book review: the mirror thief

I found Martin Seay’s The Mirror Thief in the course of helping a library user learn how to download ebooks. I grabbed it as a random example from our Mystery & Thriller category and the blurb intrigued me. It’s a three-timeline story about 1) a vet home from Afghanistan trying to find an old gambler friend of his father’s in 2003 Las Vegas, 2) a homeless teenage grifter looking for the poet who wrote a book he’s desperately trying to understand in 1950s California and 3) an alchemist in 1500s Italy arranging the theft of mirror-making artisans for the Hakemi Sultan in Constantinople.

The three settings (the Venetian, Venice Beach and Venice) felt distinct in style of story and language, but connect reasonably satisfactorily. It wasn’t mind blowing but it was entertaining.

book review: half lives

When I received an ARC of Sara Grant’s YA post-apocalypse story Half Lives I was kind of interested but figured it wouldn’t be anything too special. That was about right.

There are two storylines to the book. In the contemporary timeline Isis is fleeing a global terrorist attack to a mountain in Nevada where her parents think she’ll be safe. She picks up three other teens on her way and then they shut themselves into the mountain. The other timeline is some indeterminate time in the future where a tribe of young people live on a mountain following the Just Sayings and living their cultish little lives, terrified of the terrorist beasties that are waiting for them out in Vega if they leave the mountain.

I liked the contemporary storyline well enough, though there were a lot of logistical things like spatial arrangements that were vague and suffered for it. There was a crossing the highway bit in Nevada where they were dodging speeding cars and then there were infected people in gridlock that just never made sense to me. I re-read the section to see if I’d missed something but it remained missing to my eyes after the reread. The romance and whatever was all pretty par for the course in a YA novel.

The future timeline was much worse. The big problem for me was the present tense narration and varying third-person points of view. Everything there felt so disjointed compared to Isis’ first-person past-tense narration. The climactic scenes were filled with anti-climax and it was always a little tough to figure out what had just happened (though since there’s nothing really surprising to the plot you can just assume that what you would have guessed ahead of time is what did occur).

So yeah. I didn’t really like Half Lives. There were some good bits, but overall it would be fairly low on my books to recommend, unless someone was specifically looking for generation spanning YA stories, or shifting language YA stories, or nuclear waste YA stories.

book review: the pirates! in an adventure with whaling

My friend Jamie had recently told me about the Pirates! In An Adventure With… series. While I couldn’t find An Adventure With Scientists at the library when I remembered it the other day, I did find The Pirates! in an Adventure with Whaling (aka in an Adventure with Ahab), and I do love me some Moby Dick, so off I went.

The basic plot of the story is there are a bunch of pirates (known as The Pirate in Red, or The Pirate Captain or The Pirate With a Hook for a Hand) and they need a new ship. They go to Nantucket and buy a huge fancy one on credit (in order not to look silly in front of the Pirate Captain’s archnemesis) but then they need to raise the money to make the payments. So they sail to Las Vegas and try to do a variety show, and then they try a few other things (including actual piracy) before they turn their hands to whaling so they can get the reward Ahab has posted.

That summary only glances on the funniness of the book. It’s very Terry Pratchett-esque and doesn’t really have too much respect for reality in any form. It’s a light funny story (and in a small package, too – the hardcover book fits in a not-unreasonable-sized pocket) and I’ll gladly read more in the series.

book review: vegas knights

I read Matt Forbeck’s Vegas Knights despite the concept being pitched on the cover:

It’s Ocean’s Eleven meets Harry Potter when two college students scam a Las Vegas casino – using Magic!

(This was an ARC so I hope to death they change this on the real cover, because it does the book no favours.) The reason I picked it up is because I remember Matt Forbeck’s RPG work, especially on Brave New World. BNW was a bit metaplot heavy and too secretive for its own good, but had some interesting takes on superhero gaming.

A lot of my problems with Vegas Knights come from magic basically just being superpowers. The rules of magic are well-established and once a character does something one way he doesn’t forget that it worked, which can sometimes happen. The thing bout i was that there didn’t seem to be much of a cost to magic. It was just manipulating quantum probabilities and some things were easier than others and bullets got transmuted into air and you couldn’t phase through living things. So it was consistent, but not very grabby.

The characters were what you want out of a Vegas story. The poorer guy who is more timid and the risk taking life of the party who isn’t quite as smart. There’s also a half-Hopi woman who is the savvy local, the main character’s long-lost father and a pretty cool antagonist.

The plot felt pretty predictable, though there were points the characters had real choices to make and they didn’t do exactly what the plot required of them, which I applaud. But I never really got into it. Part of it may have been the constant references to Hurricane Katrina (the protagonist is from New Orleans) and other references that feel dated.

The best part of the book was the (slightly melodramatic) final battle scene. There was a lot going on and by that point you’ve surrendered yourself to the book and you come away thinking it wasn’t a terrible few hours you spent with it.

I suppose I sound a little luke-warm on this book and I am. My copy doesn’t say it’s being marketed as YA, but that’s definitely how it felt to me. If I’d known that going in I’d probably have had different expectations. There are some interesting ideas in there but in general it feels a little superficial. I’d suggest Tim Powers’ Last Call if you want to read a really excellent story about magic and Las Vegas.