Saturday, February 25, 2012

Audiobook Review: "Robopocalypse" by Daniel H. Wilson

Title: Robopocalypse
Author: Daniel H. Wilson
Publisher: Random House Audio, 2011 (print available from Doubleday, 2011)
Narrator: Mike Chamberlain

In the not-so-distant future, robots are everywhere. There are ones that act as servants, smart cars and buildings that can operate on their own, military robots, and hundreds more. They are everywhere, performing millions of functions. When man's quest for knowledge goes too far and a powerful artificial intelligence, known as Archos, is summoned, this is the beginning of the end. Archos takes control of all robots that are online, and humankind is under attack by the things it depends on in everyday life. This is the new war, in which billions will die. But humans aren't going down without a fight.

Told as a framed narrative by Cormac Wallace, who, at the end of the war, finds what he calls the "black box" of the whole robot uprising. It contains the stories of what it calls human heroes, starting from the very beginning and going to the very end. Cormac decides he needs to write these stories he sees played by this surviving robot in order for future generations to know and understand what their ancestors endured, and what was sacrificed.

This book has been getting a lot of praise, including winning an Alex Award (given to exceptional adult books with teen appeal), and it is all deserved. I have been wanting to read this since before its Alex Award, and I'm so glad I finally got around to it. This is a sci-fi book that belongs up there with the classics. Slowly building up to what becomes known as Zero Hour with isolated incidents having to do with what are dismissed as malfunctions, all hell breaks loose when Archos unleashes the full power of robot kind on humans.

I loved how the narrative was constructed. Cormac recounts each person's story either in their own words as he hears them on the recordings, or as he sees them from captured video. It was incredible to see how each person or group affected the rest of the characters or how they helped humanity with their actions. I loved seeing them all come together or connect through the course of the book. Though this book is filled with carnage and unspeakable tragedy, there is an undercurrent of the fierceness of the human spirit and the unbreakable hope that comes with it. It is filled with the deepest pain and love; when it comes down to it, we see what each character is made of.

My only problem with the book as a whole was how each first-person narrative was told in the present tense. I couldn't imagine people recounting these events in the present tense out loud, which is what we are told they are doing. But that's my only problem.

Mike Chamberlain did a decent job at narration. He made voices just different enough that the different speakers could be distinguished from one another, and he did a great job at unrolling the story at the right pace. Nothing stood out too much to me, but he told the story well and never took me out of it unnecessarily. And really, that's all this book needed.

Be warned, this is not a book for those who get queasy easily. There is a LOT of blood and guts. People die in horrible ways, in great numbers. But if you can get past that, I promise this book is worth it. It certainly deserved its Alex Award, as I can easily see teens reading and really enjoying this, and I hope more adults will pick it up too.

Disclosure: I got this audiobook from the library.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review: "The Name of This Book Is Secret" by Pseudonymous Bosch

Title: The Name of This Book Is Secret
Author: Pseudonymous Bosch
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company, 2007

Technically I guess I'm not supposed to tell you what this book is about. The narrator makes that very clear in the first chapter; this is a SECRET and s/he shouldn't even be TELLING us the story. But said narrator can't keep a secret, so there you go. Basically this is the story of how survivalist Cassandra (she is always prepared for a disaster, though to date she hasn't had to deal with a real one), along with unlikely collaborator Max-Ernest (classmate and aspiring comedian), wind up trying to crack they mystery of an Italian magician's suspicious death. Along the way they find out what synesthesia and alchemy are, and why they are connected. (Yeah, I don't know either.)

This is the kind of book that you have the be a specific kind of person to enjoy. I was not one of them. I didn't like how the narrator kept interrupting the story to talk about how s/he shouldn't be telling us this, s/he was stopping, whatever. I found it irritating. I also wasn't too thrilled about the plot itself. The mystery didn't really draw me in, and I found myself skimming the last 50 pages just so I could finish it. I don't think I'd have liked this when I was a kid, either, so it's not just me being a grown-up and not appreciating it because it was written for children.

I didn't particularly like the characters, either. Everyone seemed pretty flat to me, with personality traits thrown in here and there in an attempt to round them out. It just wasn't for me.

That said, readers who enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart might enjoy this. There's a lot about codes and logic and puzzles, which can be really fun. I know that people must buy and read this series, since there are five of them now and the keep being published, so maybe I'm missing what makes this series special. *shrugs*

Disclosure: I bought this ebook from B&N.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Review: Anna and the French Kiss" by Stephanie Perkins

Title: Anna and the French Kiss
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Speak, 2011 (paperback)

Okay, okay, I know. What took me so long. Life got in the way, kids. But I finally made it, months after everyone else. And of course, everyone was right.

Anna is being sent to France against her will for her senior year of high school. At least it's an American boarding school, but still, she's pissed at her dad (a famous author who sounds suspiciously like Nicholas Sparks) for taking her away from everything she knows and sending her to some foreign country on her own. But she eventually settles in, makes friends, and is forced to get to know the city by said friends, especially St. Clair (that's his last name, first name Etienne). Friendship gets complicated between these two though, when both start to feel something more but, oh hey, St. Clair has a girlfriend. Then throw in a mean girl, another dude, and the excitement only Paris has to offer and you get one awesome book.

There's really not much more I can say about this book that hasn't been said, but I'll do it anyway. Yes, St. Clair has a British accent and is a super nice guy and is extremely attractive (and short—my fiance would approve), but he also has his baggage. This includes a truly awful father and the inability to be alone at this time in his life (you'll see why). Anna is equally down to earth, and she has an appreciation for film that is rarely seen in YA novels—her aspiration is the be one of the few female film critics. Their relationship is incredibly real and exactly what a friends/more-than-friends relationship is like. Anyone who's ever been in that sort of situation will feel the same way, I'd guess. And I love that it takes the appropriate amount of time for them each to fall for the other.

Did I mention there are serious issues in here too? No? There are serious issues. Bullying, for one. At one point Anna has to deal with some truly terrible people and I actually cried at how they were treating her. That's not the only real-life issue in here, but that's where I'll stop because I don't want to give any spoilers for the few who have yet to read it.

And how could I forget the setting? This book made me want to go back to Paris, since hey, I was there for only 7 hours between trains. The food, the people, the excitement are all intoxicating. Even though it rained most of the days in the book, I still wanted to be there.

I stayed up late to finish this, something I wasn't expecting to do, and that doesn't happen very often for me. So yes, this book is everything everyone has been saying it is. It's truly worth the read, not only because of how utterly delightful it is, but because of it's depth and the truth behind every relationship.

I know the American cover isn't the best, one of the reasons I didn't read it sooner, but let me show you an alternate cover I found:

Isn't that so much cuter?

Side note: Did anyone else think the way Anna was described sounded exactly like Anna Paquin in X-Men? Gap between the front teeth, bleach in the hair, her name is Anna...

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Audiobook Review: "Out of My Mind" by Sharon M. Draper

TitleOut of My Mind
Author: Sharon M. Draper
Publisher: Recorded Books, 2010 (print available from Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010)
Narrator: Sisi Aisha Johnson

Melody knows thousands of words. She is pretty sure she has a photographic memory, and she has synthesthesia—to her, music has color and taste. But even though she's 10 years old, no one in her life knows any of this. She has never spoken a single word in her life and has no way of communicating to her teachers, parents or anyone else. Melody has cerebral palsy, making it impossible for her to move or speak.

Sharon Draper brings us inside Melody's mind in this novel, told from Melody's own perspective. Her struggles, frustrations, and pain grabbed hold of my heart while I listened to Sisi Aisha Johnson's lovely narration. I became really invested in Melody and her family. I got angry when people treated her poorly, I got frustrated when people couldn't figure out what she wanted, I got sad when she knew she'd never be able to tell her parents with her own voice that she loves them. When bad things happen to anyone she loves, I got sad and sick with her. Often after I shut off the car to go to work, Melody's story stayed with me and I wondered what would happen to her when I finally returned to the story.

But ultimately, this is a story of survival and of hope. There is help for Melody, and she and her family do their best to get it. Melody begins to integrate into the regular schoolrooms, not just in the special education classroom, and begins to be challenged in her schoolwork for the first time. And finally, she finds a way to communicate better than she ever has in her life, leading to a whole new set of challenges for her.

Johnson does a wonderful job narrating. She sounded like a young girl, giving distinct voices to the different characters in Melody's life. She gives Melody a voice full of yearning and anger and sorrow and hope.

Out of My Mind not only is a great book to read if you're looking for the perspective of someone physically disabled, whether you use it in a classroom or suggest it to a library patron, it also is just a great book to read, period.

Disclosure: I checked this audiobook out from the library.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Winner of "Love Unlisted"

Soooo I know it's been like half a week since I was supposed to post the winner, but the winner of Love Unlisted by Stephanie Haddad is....

Andrea L from MA!

Thanks to everyone who entered!
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