising this book as the second coming of Alan Moore, and from the back cover, I thought that it was going to be.

It promised a ripping yarn full of everything I mentioned previously, and it did, to an extent. What it didn’t follow through on, though, was making the story interesting enough to survive without all the other trappings. The real test of a steampunk novel is if when you strip away the fantastical veneer, it still tells an interesting story, with compelling characters and a believable, but not too real setting. When you take the veneer off Leviathan, it leaves a sort of formulaic plot, and run of the mill characters. The protagonists are Deryn Sharp, a typical sort of Eowyn-esque “I wanna be a soldier but I’m a girl” character (her plotline actually has scenes that seem directly lifted from Disney’s Mulan), and Aleksandar Hapsburg, who’s a pretty boring “spoiled prince get’s taught about the real world” type, and is also a bit of a jerk, considering that he murdered a guy in cold blood, but his character development consists mainly of him angsting over his inability to pilot a steam powered robot correctly.

Their stories would be interesting, if they went anywhere. There’s no real build up of dramatic tension: Aleksandar, even though he’s supposed to be running from people who want to kill him, spends a lot of time sitting around thinking, and Deryn doesn’t face any conflicts in her quest to become a soldier, besides her gender, but as before, Westerfeld doesn’t build up dramatic tension well enough to make me care about that conflict, or anything else in the story besides the mildly interesting technology system. Which brings me to another point: even if a certain work has a slightly predictable plot, if there are enough interesting ideas being winged your way, it doesn’t matter as much. Look at Star Wars. Even though the plot is simplistic and the characters are archetypal to the point of cliche, there are so many “hey look at that, that’s awesome” things happening to distract you from it.

In  Leviathan, even though the genetically engineered animals and steam powered mechas are cool to look at (one good thing about this book is Keith Thompson’s excellent illustrations), and the slang is just the right amount of incomprehensible and annoying to fully remind you you’re reading an SF novel, there’s a point at which one neat device or technology system isn’t going to be as stunningly awe inspiring as it was the first time you saw it. Therein lies the issue: Leviathan doesn’t have enough crazy concepts to change a dull SF novel, into a pulpy guilty pleasure, something Westerfeld’s previous book Uglies  did so well. And this would be fine, if the plot were interesting enough to exist on its own. As I said before, it isn’t.

I know there are devoted fans of this book out there, and I fully respect their opinion on this, but for me, I thought the story  and characters were dull, and there wasn’t enough insane, off the wall things to keep me distracted from those shortcomings. I won’t even get into the unfortunate implications of having genetically engineered animals fighting mechas in World War I. That’s a review for a different day. And that’s why I quit halfway through.

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This book is a doozy of a read, but also one of the most fun, thought provoking books I read this year. In a plot that almost defies exposition, a business man named Palmer Eldritch visits another planet, and is possessed by a godlike being. He creates a drug that transports people into a hallucinatory pocket dimension where they become him, or aspects of him. One man tries to stop him from imprinting his image on the inhabitants of the solar system, and insanity there follows. Philip K. Dick tosses out nutty ideas that are at points both wacky, profound, disturbing, or a combination of all three, and creates eerie atmosphere like Ray Bradbury with a screw loose.

The way he subverts the old “Mars is a land of romance and adventure” cliche, is both genius and intensely saddening. The way he develops every character, with their own neuroses and heroic elements is great, and even the Palmer Eldritch/immature godlike being character is revealed to have several dimensions to him, and is not painted as some ancient evil, but instead as a well intentioned idiot who happens to have cosmic powers. This book is filled with psychedelic tripping, and its gleeful hops through time, space, and relative dimensions almost make this a kind of Wrinkle in Time for 1960′s LSD enthusiasts. My main issues with this book include that the plot doesn’t really pick up until the protagonist arrives on Mars, and the hallucination sequences are definitely on the incoherent side. They make sense, but not enough to remove the sense that you yourself may be on psychotropic drugs.

But if you’re ready to take an unhinged thrill ride into the imagination of Philip K. Dick, and want to try some sci fi that’s a little different from your run of the mill space opera, jump down the rabbit hole with Palmer Eldritch. You might just enjoy it.

Grade:
A-

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