Tag Archives: Goodreads

Review: The Word Exchange

The Word Exchange
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon is a book that I have very mixed feelings about.
Let us start by imagining a world where our cell phones anticipate what we need before we need it. We begin to wonder what our grandparent’s birthday is and it springs to life with the information we need. All it required was a thought. That word on the tip of our tongue appears on the screen just before we need it so you can complete your thought without missing a beat. If you can imagine that, then you can imagine the power and obvious desirability of the technology in this book.
The Word Exchange is an online marketplace where words are bought and sold. Did you forget the definition of a word? Have the definition instantly available for mere change. A quick micro-transaction and viola, the word you intended. But we get pretty familiar with the words we use, don’t we? What if we became so dependent on technology that our brains no longer stored memories as efficiently since we have these nifty devices reading our thoughts and providing the data we seek?

The Word Exchange pulls a very clever trick here. The characters in our book write definitions for the NADEL, a dictionary. Their vocabulary is spectacular. I had to use the ‘word lookup’ feature of my Kindle Paperwhite frequently, especially during the first quarter of the book. It provided an incredibly unsettling feeling that maybe this dependence on technology is already happening to us. Maybe we are already forgetting these words that were once a part of our language.

This trick, in my opinion, was only clever because I was able to very quickly grab a definition. If I was reading a paper copy, I don’t think I would have spent the time looking up words. Although perhaps it would have been sufficient to drive a different point home. That point being that if we’re not using this language, we lose it. If it isn’t saved somewhere, it could be gone forever.

On this premise the book succeeds.
Then comes the Word Flu. The Word Flu is an illness that strikes and presents much the way the flu does that we’re familiar with. High fever, nausea, vomiting, etc. However, the Word Flu also presents in such a way that words in your vocabulary are replaced with others. Often times nonsense.

Since a condition of my early readers copy is that I not share any text, I will prepare my own example.
“Why is everyone oxbowing at me,” she wondered. “I did remember to kaneek my pants, right?”
And this example also serves to make one of the points of The Word Exchange. Words are powerful. They are functional. Is everyone looking at her? Is everyone shoving her? Did she remember to wear her pants? Or zip her pants? Words disappearing is problematic for society.

It’s also problematic for the reader. At least for this reader. I read to disappear into a story. I was never able to comfortably settle into The Word Exchange. These breaks would snap me back to reality while I considered what was actually trying to be said.
This is one of those instances where I think the author was making a point but that it also worked against them. The mechanic is beautiful and works. Unfortunately it works to a fault. I found myself hating to read this book.

The books pacing seemed glacial until about the halfway point. From there it seemed to accelerate to a snail’s pace. I think the author or editor must have known that because they occasionally dropped hints that certain parts of the story would pay off later. An example might be something like, “And I’d learn soon that it wasn’t so cut and dry.” They had to keep dangling a carrot. I considered walking away repeatedly and only the obligation to the review kept me hanging around. But I was miserable finishing.

The characters were good enough, I guess. Our character lead Anana was likable enough but also capable enough that I never really feared for her all that much. I guess that makes sense though since much of the danger was presented toward people she cared about, and not necessarily directed at her. Also, despite her being in near constant motion it seems like she’s more a victim of circumstance rather than actually moving the story forward. Honestly it feels like most of the book is just happening to her, she’s not manipulating her circumstances at all.

As for the other characters, Anana seems to care about them but I never saw enough to share in her feelings. I really found myself even struggling to care about anyone beyond her. Even when they set the stage for a romance, I couldn’t care less.

So I guess that’s probably enough. The things that work in the book work tremendously. I get the idea that in the future the Word Flu could really disrupt us due to our growing dependence on technology. I get the idea that words are powerful and losing even some of them could be disastrous. The story itself though, the meat and potatoes of The Word Exchange were just meh.

This one was a hard one for me, folks. And it kills me to dislike a book that executes its premise so well. But here we are.

Good alnox, my friends. Gritbaugh.

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Review: Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing
Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing by Steven Luna

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing is proof positive that Steven Luna is not a one-trick pony. His Joe Vampire books are paranormal (emphasis on the normal) books that mix mundane day to day tasks like office work with the unexpected challenges of life as a vampire. And boy is that Joe Vampire sarcastic. Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing is not. It’s sincere, heartfelt and while ‘Joe’ made you laugh, ‘Songs’ just might make you cry.

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing is about 17-year-old Tyler Mills who lost his Mom six months ago. He lives at home with his father who stands in polar opposition of everything Tyler stands for. Tyler is a creative, musical prodigy with dreams of supporting himself on music. Dad is a practical, hard-working mechanic. Dad is roots, while Tyler is wings. It’s a water and oil combination that becomes combustible once Tyler discovers one of his late-mother’s journals with a secret that turns his world upside down and threaten to destroy what remains of his family.

Going much further into the book would only serve to spoil what are some pretty surprising revelations, so I’ll spare you that. What really stands out to me is how well Steven Luna writes a 17-year-old boy; with all of the attitude, frustrating certainty of the world, and piss and vinegar that 17-year-olds display. Tyler is at once likable and a bit of an asshole. He jumps to self-righteous conclusions and sometimes finds that he’s made mistakes that he’s reluctant to admit to anyone but himself. In short, his character flaws should be all too familiar to anyone who’s been there or is currently living with a teenager themselves.

Another thing that really comes to the surface is loss. Make no mistake, this is as much the story of Tyler’s loss of his mother as it is his coming to grips with what her secrets mean. In between the butting heads with his old man he must encounter and deal with this very fresh loss. There is a small part in this book that really kicks me in the gut having lost my dad just shy of two years ago.

“It feels like I’ve been broken and pushed back together in the wrong shape. Like there’ll always be something in me that doesn’t fit together the right way anymore.”

In some ways Ty’s journey is familiar to parts of my own. And that ability for a message within the book to transcend the story – revealing a truth – is what, in my opinion, makes a memorable read. This book is going to stay with me for a while.

Thanks Steven for sending me an advanced readers copy. I guess I’m supposed to disclose that I’ve been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I wasn’t asked to love it. I was only asked to read it and tell y’all what I think, and I have. I really enjoyed it. And I think you will too.

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Review: Buried in Angst

Buried in Angst
Buried in Angst by David J. Pedersen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Angst returns and life has not been the sunshine and roses he might have expected after realizing his dreams of becoming a hero of Unsel. In saving those he loved he was forced to separate himself from his magic sword Chryslaenor and it’s killing him. Literally.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a stranger shows up from a recently destroyed coastal city and trouble looms. It soon comes to Angst’s attention that the elements themselves have gone to war. Couple this with his sword being stolen, a friend going missing and the fact that he’s dying and things are bound to be more.. Angsty.

And this title holds especially true in the sequel. While the first book of the series had a lighter tone, the sequel presents a more somber tone. When you consider everything happening to Unsel, Ehrde and even Angst, I suppose that is to be expected. I can’t remember too many laughs, I read a pre-release copy of the book and it’s been a short while but I can remember being very much taken by the story as it rolled out.

It’s a darker fantasy novel than the first book but still satisfying. It’s even better than the first, which is high praise given how much I enjoyed Angst. If you were only interested in Angst due to the comedy, you’ll be disappointed with Buried in Angst. But if you grew to care about Angst, Heather, Victoria, Rose, Tarness, Hector and Dallow then you will be happy to reunite with old friends and learn what has come to pass and what new adventure awaits.

There will be times along the way when you despair for these characters. There will be times when you question what you know. And then you’ll reach the last page and wish to all that is good and holy that Angst 3 comes sooner than Angst 2 did because Buried in Angst ends in a cliffhanger. I can’t wait for the next book. Pedersen has done it again.

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Review: @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers

@WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers@WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers by Kevin S. Kaiser

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

@WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers is to NaNoWriMo participants what water stations are to distance runners.

This summer my wife pulled me into her world of running. She signed us up for a ton of 5K’s, an 8K, a 10-mile and a half-marathon. There were times in each of those longer events when I felt like I had enough. I felt like I needed to stop running. I had to slow. I saw the distance that was still in front of my goal and I was disheartened. But a voice in my head urged me forward. “Just one more water station. Get to the next station, get some water and see how you feel then. But make it to that station!”

This will be my first NaNoWriMo but I get the impression, based on my time in the NaNo forums and talking to past participants, that NaNoWriMo is a lot like distance running. You’ll have days when the words spill from your fingers effortlessly, these are the days when you feel strong and you just KNOW you are your personal best. But then there are days when nothing you write seems to work, or worse, the words just won’t come at all. You find yourself behind the pace you’ve determined for yourself and you’re ready to walk or quit all together. You are tired. You are worn out. You need encouragement. You need one more water station. You need Kevin Kaiser’s @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers.

This book isn’t a tutorial on NaNoWriMo. It doesn’t teach you strategy, tips or tricks for getting to 50,000 words. It isn’t an introduction to the Traveling Shovel of Death nor does it introduce you to the mysterious Mr. Ian Woon. That book was written by someone else. This book is about water on your brain. Wait. No. It’s about water for your soul. It is the guy on the course who has clearly ran 100 half-marathon’s in his life who slows next to you and tells you “head up, it’ll help your breathing and keep you running longer.” @WriMo is the guy who pats you on the back and says “you’re doing great, keep it up.” @WriMo is your water station at each mile.

The book is split into 30 separate readings. Each day has a new message to help you on your journey. There is advice on how to start (set a schedule, find a place to write and eliminate distractions), a manifesto to remind yourself that YOU ARE A WRITER. Are you a U2 fan? There is a story about lessons you can learn from Bono. And one of my favorite features of the book is that each chapter has a quote appropriate to the craft. There are quotes from Stephen King, James Patterson, Neil Gaiman, even Steve Martin.

I think I’ve gone on long enough. I think you get the picture by now but there is one more thing I want you to know about @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers. 100% of the profits from the book go to The Office of Letters and Lights (OLL), the non-profit organization that encourages creative writing in adults and young people alike. OLL’s Young Writers program supplies 2700 classrooms with free posters, stickers, workbooks and lesson plans. Not bad, huh?

So if you are a participant, or know a participant, do yourself or them a favor and help a fantastic cause along the way. Pick up Kevin Kaiser’s @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers.

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Review: The Dark Thorn

The Dark Thorn
The Dark Thorn by Shawn Speakman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ll be honest. I bought this book out of charity. Shawn Speakman is the webmaster/great guy who helps Terry Brooks maintain his web presence. When Shawn found out he had cancer he found himself in the unenviable position of being without health insurance. This book was released, in part, to help pay for his medical treatments and perhaps as a result I wasn’t expecting much when I started reading The Dark Thorn.

Into the first or second chapter I found myself shaking my head and wondering if Shawn was going to rip Brooks off and create a semi-“Word and the Void” semi-“Shannara” hybrid. But I continued to give it a chance because despite my initial suspicions that it would pale in comparison to Brooks, I found myself really starting to enjoy the lore. I found it darker than Brooks which, in my opinion, is a good thing.

It’s unfair to compare Speakman to Brooks given one is a perennial best seller and one is new to publishing his own work but I have to believe he knew those comparisons would inevitably come. But what surprised me, is that I found it every bit on par with a Brooks novel. For this being a self-published novel it surpasses some of traditionally published work I’ve read. If Speakman isn’t careful Brooks is going to find himself out a webmaster and up against a brand new (friendly) competitor.

But back to The Dark Thorn, this book deals with religion rather heavily, in particular, the Catholic Church. That said, as a Christian, I didn’t find any of it offensive. The main character is a knight of sorts, entrusted with protecting a portal that leads to another world in which the fairy tale creatures of our world escaped as Christianity and Catholicism grew and expanded in influence. There are other portals around the world, each with their own knight protecting it. These nights are granted a legendary weapon from King Arthur’s court. Richard, our central character, carries Lancelot’s Arondight. Another character possesses Prydwen, King Arthur’s shield. Other legendary weapons make appearances and it’s fascinating how they almost become secondary characters themselves. Or at least guest stars.

I’ll keep this spoiler free, but there are so many interesting aspects to this novel that it becomes literally one of my favorites ever. And this is coming from a guy who loves the Terry Brooks, loves Stephen King, and loves Michael Connelly. When you consider that Speakman will likely be compared to his long-time friend and mentor it should be a massive compliment when I tell you, without hesitation, that Speakman doesn’t aspire to be in the same company, he IS in the same company. The fantasy genre has a new player. I can absolutely recommend The Dark Thorn and not just to fans of Terry Brooks. I can recommend The Dark Thorn to fans of fantasy in general. It’s a great book.

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Review: The Concrete Blonde

The Concrete Blonde The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one kept me guessing until the very end. On one occasion I really thought I had figured it out. In my own defense, I think Connelly steered us in that direction and when the characters in the book announced my belief I thought YES! I was right.. and then No! I wasn’t. This book has an incredible twist ending.

This book was also equal parts legal thriller as police procedural. This book takes place while Harry and the LAPD are on trial for the supposed wrongful death of an innocent man. The man’s widow says that her husband was not the Dollmaker, as Harry and the LAPD had determined.

The Dollmaker trial is a nice bit of continuity since we heard about the Dollmaker killing in at least one of the previous two books.

Harry and the LAPD are convinced they have the right man until another letter from the Dollmaker and a new body surfaces with all of the murderer’s characteristics. Has a serial killer been allowed to roam free while an innocent man took the blame? Did Harry kill the wrong man? All will be revealed.

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