Review: ‘Dog Country’ by Michael Cross

Some of you may have never heard of Malcolm F. Cross in real life, but he is a well-respected furry author who goes by the pseudonym ‘foozzzball’ on the Internet. He’s been well known to write erotica, science fiction short stories, and even an occasional novella here and there, specifically set in this fictional universe he’s created from his online story series “Stories from San Iadras”. I never got the chance to check it out, but his latest novel “Dog Country” caught my eye and I couldn’t resist.

In the far future, the world is starting to accept the rights of ‘gengineered dogs’,

Continue reading

Advertisements

Creative Types

Anyone who writes, draws, sings, or makes people laugh should read this. Not only is the animation good, but the video itself will make the average creator shed a tear…

Credited to AnimatedJames on YouTube.

Review: ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’ by Ruth Ware

Whenever I read books about a group of strangers meeting in an isolated place and being thrust into a horror story, I often can’t help but roll my eyes. If you remember my review of ‘The Rules’ in October, you may recall it kind of left a foul taste in my mouth. It was by no means terrible, but it left me wanting more variety and depth. I wanted an original story with new characters, a sense of chilling atmosphere, and be genuinely scared and care for the characters.

Well…Ruth Ware’s chilling novel ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’ is that book. Continue reading

Review: ‘Willful Machines’ by Tim Floreen

Science fiction novels involving machines gone astray is practically a dime a dozen, from Isaac Asimov’s classic short stories to works such as ‘The Matrix’ franchise turning AI entertainment into a clichéd genre. In almost every fictional work, there’s always an innocent AI, a prejudiced character that sees the AI as an abomination, and a heroic bystander who will end up choosing between humanity or the AI (or heck, even destroying the AI to save the world). There’s more variety to other works, but to me that’s the basic gist of AI in science fiction.

So how does new-coming author Tim Floreen make his latest book ‘Willful Machines’ more of a diverse addition to the genre? Making the main character gay of course.

Interesting choice.

It is the (obviously not very) near future, where the world is becoming more obsessed with technology. After a newly created AI name Charlotte escapes destruction via downloading onto the internet, she begins a campaign of cyberterrorism on America. Her demands? Release her other robotic counterparts and let them live equal to humans.

Years later, a new American president has been elected under a new political party that is against AI and values traditional values. Things get complicated though when it is believed that the president’s son, a closeted (and once suicidal) robotics student named Lee Fischer, may be Charlotte’s next target. With only his gruff bodyguard and his best friend at school, Lee doesn’t know who to trust with his life (and secret), probably not even Nico Medina, the new boy in school he has a crush on.

Obviously this is a weird setup for a story the more you think about it, hell Kirkus Reviews called it a mixture of ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Romeo & Juliet’, which I can honestly say best matches the description of the book. It is a weird mixture, but the author of this clearly knows it and embraces the strangeness and the commentary to get out of this type of story.

Going in, the main character Lee reminded me of Caleb from the film ‘Ex Machina’, who’s a quietly meek but intelligent and well-spoken young man. He’s a loner, but not to the point of disliking human interaction. And although he still carries suicidal thoughts due to his insecure sexuality, you feel the pain and anguishing struggle.

Nico is also a very likeable character, being a good contrast to the robotic-loving Lee. He’s devilishly handsome but also so eccentric. He’s happily jubilant to breathe life, loves reading Shakespeare, and adores eating the terrible food at Lee’s school. Nico is less of a fictional character and more like the eccentric but good-looking Chilean exchange student you meet in college or a frat house. And when you put him and our main character together, their chemistry is beautiful, especially after a grave secret of Nico’s is revealed (which I won’t dare give away).

The rest of the side characters are good, especially Lee’s best friend named Bex (who reminds me of every liberal feminist you ever see at high school) and his bodyguard named Trumbull, but it is also a problem. Throughout the novel, it feels like the story wants to focus more on Nico and Lee’s relationship, and that’s fine. However, when you have a novel like this where the main character is questioning his sexuality and is genuinely afraid of what his friends and the world will think, it is necessary for us to know about the relationships between themselves and Lee. Don’t get me wrong: they do that, but not as much as I would’ve liked.

For example, there’s a scene in the beginning of ‘Willful Machines’ where Lee and his father, the anti-robotics POTUS, are meeting in his dorm room and questioning why Lee is into robotics. It is a good scene and plays out very well when he meets and approves of Nico as a new friend, but I wanted some more of Lee’s father. Despite his views and policies on family values, the President seems like a father who genuinely loves his son, and only wants what he believes is best for him. He’s kind of (more like is) the football coaching father who has a nerdy son who wants to enroll in Caltech.
Aside from, that I do love the other interactions of Lee and Nico with the other characters, even if I could’ve used a bit more.

Outside of that, ‘Willful Machines’ provides extraordinary commentary on freewill and the idea of whether or not we make choices or our choices make us. One of Lee’s teachers says this one intriguing quote about how humans are no different from machines because the choices we make are based on genetics and in our DNA. That’s a fairly good point, considering how some people believe they choose to be smart when in fact it can be due to good genes (i.e. good programming). She even goes on to say if God exists, humans may be no different from machines, and it is beautifully simple enough to understand for younger readers.

And not only is the ending of this tragic like ‘Romeo and Juliet’, but the ending leaves itself up for a good sequel I hope to read soon. I grew to adore the main couple and want to know what’ll happen.

Drenched in modern gothic storytelling and thrilling commentary on AI, Tim Floreen’s ‘Willful Machines’ is a great science fiction novel for both the straight reader and the questioning one.

~*~*~*~*~

Follow me on Facebook @

https://m.facebook.com/readersboulevard

And feel free to click on the post to leave comments! 🙂

 

Review: ‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon

To celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, I thought I’d review a random romance novel that caught my eye. Looking at the cover, ‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon seems like an average book in the YA romance section. However, knowing what it’s actually about and reading it from cover to cover, I couldn’t stop reading it even on school nights. It has a good personality, engrossing leads, and a touching but cynical atmosphere that’d make ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ blush. It did keep me interested, but maybe I was expecting a little more, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Madeline Whittier is a young teenage girl who has an extremely rare disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), which makes her literally allergic to the outside world (yeah, remember the movie called ‘The Boy in the Plastic Bubble’? That’s this in a YA romance). Besides taking online classes and spending her days in a white house built with an airlock, Madeline is catered by her overprotective mother and a loving nurse. She never changes routine, and always wonders about the world outside.

But one day, a new family moves next door to Madeline, and the oldest boy is a teenager her age named Olly. Unlike her, he embraces the outside and spends his days either doing parkour on the roof or dressing like a Goth off the set of ‘American Horror Story’. As predicted, Madeline falls head over heels for him, and he begins to see the tragedy of her lifelong predicament. However, will Madeline risk her life for a chance of real happiness?

This is a book that cynics like myself may hate because of the choices and life-threatening decisions Madeline makes to see her love interest. On the one hand, you understand how this is the first time she’s probably been in love, but you do have to side with the mother when it’s life-threatening.

However, going into the first two-thirds of the story, this kind of reminded me of the popularly criticized book ‘Into the Wild’, with the main character being cooped up in one place for a long time and making piss-poor decisions of living one day to live life like it was meant to be lived. Sure his decisions are stupid and the risks he takes are beyond insane, but at the same time you have to admire the passion he holds into following his dreams and how naïve but gently determined he is.

Madeline is the same way. She’s a person who’s never been sick like a regular person, never smelled fresh air, and knows not much about the outside world than what she’s seen on a laptop or in books. Even knowing the risks she’ll take to just see Olly across a living room, you have to admire the naïve passion she owns, the intellectual optimism, and the cynical pessimism she has for the future. It is almost like seeing an animal in a cage, but with a human being.

Then we have Olly, who at first is at first nothing but eye candy in the first third of ‘Everything, Everything’, until you start to learn more about him next to Madeline. He may dress like a Goth, but he’s surprisingly intellectual when it comes to mathematics and astronomy. Olly knows the risks of seeing Madeline much like she does, but is also passionate to know the girl more. Much like the book, his personality shines as the story progresses.

In fact, I love how the novel tell you about the character in a simple way to know their struggles and understand what’s going on. For example, there are chapters where Madeline and Olly are sending texts and IMs to each other over the course of several weeks and that’s it. Over their conversations, they hint at what we miss in-between chapters, and give vague enough answers for us to know how protective Madeline’s mother is, and how violent Olly’s father is. It is the right balance of giving details without giving answers.

Aside from the decisions Madeline makes in the first two-thirds, my only main problem is surprisingly the ending. I won’t try to spoil anything here, but the climax of the film feels out-of-synch with the rest of the book. For a majority of the novel, we believe Nicola Yoon is giving us a quirky but dramatic tragedy, but suddenly gives us a sudden twist that was never built on. Granted, the ending chapter is bittersweet yet heart-warming, but I never felt that the ending of ‘Everything, Everything’ lived up to its full potential.

Overall, ‘Everything, Everything’ has all the greater elements that should be in a good YA romance novel. It isn’t great, but it is dramatically entertaining with a sweet couple and an enriching personality. If you enjoy this kind of thing, I highly recommend it for anyone in the spirit of Valentine’s Day!

~*~*~*~*~

Follow me on Facebook @

https://m.facebook.com/readersboulevard

And feel free to click on the post to leave comments! 🙂

Review: ‘Forest Gods’ by Ryan Campbell

At last! At long, long last! After waiting for a couple years, I’ve read the latest instalment of Ryan Campbell’s ‘Firebearers trilogy’, confusingly called ‘Forest Gods’. I’m telling you that ever since I finished reading ‘God of Clay’ some months ago, I have been itching to know what happened in the cliffhanger I was left on, and what will happen to our main character. Is it better than the first book, and can Ryan Campbell continue making a romantic relationship between a leopard deity and a young human man less uncomfortable than it would sound at first? Read on to find out.

In the wake of the last book, the god of the forest Kwaee has turned his entire domain against the human villagers outside his jungle, killing anyone whom he believes to be allied with the demonic fire god Ogya. And after running for the savanna in the wake of all this, Kwaee’s son Doto and his human lover Clay must embark into the neighboring savannas in search of a god whom they believe will help them find out the truth. Both will have to sacrifice their morals, risk their lives, and maybe even the happiness they may or may not be able to have.

Meanwhile, back in Clay’s home, Laughing Dog has returned in ways too different to explain. His and Clay’s father, King First Claw, has died under mysterious circumstances, and their grieving but slow-minded brother Great Ram has taken the throne in these dark times. Little does anyone know however, that Ogya has taken possession of Laughing Dog, and is using the agnostic believer’s naïveté to cause tension among the other villagers through acts of framing, hoping to rile them into attacking the forest and finally reignite the ancient war with Kwaee.

The only two people who see through the young prince’s actions are the tribe’s elderly healer named Cloud, and the prince’s promised fiancé named Ant With a Leaf. Determined to save their people from unknowingly killing themselves, Any and Cloud must throw aside their status as women and challenge the prince and puppet king before it’s too late. Will they both succeed and save humanity, or will Ogya’s fire consume the village and everything in its path?

It’s very clear in the first several that real shit will go down as the book progresses, and Ryan Campbell brilliantly allows the scenery and emotions to drip together with the narrative. There’s more drama, much darker moments between the line, and I had to stop myself from skipping ahead several times to keep reading each page. As you guess, I absolutely loved it.

The best thing about this book is both the theme and how it has heavily impacted the characters, and it is change. From the last book to this one’s cliffhanger, ‘Forest Gods’ does the right balance of commenting on change while we read about our characters’ journeys. Everyone in the novel talks about how they miss the old days, and feel like an impending doom is coming to their way of life. It is an understandable feeling, as many people in today’s world have the same feeling whether they’re religious or not. However, the novel isn’t preaching to abandon beliefs, but to adapt to the change in order to survive.

Doto and Clay go through a similar situation on their new journey, except it starts to turn into a romantic relationship between a god and a mortal. You might remember from my review of the last book that they both had a sex scene, and I must inform you there are a few in ‘Forest Gods’ as well. However, the book doesn’t go into intimate detail, and focuses more on the story and relationship between the two. Granted, the idea of a human and anthropomorphic leopard being in a sexual relationship sounds very disturbing still, but then again if authors can get away with werewolf romances, why not this? Besides, werewolf romances these days are crap compared to this.

Clay is still the optimistic human from the first book, but learns how the gods have abused their power. He’s emotional, but quick on his feet while keeping good morals. He’s noble, but will challenge kindness when it is needed. And despite his devotion to Doto (both spiritually and romantically), Clay has limits to how far the leopard would go to hurt others in their way.

In ‘God of Clay’, Doto originally treated his human companion as though he’s nothing more than a subordinate worshipper. In ‘Forest Gods’, he still cares for Clay, but slowly learns to consider him an equal. He’s still impatient and serious, but will protect Clay from anything. He’s determined, but learns humility from Clay. He also learns how to have emotions, and doesn’t know how to feel about them, especially in dramatic scenes. The one that tugs at my heartstrings is when Doto finds out someone about his legacy he never know, and how it ties him into the war between Kwaee and Ogya. I won’t give anything away, but you feel the weight that Doto feels once it’s discovered.

Aside from the two couple, but I was strangely surprised to have Cloud and Ant, two minor characters from the first book, become the secondary characters in the novel. I barely even remembered them in ‘God of Clay’, but reading the newest book and getting to know them better has made me wonder why Ryan Campbell didn’t give them more focus? I absolutely love them, as they remind me of some people I knew growing up in my family. Cloud is an elderly woman that’s strong and has a clever wit despite her old age, is independent but knows when to ask for help, and she perfectly mirrors Ant’s will to do what is right for the village. In fact, I remember ‘Bookworm Reviews’ on Youtube mentioning that his only problem with the first book as that Ant didn’t have a personality. This highly makes up for it, and she’s thoroughly entertaining (and David Popovich, if you’re reading this, I highly recommend this for a future review).

That reminds me. The only complain I have regarding characters is this one that popped out of nowhere and wasn’t mentioned again in detail. It was Adanko, the God of Hares and Lies who seemed too amusing to be a background character. At first it seems like he’ll be the comic relief of the story, but he comes and goes without a second though.

Then we have Laughing Dog, who has turned from an agnostic child who whines and complains in the last book into an unpredictable beast with his older brother’s kingly position wrapped around his finger. I love and fear how he manipulates the King so easily just by being related to him, showcasing how Laughing Dog isn’t just a tough guy with a knife. He’s a conniver and a plotter, trying to keep a façade of honor and charisma to his people while willingly working for Ogya. The way he puts blame on Kwaee, frames Cloud, twists others words against them, it’s like you’ve entered the infamous McCarthy Trials!

I find aspects like this the most terrifying in a villain, because it makes us wonder when they can be threatening, whether they’re about to strike you down or not. Both are unpredictable, overconfident in their goals, and will not hesitate to kill anyone, even family and loved ones, in their way of success.

Once again, Ryan Campbell astounds me in a fantastic novel of family, beliefs, and love. Enriched with African culture, vast in journeys across landscapes, and seeded with an addictive plot, I highly recommend reading this after taking a gander at the first book.

~*~*~*~*~

Follow me on Facebook @

https://m.facebook.com/readersboulevard

And feel free to click on the post to leave comments! 🙂

Review: ‘God of Clay’ by Ryan Campbell

‘God of Clay’ is the first book in Ryan Campbell’s ‘Firebearers trilogy’, and a personal favorite of mine. This is an intriguing YA(ish?) novel for those like me that love diversity, especially if it’s in African tribalism. I mentioned this book before in my review of ‘The Golem and the Jinni’, and how amazing it was in feeling like a legend or a fairytale, except it has modern story telling with fleshed out characters, a simple storyline, and a mythos that feels too genuine to be fiction. With that said, there are a few things in ‘God of Clay’ that may turn a few heads. It’s not a problem or anything, but it is worth talking about later on.

In a vast African land of animal deities and spirits, a tribe of humans have settled near the edge of a massive jungle next to their savanna home. After losing their lands to a wrathful god of fire named Ogya, they hope to start anew while praying for miracles. And in this nomadic tribe are Clay and Laughing Dog, two brothers (and sons of the tribe’s King) more polar opposites than mine. Clay devotes himself greatly to the gods and worships without hesitation while Laughing Dog believes them to be nothing but ancient legends. After both brothers make a bet that end up with Clay having an injured foot, Laughing Dog ends up being banished by his father as punishment and for endlessly mocking the gods. Clay soon becomes depressed, and prays for a miracle.

That miracle comes to him one night in the form of an anthropomorphic leopard named Doto, the son of the forest god Kwaee, who has been tasked by his despicable father into kidnapping a human and finding out why they have come to his forest. Kwaee loathes humanity, and sees them as vermin who burn and destroy in the name of Ogya. After Doto manages to convince Clay that he himself is (technically) a god, the reverent human ventures with the leopard on their journey. At first, Doto mirrors his father’s views on the human, until he begins to realize how similar he is to Clay, and that they may share a bond that transcends taboo in their world. However, little do they know that the two of them have a shared destiny that will change both them and their worlds forever.

In the three years that this has come out, I am absolutely shocked that this has not gotten that much attention or reviews by other critics. Granted it isn’t published by a massive publishing company, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that this is an intelligently written book that I frankly believe deserves to be adapted into a film someday (I said it, so believe it!).

Let’s firstly talk about the two main characters Doto and Clay. Clay is presented as a meek but confident human who worships his gods with great devotion. He may not be strong or intelligent in the wilderness, but he’s very optimistic when he wants to be. This highly contrasts to Doto who is basically a self-righteous little child that sees Clay as nothing more than subordinate. Even so, he has this fragile belief that he’ll gain the love and attention of his uncaring father by following his bidding. This allows us to understand his mindset and know why he acts the way he does toward Clay, and we begin to warm up to him more as the both of them tear down the barriers of god/mortal to survive on their journey. This eventually leads to both the leopard deity and human mortal wondering why there’s a divide between gods and humans and if it can and should be broken.

Laughing Dog’s story is also very wonderful to read. Here we have a young man who’s convinced that the gods are nothing but myths and legends, and is angered and bitter that the people and elders of his village do not see his point of view. However, he’s not a stick in the mud or an asshole; you understand that he only wants to help his tribe survive in the harsh environment and sees the reliance on gods as an obstacle for progress towards a better life. What I love about this is that Laughing Dog isn’t a one-sided villain who hates religion for the sake of it, he only wants his tribe and the rest of humanity to rely on themselves and not in faith. ‘God of Clay’ wonderfully touches on issues such as the separation of church and state, belief vs. faith, tradition vs. change, and it makes you question (in the words of the novel):

“How far would you go to follow your gods? And how hard would you fight to defy them?”

Much like another small personal favorite of mine named ‘Things Fall Apart’ by the late Chinua Achebe, ‘God of Clay’ makes itself timeless and beautifully descriptive by telling the culture and daily life of this tribe, which it helps us connect to the characters. Campbell even incorporates actual African tribal culture into their world. For example, Clay mentions to his companion that whenever a woman gives birth, it’s tradition for her to name the child after the first thing she sees. Reading the novel, you hear every mosquito buzz by your ear and feel the heartbeat of the African landscape through every page that your fingers touch. Combine all of that with a good plot and complex characters, and it’s an addictive read.

Before you go buy this book (which I still highly recommend), I should probably warn you of a scene that comes up later in the book. It’s not a major spoiler, since it is highly hinted at early on in the novel, but this may be a huge turn-off for a few readers. Remember how I mentioned that the main character’s bond transcends taboo in their world?

See…Doto and Clay have a physical attraction for each other. Yes, a physical attraction between a walking-talking leopard deity and a human. There’s especially a scene in the third act where they get sexually intimate, but only for half a page. Going in, I didn’t know and thought it’d be a general friendship, but Ryan Campbell went the extra mile. And honestly, it could’ve been kept hidden, but I didn’t mind there being a romantic relationship between Doto and Clay, since it makes them even more interesting and makes you wonder if gods in their world are allowed to fall in love with humans, especially if both of them are male. Did a sex scene need to be in there? Probably not, but it didn’t last a whole page and I’ve read MUCH MORE mature content that’s allowed in school libraries.

Overall, ‘God of Clay’ is a perfect novel for the bookworm interested in cultural commentary and the perfect novel for fantasy-lovers. With a twist on African lore and a fictional realm you’ll never want to escape, go read Ryan Campbell’s first book in surely a phenomenal trilogy.

~*~*~*~*~

Follow me on Facebook @

https://m.facebook.com/readersboulevard

And feel free to click on the post to leave comments! 🙂