Frozen Dreams by Moe Lane

Last week I mentioned my policy of reading books by friends, online or “in real life,” in relation to Jim Geraghty.  Well, it was actually a conversation about Moe Lane which sparked my memory of not reviewing Jim’s book. Which brings us around to Moe’s book. Wait, what?

Let me start again. I try to read and review books written by people I know.  Writing a book is hard. Getting it published is too. So I try to do my small part by reading and offering thoughts in pixels when friends/acquaintances achieve this milestone. Well, Moe-another blogging friend from way back- has a book out. Frozen Dreams.

Frozen Dreams Book Cover
Frozen Dreams Flying Koala; Kindle 210 pages Amazon

It’s a very straightforward detective story! Well, one where the detective lives in a post-apocalypse fantasy setting where there are orcs rampaging in the eastern desert, evil sorcerers lurking in their towers to the north, and Adventurers looting and exploring the post-American ruins. But they all come to Cin City: Cinderella, the capital of the Kingdom of New California. Maybe it’s because of the glitter. Maybe it’s because of the giant iceberg in the middle of the Gulf of California. And maybe it’s because they got nowhere else to go.

I should confess that I am not really a Geek in the sense of plugged into and fluent in the language of fantasy, comics, and elements of pop culture (TV, video & role playing games, etc.). I am sorta Geek adjacent, if you will.

I bring this up because, Frozen Dreams is a mash-up of classic detective fiction and urban fantasy with a dash of dystopia. Someone on Goodreads explained it this way:

Dragonlance ala Dashiell Hammett during a Canticle for Leibowitz.

Sounds about right. I enjoyed it because I know Moe and found it interesting to picture him creating the world and story; and voicing the main character, to be honest. Could have used a little more world building setup and character depth, but as I have frequently noted, most first time novels do; particularly in what is the first in a series.

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The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell

At some point I stumbled on The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell at the library while looking at books with my kids and put it on my “to read” list. It looked like one of the many creative and interesting middle grade novels:

Auden Dare is colorblind and lives in a world where water is scarce and families must live on a weekly, allocated supply.

When Auden’s uncle, the scientist Dr. Bloom, suddenly dies, he leaves a note to Auden and to his classmate Vivi Rookmini. Together, the notes lead them to Paragon―a robot.

As Auden, Vivi, and Paragon try to uncover Paragon’s purpose and put together the clues Dr. Bloom left behind, they find out that Dr. Bloom’s death was anything but innocent, that powerful people are searching for Paragon―and that it’s up to Auden and Vivi to stop them.

I waited a while to see if I could get it on Kindle or audiobook through my local library but eventually just decided to read it in good old hardcover.

I enjoyed it but it felt a little thin in the world building department. Like the dystopian world that was the setting was just a backdrop or plot hook. I also found Auden rather annoying at times but given his age and circumstances perhaps that is to be expected.

Once I got into it, however, the plot picked up and the ending was enjoyable. Paragon was a fun character if you can suspend your disbelief a bit. And Vivi was a welcome contrast or juxtaposition from Auden. Their friendship seemed realistic and true to life; the rollercoaster ride of competition, emotion, and companionship.

The mystery of Auden’s dad and how it tied into the mystery of his uncle was well done too. I thought the second half of the book was stronger than the first (which is better than the other way around).

All in all an enjoyable read given the usual caveats regarding YA/Middle Grade fiction not aimed at me, etc. Would recommend for young readers.

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking #2) by Patrick Ness

After having listened to The Knife of Never Letting Go in the car, I reserved the The Ask and the Answer in the audio format as well. But while I was waiting for that to come in, I decided to just read it on my Kindle (I had picked up all three ebooks sometime ago but never read them).

I think I enjoyed the second book more than the first. Perhaps it was because I was not as distracted by the unique dialects while reading as I was when listening. But I think it had more to do with the larger canvas and wider angle of this story.

The first book was all about Todd and the slow revelation of what life was like on New World. It quickly becomes a cycle of run and capture, seeming victory followed by seeming defeat, right up until the end of the book. This pattern got old for me.

In the second book there is more action as Todd and Viola end up caught up in the clash of the “Ask and the Answer.”  We learn more about Mayor Prentiss, and his son Davy, and start to understand the opposing forces known as the Answer. The varied angles and the additional characters make the story seem fuller and less repetitive.

I am not a big fan of dystopian fiction, and I still found some of the writing over the top and disjointed, but I enjoyed the suspense and ambiguity more in this volume; even as Mayor/President Prentiss seems to turn even darker and more maniacal.

Looking forward to the conclusion in book three (whether ebook or audiobook).

Death's Doors by Lars Walker

I am a fan of Lars Walker‘s writing (having read a couple of his books and followed his online writing) but I confess I really struggled with his latest novel Death’s Doors.

Death's doorsIn the near future, suicide has become a constitutional right. Tom Galloway is just an ordinary single parent, trying to keep his rebellious and suicidal teenage daughter from going to the Happy Endings Clinic. If there’s one thing he doesn’t need, it’s a tenth century Viking time traveler dropping into his life. But Tom is about to begin the adventure of his life, one that will change the whole world.

I have not read Wolf Time for which Death’s Doors is a sequel of sorts. As with all Walker books there is a great deal of creativity. You have a future dystopian society, Norse mythology, and a story about a family. I enjoyed the exploration of how Haakon views the 21st century world as a 10th century man. I thought the plot hook about how the Old Ones are secretly undermining the US was interesting and well done. The ultimate villainess was great too. And the idea that the underlying conflict came from an inability to understand humans, love and self-sacrifice was a nice element.

But I think the bottom line on this book is how far-fetched you think his dystopian society really is and how much that bothers you. Basically, Walker takes current conservative critiques of liberalism (from political correctness, to abortion and euthanasia, relativism, the ignoring of the threat of Islam, etc.) and takes it to reductio ad absurdum levels. The solution to everything is suicide (or really murder given the not so willing nature of the procedure). Courts routinely overturn basic cases because everyone has the “right to their own reality.” Christians are called Crossers and the faith has basically been made illegal for all intents and purposes. Meat is illegal. Muslims control Michigan (and then invade the US). Pagan/heathen religions are back in style and use ancient rituals to bring King Haakon into the present time.

Now, we could argue about how much of this is likely, and to what degree, given our current path but too much of it felt didactic and preachy to me. I get that dystopian fiction is unlikely to be nuanced but, again, instead of feeling like a possible, if extreme, world it felt like a conservative caricature of liberalism’s real aims. It is a straight line from the worst excesses of the lunatic left today to mainstream culture in the “near future.” For me it was a drag on the story and irritant throughout. And part of that was because it didn’t seem like the dark side had an attraction to it or a plausible path to happening. It was as if say the roughly 15% of the left that is really as crazy as Walker makes out suddenly controlled the entire United States. Just didn’t work for me.

That said, it was an entertaining and creative story. And if you are a conservative Christian who thinks we are on the verge of societal collapse already you will love it! OK, that was a cheap shot. But I do think that is the sweet spot audience for this book. Because if you are not deeply sympathetic to the issues surrounding religious liberty, the pro-life movement, the threat of relativism, political correctness, Christianity as the foundation of Western Civilization, the threat of Islamists, etc. I think the strong perspective will be hard to take. Heck, I am pretty conservative and found it too strong.

It is also worth keeping in mind that I am not a big reader of historical fiction or dystopian fantasy which Walker tends to blend together. I am a fan of mythology and enjoyed those elements.

At Goodreads I struggled with how many stars to give. Two seems harsh but is what I settled on. That designation is supposed to say “It was Okay” which seems about right. Although, if I had half stars I would have given it a 2.5.  Ultimately, it was interesting with some well done aspects but didn’t really come together for me.

Yet Another Hunger Games Book Review (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)

Cover of "The Hunger Games"
Cover of The Hunger Games

Well, I finally broke down and read the first book in the Hunger Games series – the aptly titled The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I had downloaded the series on the Kindle when they offered a highly discounted version and figured with the movie out and all the discussion that I might as well read it.

And perhaps it was due to all the hype but quite frankly I was a little disappointed. Sure, it is in many ways an imaginative example of world building and setting the stage for some interesting characters and some powerful emotions.

And I don’t mean to say it wasn’t entertaining because it was and I enjoyed it. The story really kept you moving forward and you wanted to find out how all the dynamics would play out.

But from a literary perspective it just didn’t wow me. It was interesting and creative and entertaining but just wasn’t one of those books where you end thinking: “Wow, that was awesome.” Or one where you immediately want to jump into the next book. I am, however, pretty clearly an outlier on this one.
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Yet Another Hunger Games Book Review (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)

Cover of "The Hunger Games"
Cover of The Hunger Games

Well, I finally broke down and read the first book in the Hunger Games series – the aptly titled The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I had downloaded the series on the Kindle when they offered a highly discounted version and figured with the movie out and all the discussion that I might as well read it.

And perhaps it was due to all the hype but quite frankly I was a little disappointed. Sure, it is in many ways an imaginative example of world building and setting the stage for some interesting characters and some powerful emotions.

And I don’t mean to say it wasn’t entertaining because it was and I enjoyed it. The story really kept you moving forward and you wanted to find out how all the dynamics would play out.

But from a literary perspective it just didn’t wow me. It was interesting and creative and entertaining but just wasn’t one of those books where you end thinking: “Wow, that was awesome.” Or one where you immediately want to jump into the next book. I am, however, pretty clearly an outlier on this one.
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Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien

One of the great things about book blogging is that you sometimes get books in the mail unexpectedly. And sometimes you aren’t quite sure what you want to read next, then a book appears and you think: “Hey, that looks interesting I’ll read that.” This is exactly how I came to read Birthmarked an interesting dystopian novel centered on birth and family interaction.

Here is the publishers blurb:

After climate change, on the north shore of Unlake Superior, a dystopian world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. It’s Gaia’s job to “advance” a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave, until the night one agonized mother objects, and Gaia’s parents disappear.

As Gaia’s efforts to save her parents take her within the wall, she faces the brutal injustice of the Enclave and discovers she alone holds the key to a secret code, a code of “birthmarked” babies and genetic merit.

Fraught with difficult moral choices and rich with intricate layers of codes, BIRTHMARKED explores a colorful, cruel, eerily familiar world where a criminal is defined by her genes, and one girl can make all the difference.

This was one of those books that I enjoyed but it didn’t totally grab me – in the “Hmm, that’s interesting” rather than the “You gotta read this!” category.

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Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien

One of the great things about book blogging is that you sometimes get books in the mail unexpectedly. And sometimes you aren’t quite sure what you want to read next, then a book appears and you think: “Hey, that looks interesting I’ll read that.” This is exactly how I came to read Birthmarked an interesting dystopian novel centered on birth and family interaction.

Here is the publishers blurb:

After climate change, on the north shore of Unlake Superior, a dystopian world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. It’s Gaia’s job to “advance” a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave, until the night one agonized mother objects, and Gaia’s parents disappear.

As Gaia’s efforts to save her parents take her within the wall, she faces the brutal injustice of the Enclave and discovers she alone holds the key to a secret code, a code of “birthmarked” babies and genetic merit.

Fraught with difficult moral choices and rich with intricate layers of codes, BIRTHMARKED explores a colorful, cruel, eerily familiar world where a criminal is defined by her genes, and one girl can make all the difference.

This was one of those books that I enjoyed but it didn’t totally grab me – in the “Hmm, that’s interesting” rather than the “You gotta read this!” category.

Continue reading