WFTM Podcast Episode 26: The Star Wars Awakening

You knew it was coming. This is the inevitable episode where Leslie and Fernando talk about Star Wars: The Force Awakens for an hour. Did they like it? Who was their favorite character? Were there enough explosions? How adorable is BB-8? Epic spoilers from start to finish, so if you haven't seen the movie, what are you doing listening to a podcast?!

Download it from the iTunes store here!

We’re now on Stitcher as well!! If Stitcher is your chosen app of podcasting choice, listen to the Working for the Mandroid podcast here


Review: School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough

School for Sidekicks
Kelly McCullough

Feiwel & Friends
I received an ARC from the publisher
Released August 4, 2015
336 pages
YA / Superheroes / Fantasy

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

Being a hero isn't always what it's cracked up to be in this funny and genuine novel from adult fantasy author Kelly McCullough.
Evan Quick is a GIANT superhero geek who dreams of one day becoming a superhero himself. Every morning he checks to see if he's developed his powers overnight, and every day there's nothing. No flying, no super strength, no invulnerability—that always hurts to check—no telepathy, no magic. Not even the ability to turn off the alarm clock without smacking the switch.
But then Evan somehow manages to survive a supervillian's death ray, and is sent to the Academy for Metahuman Operatives. Unfortunately, his new school is not what he expected, and instead of fighting bad guys, Evan finds himself blacklisted, and on the wrong side of the school's director. If Evan ever wants to realize his dream, he must convince his "mentor" Foxman, a semi-retired has-been, to become a real hero once again.

School for Sidekicks is a strange little book, straddling the line between middle grade and YA. It’s much longer than the standard middle grade novel, but the protagonist just turned 13. It deals with friendships and parental relationships more than coming of age, but at the same time protagonist Evan Quick is far more rational and less emotional than someone his age usually is. It’s written for an older audience, but its characters and subject matters are more directed at a pre-teen audience. It’s a weird book that can’t quite figure out what it wants to be, which left me feeling more distracted by the book’s form than I really should have been.

School for Sidekicks is an interesting idea. Evan lives in an alternated version of our world, where a bomb went off in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1988, resulting in thousands dead and even more discovering they suddenly have super powers. Slowly afterward superpowered individuals start appearing all over the world. By the time Evan is growing up in Minneapolis – now dubbed Heropolis – it’s been a generation since the explosion and superpowers are a big money making machine. The original heroes and villains are brand names with movie franchises, merchandising, even theme parks where their fans can worship their deeds and history. Evan desperately wants to join the elite group of powered people, but wakes up every morning to find that he’s just super boring.

Soon after his 13th birthday, he goes to Captain Commanding’s local theme park, where weird things start happening to him. A few weeks later, during a school field trip to the local Museum of Heroes, he finds himself trapped by Spartanicus, super villain extraordinaire and ultimate nemesis of Captain Commanding. A chain of events unfold unlike anything Evan could ever imagine and he suddenly finds himself waking from a coma at the School for Sidekicks. He’s surrounded by superpowered teenagers and a million questions that lead to conspiracy after conspiracy for him to unravel.

The world Kelly McCullough creates is really fun with superheroes and powerful villains being a bland part of everyday life. Evan is a capable and often enthusiastic narrator, though at other times his internal monologue can get a little annoying and repetitive. The other powered teens are difficult to tell apart with either generic or non-descript code names that often sound similar. A mean girl has no real motivation other than because it felt like there should be an antagonist at the school and her front never really develops into much.

The conspiracies and larger plot threads keep School for Sidekicks intriguing as Evan tries to figure the truth behind why villains don’t seem to stay locked up for long and how he can help make the world better. For a book titled after a school, there aren’t many boarding school shenanigans here and most class scenes are told in bits of dialogue that can often seem more intriguing than whatever thing Evan is internally moping about that causes him to not pay attention in class. I really wanted to learn more about what you learn in a class about turning dinnerware into weapons!

I’m not sure if this is the first book in a series, but the ultimate conflict at the end wrapped up very quickly considering how much buildup there was and it made the ending feel a bit more like things being checked off a list rather than a natural conclusion. Perhaps future books could shed some light on all the open ended questions Evan is left with while working in more consistent pacing throughout.

I think School for Sidekicks would be a very entertaining book for kids about the same age as narrator Evan with same types of interests. This would be a great wish fulfilment tale for a 13-year-old superhero obsessed boy, but outside of that narrow readership, this book feels like it’s missing something to tie everything together and make it all gel more completely. 

 

I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.

Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty
Rosamund Hodge

Balzer + Bray
I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Releases January 28, 2014
352 pages
YA / Fantasy / Twisted Faerie Tales

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl's journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

I just had to bump Beauty & the Beast to the top of my Netflix queue. I haven’t seen that movie since I was a kid, but almost from the moment I began Cruel Beauty, I had an intense urge to see that animated film from my childhood. Rosamund Hodge takes that classic story – the original, not so shiny version as much as the more child-friendly version – and twists it into something new, dark and exciting. And yet it still inspired me to watch the version with the singing candelabra.

Cruel Beauty is set on an island ripped from the larger world that now sits beneath a parchment colored sky and is under constant threat of demon attacks. The population lives in fear of the Gentle Lord, who controls the demons and makes deals with anyone foolish enough to ask for them. Nyx’s father was one of those fools, and now his teenage daughter is being sent as payment to the Gentle Lord. She must marry him, use that marriage as a cover to attempt to destroy his rule over her town and hopefully reunite the island with the greater world.

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Comic Review: Wonder Woman Volume 1 & 2: Blood & Guts by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang

I had a bit of a Wonder Woman-filled weekend, watching the DC Original Animated movie and then reading the first two volumes of the newest on-going comic. Based on the titles it seems to be appropriate to review these two volumes of the New 52 Wonder Woman series together.

Wonder Woman Volume 1: Blood
Wonder Woman Volume 2: Guts
Written by Brian Azzarello
Illustrated by Cliff Chiang & Tony Akins

DC Comics
144 pages
Comics / Superheroines / Mythology

Find Volume 1 & Volume 2 on Goodreads

Order Volume 1 & Volume 2 from Amazon

Volume 1: Blood

The first six issues of the critically acclaimed new WONDER WOMAN series are collected in hardcover! Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, has kept a secret from her daughter all her life – and when Wonder Woman learns who her father is, her life will shatter like brittle clay. The only one more shocked than Diana by this revelation? Bloodthirsty Hera – so why is her sinister daughter, Strife, so eager for the truth to be told? Superstar writer Brian Azzarello creates a new direction for one of DC's best-known heroes, with spectacular art by Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins!

Volume 2: Guts

Wonder Woman goes to hell! After playing Poseidon, Hades, and Hera against each other, Hades strikes back by kidnapping Zola and trapping her in the Underworld. It's up to Wonder Woman — with a little help from the God of Love and the God of Smiths — to break Zola out. But what is Hades' real game, and once you get into the land of the dead, how exactly do you get out?

I hate to admit this, but I don’t know much about Wonder Woman other than what’s out there in the public pop culture consciousness. The television show was before my time and for whatever reason I gravitated to Batgirl, Batwoman and a slew of Vertigo heroines before Wonder Woman every time. With the opportunity to review the up-coming third volume in the current on-going series and several reviews saying the series is pretty awesome, I thought this weekend was a good time to educate myself on all things Princess Diana of Themyscira.

For lack of a better analogy, Wonder Woman is the Justice League’s Thor. Her background and on-going family life is steeped in mythology and feuds between all-powerful gods. I suppose that may be one of the reasons barring Hollywood from turning this recognizable character into a profitable television or movie series. By the end of the second volume, it’s not Diana’s story. It’s the story of Hera’s jealousy of her husband Zeus’s extra-marital affairs with mortals. It’s the story of Poseidon and Hades fighting for the throne of Zeus after he goes missing. It’s the story of Apollo coming in to mess everything up with the help of his sister Artemis. It’s Strife causing… well, strife and chaos for enjoyment. It’s Eros with a pair of golden guns instead of arrows, Demeter quietly plotting in the forest, Hermes being a part-time badass, and then there is Hephaestus and Aphrodite being the unlikeliest pairing.

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Review: Arclight by Josin L. McQuein

Arclight
Josin McQuien

Greenwillow Books
Releases April 23, 2013
400 pages
YA / Dystopia / Science Fiction

Find it on Goodreads

Preorder it from Amazon

No one crosses the wall of light . . . except for one girl who doesn’t remember who she is, where she came from, or how she survived. A harrowing, powerful debut thriller about finding yourself and protecting your future—no matter how short and uncertain it may be.

The Arclight is the last defense. The Fade can’t get in. Outside the Arclight’s border of high-powered beams is the Dark. And between the Light and the Dark is the Grey, a narrow, barren no-man’s-land. That’s where the rescue team finds Marina, a lone teenage girl with no memory of the horrors she faced or the family she lost. Marina is the only person who has ever survived an encounter with the Fade. She’s the first hope humanity has had in generations, but she could also be the catalyst for their final destruction. Because the Fade will stop at nothing to get her back. Marina knows it. Tobin, who’s determined to take his revenge on the Fade, knows it. Anne-Marie, who just wishes it were all over, knows it.

When one of the Fade infiltrates the Arclight and Marina recognizes it, she will begin to unlock secrets she didn’t even know she had. Who will Marina become? Who can she never be again?

Could it be? Is this really a standalone YA dystopian title? Am I mistaken in believing all the ends were tied except for a few windows cracked open that don’t involve enough plot to produce a second volume? Arclight got points for that alone. Don’t get me wrong – I like series, but when every single book you pick up is the start of a commitment to two or three others gets a little overwhelming. So yay for a standalone!

Another bonus point – this turned out to be science fiction! And not just because it’s a dystopia! What I thought was going to be some demonically angled story turned out to be more about science-y things, though the science-y things left me a little confused when it came to peripheral issues. Because I don’t want to spoil anything, all I’m going to say is – science-y stuff, yay! But still don’t think too hard and provide plenty of hand waving of details when it comes to the science-y things.

And the ultimate reason this book was so enjoyable to me? It was genuinely surprising. I don’t know if it’s because I read so much within certain genres, but not a lot of books really catch me off guard and I usually guess the gist of the ending about midway through. That was not the case with Arclight. There was rarely a point where I felt like I knew where the story was going and the ultimate reveal actually surprised me. Good work, Josin McQuein.

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Review: Perception by Lee Strauss

Perception
Lee Strauss

ESB Publishing
Released September 12, 2012
234 pages
YA / Science Fiction

Find it on Goodreads

Purchase it on Amazon

Seventeen year old Zoe Vanderveen is a GAP—a genetically altered person. She lives in the security of a walled city on prime water-front property along-side other equally beautiful people with extended life spans.

Her brother Liam is missing.

Noah Brody is a natural who lives on the outside. He leads protests against the GAPs and detests the widening chasm they’ve created between those who have and those who don’t. He doesn’t like girls like Zoe and he has good reason not to like her specifically.

Zoe’s carefree life takes a traumatic turn. She’s in trouble and it turns out that Noah, the last guy on earth she should trust, is the only one who can help her.

PERCEPTION is a ( SF/mystery/romance) Young Adult novel that takes place in the not-too-distant future in a world changed by climate extremes, natural disasters and impending wars, and where scientific breakthroughs cause class divisions—both financially and philosophically. It explores the clash between faith and science and how differences can separate us as enemies or ally us together. And in some cases, even in the midst of betrayal and personal crisis, there’s room to fall in love.

This is the first book in a planned three book series.

Zoe Vanderveen is a perfect blonde model, who is going to live for centuries and live within the guilded walls of the city made specifically for the wealthy GAPs, those genetically altered to live longer, be smarter and look more “perfect” than normal people. It’s a homogenous society built by her grandfather, who invented the genetic science that allows the GAPs to exist. Zoe has an older brother who has recently started acting a little fishy before he disappears without a trace, which is especially odd considering all the GAPs have microchips embedded into their hands to act as tracers, data cards and bank accounts all in one handy mobile location. His disappearance leads Zoe down a dark road to find truths about her family, her way of living and the outside world for which she is not prepared.

Lee Strauss has created a solid mystery with Perception in a world that is very much like our own with a bit of genetic modifications thrown in. Zoe is essentially representative of the very wealthy, who have everything and lack any knowledge of those who don’t have as much. She just happens to be a perfect genetic specimen. Noah, on the other hand, is from a poorer family and lives a more normal life; he could easily exist within the real world. By creating a mystery that eventually leads these two together, the story has two compelling, but somewhat opposite main characters.

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Author Tour Review: Black & Orange by Benjamin Kane Ethridge

Welcome to the Working for the Mandroid stop on Benjamin Kane Ethridge's blog tour for Black & Orange, hosted by Pump Up Your Book!  If you're new to the site, welcome!  We hope you'll take a look around and see what else we have to offer.  To learn more about Benjamin Kane Ethridge, you can visit his website here.  In 2010, he won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in First Novel for Black & Orange and regularly collaborates with Michael Louis Calvillo.

Now on to the review!

Black & Orange
Benjamin Kane Ethridge

Bad Moon Books (2010)
422 pages
Adult / Dark Fantasy / Action 

Purchase it from Amazon here

I’m a wuss.  I think that’s a statement I’ve posted here a time or two, but it stands to be repeated.  I like scary books for the most part, but I’m still a wuss.  Despite being classified as a horror book, I didn’t find Black & Orange scary.  Odd?  Sure.  Disturbing?  Absolutely.  But scary?  Not really.  Black & Orange is a well-written, complex book with dark themes and lots of action.  It just wasn’t for me.  Often times it just became too much and I had to walk away to clear my head before I could dive further into this bizarre and disturbing world that Ethridge created.

The large picture within Black & Orange involves the Church of Midnight attempting to open a permanent portal to an alternate world where their counterparts, the Church of Morning, reside.  In order to do this, the Church of Midnight must find and sacrifice the Heart of the Harvest – a human who temporarily embodies some sort of otherworldliness - each Halloween until the portal is opened wide enough to put in a support structure.  Two people, Teresa and Martin, are nomads assigned to protect the Heart of the Harvest each year.  They are descendents of people originally from the other side or the Old Domain, and have the ability to project “shades” and other protective measures using their minds.  This is the story of the one Halloween that could potentially open the barrier for good and all the crazy things that happen in the four days leading up to October 31.

Meanwhile a lot of bizarre craziness is happening inside the Church of Midnight and a few ambitious young Bishops.  The Priestess of Morning arrived the year before and is causing a lot of trouble even though she’s meant to be there to help the Church of Morning.  Teresa is dying from lung cancer.  And instead of just one Heart of the Harvest this year, Teresa and Martin have to protect and care for four.

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