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review 2016-11-18 08:15
Dark Web Rising- Eugene T Schurter

   I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, about young adults set in a world of internet espionage, hacking and quasi-legal government institutions. The young computer wizard that out hacks a ‘governmental’ hacker and then gets chased across the United States, only to be hidden by big business good guys, sounds a little trite. In fact, the story works well, and is very entertaining. I’m sure the author wrote this with younger readers in mind, but this sixty-year-old thoroughly enjoyed it. This would work well as a family entertainment film script.


   The story is well written, though because I had slightly negative expectations it did take me a few chapters to get into it. Once I was on-board, I was hooked, and only too keen to find out how the story would be resolved. The plot is stretched beyond the credible in parts, rather overblowing both the ability of the young to be truly independent, and of the ability of even a young computer savant to be quite so talented. But then this is entertainment, in the best traditions of YA writing. This plot, about the youth that outwits the power of out of control secret forces within the state, is well written, and because of that, almost believable. There were rather too many typos in the Kindle version I read, but I’m sure they will be corrected at some stage. The subject matter is a little nerdy, but the adventure certainly isn’t. Being interested in coding and computer technologies certainly isn’t a requirement, especially as the plot is set a little in the future, looking at technological capabilities that are not yet quite here.


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review 2016-04-03 17:37
Persona by Genevieve Valentine - My Thoughts
Persona (The Persona Sequence) - Genevieve Valentine

I thought Persona was a fascinating book with a fascinating premise and I went into it hoping that the characters lived up to the premise and luckily, they pretty much did.  


I saw the book mentioned by one of the authors I follow on Twitter (I get a lot of good recs this way, I have to say) and since I had enjoyed Valentine's The Girls at the Kingfisher Club I figured I could do worse than give it a try.  :)  


Persona is an interesting look at the world of diplomacy in the near future where the face or Face of diplomacy is just that - a pretty face, a young face, a person groomed for the job and handled once there, a celebrity more than a diplomat.  It's a future where the paparazzi - now called snaps - are even more intrusive and even frightening.  


It made me think of a Bourne novel, only 1/3rd the length.  :)


The two main characters, Suyana, the Face of the United Amazonia Rainforest Confederation and Daniel Park, a runaway turned paparazzi, are both young and both have secrets and both are in danger.  Both are likable and believable, I thought - even though I found them young.  *LOL*  I'm old, so hardly a surprise there.  


One thing that's odd about Valentine's writing is that I find it almost trying to be edgy and clever and while I usually hate that, somehow it works for me here.  I felt the same way with Kingfisher Club.  


Persona is the first of The Persona Sequence and its follow-up Icon, comes out at the end of June according to the publisher and I will be picking it up.  I need to find out what happens - Persona was only the beginning.

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review 2016-03-26 22:33
The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
The Abyss Surrounds Us - Emily Skrutskie

The Abyss Surrounds Us is set sometime in the future. Genetically engineered sea monsters known as “Reckoners” were developed to protect larger ships from pirates, and Cassandra Leung is a Reckoner trainer anxiously embarking on her first solo mission with her favorite Reckoner, Durga. Unfortunately, things go very wrong, Durga is killed, and Cas ends up captured by Santa Elena, the captain of the Minnow, a pirate ship. She learns, to her horror, that the pirates have not only somehow gotten their hands on a Reckoner pup, they also expect her to train it to protect them. She reluctantly agrees, hoping that at some point she'll learn the identity of the traitor who supplied them with a Reckoner pup and related equipment, and that she'll live long enough to pass that information on.

When I heard that this was f/f YA sci-fi with pirates and giant sea monsters, I knew I wanted to read it. I'd have bought the e-book immediately, except it was expensive and had DRM. I considered buying a paper copy, but, after taking a closer look and realizing that the book was written in first person present tense, I opted for interlibrary loan instead.

Let's talk about that first person present tense POV. An author really has to know what they're doing and be telling the right kind of story for it to work. The only decent book I can think of right now that used first person present tense was Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. Granted, I didn't love it, but my issues with it had very little to do with Collins' POV or tense choice.

First person present tense was a mistake for The Abyss Surrounds Us. It was why, in an effort to give readers some of the history of this world that a 17-year-old like Cas wouldn't normally know or care about, a random elderly man walked up to Cas to reminisce about the past while she stood there and waited him out. The man was a throwaway character who never showed up again, existing only to give readers that bit of world-building info. First person present tense also gave readers sentences like this:

“'Cas, you wanna explain who that was?' Swift asks, and I notice the harsh edge she's forced into her tone.” (203)

Cas didn't actually know that this “harsh edge” was forced – she was guessing, based on recent events. But the author needed to signal to readers that Swift was no longer potentially as awful as she seemed, and there were very few ways she could do that with first person present tense.

First person present tense might have also contributed to Cas feeling like such a flat and bland character, and to Santa Elena just being confusing, period. I felt like I barely learned anything about Cas – what her life had been like when she wasn't training Reckoners, what her relationship with her family members was like, anything. Santa Elena made no sense. On the one hand, the Reckoner pup she'd acquired was a precious resource that could give her a lot of power and prestige. On the other hand, she treated Cas and the Reckoner like they were both expendable and like she'd enjoy hurting or killing one or both of them. Skrutskie tried to humanize her by having her briefly chat with Cas about motherhood (she took over the Minnow while her son was still a baby, and she viewed Cas's efforts to raise her Reckoner as being similar to a mother raising a child), but then kept giving readers scenes in which she behaved like a vicious despot. I'm amazed she made it through the entire book without inspiring a mutiny.

Anyway, I was willing to put up with the first person present tense POV because I absolutely loved the Reckoners aspect, and I still think they're the best thing about this book. Although Cas resented Bao, the turtle-based Reckoner she was forced to train, I loved their training scenes. Had the story gone the way I'd have preferred, Cas would have slowly become more and more emotionally attached to Bao. Her growing affection for him would have mixed uncomfortably with her grief for Durga, who was also a turtle-based Reckoner, and her recognition of the fact that training him to protect the Minnow and its crew meant that one day he'd be killing Reckoners who meant as much to their trainers as Durga had meant to her. Because Bao had imprinted upon the Minnow (Reckoners imprint upon particular ships as part of their training), Cas would also find herself facing a decision to either stay with the pirates or to escape and abandon Bao.

Sadly, the book I wanted was not the book I got. Cas spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to train Bao just well enough to keep Santa Elena from killing her, but not so well that he could truly be used as a weapon. She wanted to figure out Santa Elena's Reckoner source and then escape, but things became more complicated when she began to fall for Swift, the young pirate who'd been assigned to keep an eye on her.

The relationship between Cas and Swift was very subtle, at first. In fact, if I hadn't known this was f/f YA, I'd probably have figured that certain early scenes were laying the groundwork for the two of them to eventually become friends. Cas's attraction to Swift became more apparent later on, but she fought it because 1) she was still Santa Elena's captive and 2) Swift had made it clear several times that her primary loyalty was to Santa Elena.

Then, at the worst possible moment, Cas and Swift's relationship suddenly deepened. In the space of less than a day, Cas went from wanting to escape the Minnow at the first opportunity to wanting to stay for Swift's sake. The speed of it all threw me. It all became clear when Cas was given the opportunity to escape and chose not to. The reason for the sudden deepening of Cas's feelings for Swift was because Skrutskie needed to give her a believable reason to continue to stay with the pirates and do things she might not have otherwise agreed to do. Except it happened so quickly that it wasn't believable. It was like watching a movie and catching glimpses of the lighting equipment or the wires used during a fight scene. The authorial puppet strings moving Cas and Swift into place were so obvious that it was painful.

Things got worse from that point on. Without being too spoilery, in the final few pages Skrutskie jettisoned or stomped on those aspects of the story that might have left me wanting to read the book's sequel despite my issues with her writing. It's possible that she could find a way to fix what she did or undo some of it, but I don't know that I have the trust or patience necessary to find out.

All in all, I loved the Reckoners, but that was about it. The execution wasn't great, the romance was a tool to keep the plot going in the direction Skrutskie wanted, and the world-building had holes you could drive a truck through. I'm still wondering why the Reckoners, who were expensive to breed and train and who even necessitated the creation of a genetically engineered food source so they wouldn't completely clean out the ocean just trying to keep themselves fed, were considered the best way to combat the pirate problem. I'm also still wondering about the book's brief mention of terrestrial Reckoners. If Reckoners were meant to fight pirates, then why would terrestrial Reckoners be necessary?


Rating Note:


During much of the time I spent reading this book, I thought I'd be giving it anywhere from 2 to 2.5 stars, maybe 3 stars if the ending was really good. My difficulty with staying interested in the story plus my hatred of the book's ending lowered my final rating to 1.5 stars.


(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2015-12-01 19:24
Freedom Club by Saul Garnell
Freedom Club - Saul Garnell

Set in 2085, the world is technology dependent. More and more, humans have come to rely on their Sentients to run things, everything from large financial structures to household schedules. Sumeet, who was top of his class, and excellent in his chosen field, eventually finds himself not satisfied. Shinzou offers up his advice and a possible job, both of which give Sumeet pause. The Freedom Club pushes for simpler, less tech-infused lives, but how does one explain that to a Sentient?

This book offered up a lot of food for thought. The plot was intricate and the cast interesting. Also, if one wanted to do some inferring, there was a deeper message about dependence on technology. The story starts off with a little historical flashback to 1600s Japan and the last remaining Christians. This flashback is explained later in the book. In fact, these little historical flashbacks happen regularly throughout the book, showing various members of the Freedom Club throughout history.

The tale then launches into a mystery crime story with a virus taking down payment systems. Phoenix is the first city hit and Hugo is the cop assigned to look into it. He suspects an anti-tech group might be behind it, but he will have a hard time proving it. He hesitantly teams up with Shinzou for info swapping. This opening is what hooked me on the story – I like a good SF crime story. Little did I know things would get so intricate.

So there’s a bunch of corporate maneuvering with international companies (such as Takahana Biovores and Chando company), which wasn’t nearly as interesting as what Hugo the Cop was doing, but it set a stage for me to get to know several other characters, including a few Sentients. The Sentients, like Henry who is Shinzou’s friend, are a type of AI. They interact with the physical world via avatars that allow them to walk and talk. In fact, if someone isn’t paying close attention, they can appear quite human in their mannerisms. Shiro is another Sentient who plays a pivotal role in the story. His personality is quite different from Henry’s. Rather late in the tale, we learn how the AIs are made and let me just say, wow! I wasn’t expecting that!

There’s other cool tech on display in this thinking SF story as well. I was pretty interested in the biovores, which are like minuscule biologically active machines that can be used for good purposes, like curing blood born diseases in humans. There are also several virtual reality scenes where we get to see what the ‘homes’ of the Sentients are like for when they are not in avatar mode interacting with humans. AI has also freed humans from many domestic chores, like cooking. Now, it is an oddity to go to a restaurant and have humans cook, and some even consider it unsanitary.

Wrapped up in this very excellent SF story, is a message about technology, becoming too dependent on it, and how living simpler lives can provide greater freedom. The story is written so that I, as the reader, didn’t feel any judgement from the author one way or another. Indeed, there are both good and bad characters on either side of that line in this book. Some members of the Freedom Club have taken it too far (both in the past and in the story’s present) and have essentially become terrorists against technology. I found it all very interesting to have this deep question (does tech set us free or chain us?) spirally through the main plot.

My one criticism of the book is a biggie. There are several female characters, all with minor roles, throughout the book. However, there are no major female characters that are plot central and there are no female Freedom Club members. Yep. That’s right. The Freedom Club is one big sausage fest. No ladies what so ever. I really hope this is some horrible oversight by the author. Accidental misogyny is easier to swallow than intended misogyny.

The book is diverse in other ways. The plot takes us around the world to Japan, India, and the American Southwest. There’s some Europeans represented at one of the corporate companies. Various ages are also represented in our major characters.

The ending takes us to the brink of another ‘terrorist’ attack. I really didn’t know how things would fall out. I was surprised with the ending and by choices made by a few of the Sentients. I found the ending both realistic and satisfying. It will be interesting to see if the author does a sequel.

The Narration: Fred Wolinsky did a very nice job with this book. There were a ton of accents needed (Japanese, Hindi, American, German, French, etc.). Hi Japanese accent started off a little rough but quickly got smoother. He had distinct voices for all characters, even when 2 or more were of the same country. For the few female characters, he had believable voices. I especially liked his elderly voice for Shinzou and his skeptical cop voice for Hugo. 

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review 2015-08-22 21:02
The American Fathers: Swept Away by Henry Sullivan

Set in a near future America, the world is a bit different. Powerful houses run the politics, and hence, the country, from behind the scenes. Sworn fealty to a powerful house can bring the average person a decent paying job in a world where society is scrambling to hold it together. Sheila, a smart lass from Tennessee, sees through this BS and is trying to open the public’s eyes to this power shift. Meanwhile, the Lebanese congressional correspondent Jasira agrees with Sheila, off the record. Yet, despite Sheila’s unarguable attraction to Jasira, she can’t help but question Jasira’s motives.

I stepped into this book thinking it was more near future scifi + politcs than romance + erotica. However, I couldn’t help but be caught up in the story. The author does a very good job of showing us, through Sheila’s eyes, the power structure and what Sheila believes to be wrong with it. The story opens with a hosted TV show on which Sheila and Jasira are guests. Through that show, they get to interact with a few members of the show’s audience, who have questions that leave the the door open for Sheila to comment on the politics of the day.

There’s only a touch or two of what you might call futuristic tech. Honestly, telling your sound system to play a certain selection of music is possible now with a swanky system. Still, it was nice to have these small reminders that this is a near-future story and not some alternate story of what Earth and politics might be today. I personally would have preferred a little more future tech.

This is a romance erotica and that part of the book is sweet. When Jasira turned on the charm, I melted. The sex scene doesn’t happen until the end and there is a very nice build up. We get a clear picture of who each of these ladies are – and they are both smart and savvy in their own ways. Plus there are those hints of hidden secrets and things rather not said for both ladies, giving the story that overtone of possible future conflicts of interests. By the time the sex scene arrived, I was thoroughly caught up in the characters and so wanted them to be happy with each other. The descriptions of the love making were detailed but not gauche. It was a very nicely done piece of erotica thrown into a larger story of political intrigue. As a side note, I really like that we have more than 1 ethnicity represented in this story. I will definitely be looking for episode 2.

I received this book at no cost from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: This was an excellent performance all around. Sheila’s character had a light regional accent that wasn’t overdone. The voice for Jasira was perfect – by turns clever and insightful, and then sexy and tempting. The rest of the character voices were distinct and well done. The production was smooth with touches of ambient sounds that never drowned out the dialogue.

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