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Book Review Roundup: A Mix of Fiction and Non-Fiction

Prior to the holiday season, things got a bit crazy for me. The last few months of the year generally are a little nuts as everything rockets down the steep slope toward the end of the year, but this year was particularly packed. In addition to juggling the usual personal pre-holiday stuff and drafting a new book for NaNoWriMo, as I do every year, I was sucked into Dragon Age Inquisition, with which I spent the better part of my free time.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t do any reading at all, though. Regardless of how busy I am, I’m never without a book or two in progress, but it does mean I got very backed up with my usual bi-weekly book reviews. So, to play a little catch up, here are some flash reviews of four books I read during that crazy, crazy time.

 

Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond

Genre: Non-Fiction/Pop Culture

Full disclosure: I’m only a very casual fan of comic books. I’ve seen most of the big comic book movies and watch several of the comic book-related TV shows, but I’ve never read the comics they’re based on. However, the premise of this book interested me, and though I missed out on a lot because I haven’t read the comic books referenced and, therefore, didn’t get as much out of the references, I still found the book fascinating.

Jose Alaniz has written an extremely scholarly take on comic books in Death, Disability, and the Superhero. With an academic’s eye, he dissects many different comics, spanning decades, and discussing both how specific works and the overall genre deal with issues of mortality, disability, race, and sexism. Fair warning: this is not a light read; it’s more like a dissertation, with lots of academic language and technical terms.

I found the book very thought-provoking, not just because Alaniz is so good at minutely examining the comics themselves, with plenty of specific examples and references, but because the book has larger applications. While the book is focused on the ways in which comics address sensitive topics, it made me think a great deal about how those same topics are dealt with in the culture at large.

If you’re a serious comic book fan or have one in your life, this book would make for a fascinating read.

 

Inside the Criminal Mind: Revised and Updated EditionGenre: Non-Fiction/Psychology

As both an author and a reader, I like books with villains that feel authentic. Even as I may hate the big bad, I want to have a sense that there’s a logic to his or her actions, that they have some reason for doing the things they’re doing. Because of this, and also because I’m very interested in how the brain works, I like to read books on neuroscience and psychology.

Stanton E. Samenow’s Inside the Criminal Mind is not a new book. Instead, this is an updated version. Samenow’s conclusions are based on the extensive research he and his mentor conducted over the course of decades, and he uses this experience to make several assertions about criminal behavior. This isn’t a book that will leave you feeling positive. Samenow paints a pretty bleak picture of criminal activity and the likelihood for rehabilitation.

I thought the book was interesting, but there’s also some disconnect between it and other neuroscience and psychology books I’ve read on topics like psychopathy/sociopathy. I’m no expert, but some of what Samenow views as choices made on the criminal’s part are up for debate, based on research into brain chemistry and brain function. The existence of psychopathy (or lack thereof) is still a hotly debated topic, and one about which we’ll likely learn more in time, given that new advances in understanding and technology are making brain studies increasingly common.

 

The Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn't FlyGenre: YA sci-fi

I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately with many young adult books, so I was glad to read something that has a totally different take on YA sci-fi as a genre. Rather than an evil empire seeking to oppress teenagers everywhere, this book deals with a mad scientist whose experiment has gone awry. Okay, this is pretty well-covered ground too, but this is the first book I’ve read where the mad scientist has devised a serum that makes children float and adults violently ill with flu-like symptoms.

Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly by P.T. Jones (actually an acronym/pen name for a two-author team) has some aspects that I really liked. The main character, Mary, suffers from severe and crippling anxiety and is trying to catch up after an episode during the previous school year set her back and destroyed many of the things she used to enjoy, such as soccer. I liked that the book presented a protagonist trying to deal with something that many teens undoubtedly have to deal with in their real lives. The downside is that I think Mary’s struggles could have been a book of their own, and because the sci-fi aspect is a rather big concept needing to occupy serious page space, and the book explores what Floating Boy has suffered, there were times when the various elements of the books didn’t really gel for me.

 

Vanished (The Profiler #2)Genre: Mystery/Suspense

I love a good mystery novel, so I was looking forward to this one. The premise of an FBI agent returning to her hometown to work on a case in which she was intimately involved as a child–her best friend was kidnapped when she was twelve, never to return–was intriguing.

Elizabeth Heiter does a great job in Vanished of portraying Evelyn’s struggles. The case is very personal for her, and though she knows it might be clouding her judgement, her need to solve it is what’s driving her.

Unfortunately, this was also part of what didn’t work for me. Evelyn does things that jeopardize the case, which should be the last outcome she’d want. Her obsessive need to find out what happened to her friend is understandable and would have worked had I not also figured out fairly early who the real culprit was. Evelyn’s failure to put the pieces together, despite her reputation as an ace profiler, made it hard for me to suspend my disbelief.

That’s a shame, because I did like the personal aspects of the story when it came to Evelyn’s struggles to reconcile what happened to her in the past. The book also hints at the darker side of life in Evelyn’s hometown, and I thought this aspect could have used some more page space.

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