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Book Reviews: Across The Universe & Off To Be The Wizard

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I've got two great books to share with you guys today, so let's get right to it!

Oh, but first I have to say: I absolutely love that there are so many authors reading this blog. I have a standard policy of accepting pretty much any book offered to me, but I make it clear that I won't necessarily read and/or review it, just to keep the pressure and expectations off. Even so, I get a little thrill every time someone tells me, "I love Epbot, and I wrote a book! Want one?"

So anyway, that was the case with Beth and her book, Across the Universe:


This book grabbed me by the gut by the third sentence, and it refused to let go. When John asked me how I liked it after the first few pages, the best word I could find was "gripping."

It's not that there's immediate action or nonstop suspense; the story just sucks you in with this unbelievably vivid description of undergoing cryogenic freezing, and the first person narrative makes you practically FEEL the sterile room, the needles, and the painful cold.

The story is equally fantastic, and everything you could want from great science fiction. A ship is sent out to colonize a distant planet, with a society onboard that hasn't seen Earth in more generations than anyone can remember. Then people start dying. The heroine, Amy, teams up with a boy named Elder to find out what dark secrets the ship's leadership is hiding. (Dun dun DUNNNNN.)

I loved just about everything with this book, from the characters to the mystery to the chilling commentary on power, control, and human nature. The ending was a perfect mix of resolution with some lingering mysteries left for the two sequels, which I look forward to reading.

I will say this is definitely a more adult Young Adult book due to sexual content - although not in a romantic sense - so I'd advise parents read it first before handing it over to their teens. Specifically, there's an attempted gang rape that gets a little graphic, and which spoiled what would have otherwise been the perfect sci-fi mystery/adventure for me. But then, you guys already know I'm pretty sensitive to that kind of thing, so unless you have similar or stronger qualms, don't let that keep you from reading Across the Universe.

(By the by, I was surprised at how much controversy/conflict my last review stirred up on that count, when I mentioned not being about to stomach certain things in my entertainment. I really didn't intend for it to be that big of a deal, which is why it's kind of funny how many book recommendations since then have included an enthusiastic, "... and there's no rape!" Ha! Anyway, here's hoping you guys know I *do* judge a book by more than just that - and also to take my own "sensitivities" into account whenever you're reading my reviews.)

Ok, next up is a book I'm super DUPER excited to tell you guys about, for three very important reasons:

1) My friend Scott wrote it.

2) I had the honor of being the final proofreader/copy editor for it. Yep, you can pin any misspellings or grammar errors ON ME. [gulp!]

3) It's freaking awesome.

 Off to Be the Wizard, by Scott Meyer

Here's the official blurb:

"It's a simple story. Boy finds proof that reality is a computer program. Boy uses program to manipulate time and space. Boy gets in trouble. Boy flees back in time to Medieval England to live as a wizard while he tries to think of a way to fix things. Boy gets in more trouble.

"Oh, and boy meets girl at some point."

This is a light, fun read reminiscent of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and/or some of Terry Pratchett's work. It's not nonstop zaniness, though; the story stays grounded just enough to make the funny bits really sneak up on you. Those unexpected, laugh-out-loud moments were my favorite, simply because it's so rare for me to laugh out loud while reading. (That's one of the perils of writing humor for a living; you get pretty jaded to other people's attempts at humor.) Happily Scott was able to catch me off guard several times, though, and his use of the occasional geeky homage is the metaphorical cherry on top. (Btw, Scott didn't implicitly say that he included the one Ghostbusters reference just for me, but I'm going to go ahead and believe that's the case anyway. Cool? Cool.)

While Scott doesn't bill it as a YA title, Off To Be The Wizard is perfect for pre-teens on up. Anyone who's a little bit geeky and/or old enough to remember Commodore 64s will probably appreciate the tech and pop-culture humor the most, though.

You may already know Scott from his web comic, Basic Instructions, which also blends smart humor with the occasional dollop of geekery. If so, then I can tell you firsthand that Scott and Missy are pretty much exactly how he depicts them in the comic - and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. ;)

Off to Be the Wizard is $3.99 for the Kindle version, or you can grab the paperback for $9.99 here. Best of all, you can also read the first 35 pages here, for free!


As always, I welcome your book suggestions in the comments! And if you're looking for more of my reviews and recommendations, be sure to check my book review page, where I've listed them all by author and title.

Posted by Jen at 1:51 AM Labels:

39 comments:

  1. I'm sure I'll be able to find it on my own tomorrow, after I've slept, but I thought I'd let you know that the OFF TO BE THE WIZARD Kindle link didn't work for me.

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    1. Sorry about that! Had a stray bit of code clogging up the link. It's fixed now!

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  2. As a lover of all things steampunk, have you read anything by Gail Carriger? She has a fantastic alternate universe that combines steampunk technology, Victorian London and supernatural creatures. The result is insanely quotable hilarity. I want to just quote one liners all over the place to make the point. The world is really rich and interesting, there are mad inventors, vampires, werewolves, the Queen and an abundance of dirigibles.
    You shouldn’t have to worry about any graphic scenes. The only bit I can remember as graphic at all is towards the end of Souless. A character gets drained of quite a lot of blood, but you only seen them dealing with blood loss, not the actual draining.
    I just finished Carriger's newest book, Etiquette and Espionage, a series set before the Parasol Protectorate. It was fantastic and even more steampunk than the first. It's also about a finishing school for assassins. I wasn't aware I needed that until I read it.

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    1. I've read the first 2 or 3 of the Parasol Proterctorate, yes (you can see my review for Soulless here.) Her new YA series is definitely on my list to read!

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  3. Thanks for the "Off to be the Wizard" recommendation, that looks pretty good. Off to the Kindle store for me!

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  4. I just finished reading a series called "The Ranger's Apprentice" by John Flanagan which was AWESOME! It's got a great mix of action, adventure, humor and (most importantly to me) character growth and development! If you like Tamora Pierce's stuff, you'll like this series too!

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  5. I bought Off to be the Wizard yesterday when Scott announced it on Basic Instructions. I'm about a third in and it's fantastic. :D

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  6. I just read Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi and will be starting Through the Ever Night soon. (there's no rape but some violence). I think you will like them.

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  7. I just finished The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown (a prequel) by Robin McKinley. One is a Newberry medal winner and the other a Newberry honor winner. Great and quite suitable for teens and pre-teens.

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  8. Hhmm, I think I will have to try Off To Be A Wizard.

    Have you ever read Doctor Who books? The authors actually make up stories using the characters. I read them on my Kindle, I think my favorite is Dark Horizons.

    I DID NOT WRITE THIS BOOK. It was written by J. T. Colgan. I am only passing along the description.

    "On a windswept northern shore, at the very tip of what will one day become Scotland, the islanders think the worst they have to fear would be a viking attack. Then he burning comes. They cannot run from it. Water will not stop it, and it consmes everything in it's path - yet the burned still speak.

    The Doctor is just looking for a game on the famous Lewis chess set. Instead he encounters people under attack from a power the cannot possibly understand. They have no weapons, no strategy, and no protection from a fire sent to engulf them all.

    Add in some marauding Vikings with very bad timing, a kidnapped princess with a secret of her own, and a TARDIS that seems to have developed a inexplicable fear of water, and they all have a battle on their hands. The islanders must take on a ruthless alien force in a world without technology; without communications; without tea that isn't made from bark. Still, at least they have the Doctor on their side...Don't they?"

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    1. I also wanted to say that the Doctor Who audio books are great--and many of them are narrated by the actors (some of the Doctors and/or the Companions). They're really great--and pretty cheap on Audible.com!

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  9. I've started reading the free pages of Off to be the Wizard and it looks great, although I'm disappointed to say I'm on page 4 and have seen 2 errors already. For example, "It was like he someone had grabbed..." Not sure if those are in the printed versions as well, though.

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    1. ACK. I'll have to ask Scott if he's updated the online sample yet with my corrections; since I only finished them about 3 weeks ago, I'd guess he hasn't - he probably just fixed the purchasable ones. (Notice how I'm trying to cover my own butt here. Ha!)

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  10. Ooh, both of those look really good. I'm adding them to my list now.

    Has anyone recommended "The Rook" by Daniel O'Malley? One of the best books I read last year.

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  11. I snagged the first 35 pages of off to be the wizard while waiting in line for coffee (it was morning rush at the college I go to) and am hooked. Going to have to score a copy if that for myself. I've got a kindle reader on my android but I prefer dead-tree format (it's a tactile thing), so will have to wait until I can get to a bookstore.
    Thanks for the recommendations :D
    - though for some good twisted fairy tales (or especially oz fans), check out Gregory McGuire's works. And totally not YA (I wouldn't recommend these to teens unless they're really mature) but also try Gordon Dahlquist's glass books of the dream eaters (vols 1&2) and the sequel the dark volume. Totally steampunk and the story grabs from the first sentence. I love how the first book is broken up into volumes just like Victorian literature.
    ~erin kristine

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    1. Glad to hear it! Oh, and Scott is self-publishing the book, so you won't find it at any brick-and-mortar stores. The link I included is to Amazon's print-on-demand division. The good news is that Scott makes roughly the same amount of money whether you purchase the paper or e-version, so you're supporting the author directly either way.

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  12. They both sound VERY interesting! Can't wait to read them!

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  13. I've got another recommendation for you. The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar (who happens to be a friend of mine, but that's beside the point). High school girl meets someone at school who turns out to be a genie. I love all the characters, and it's got more action than the title or the cover would seem to indicate, which I liked.

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  14. Sci-fi and cyber-whatever it's called (I don't mean that to be flippant, I just really don't know what that computer-y genre is called!) aren't usually my cup of tea, but I think I'll take a chance on Off To Be The Wizard. I love Basic Instructions.

    I'm GLAD you're sensitive to rape/violence against women in books. Sometimes I am just not in the frame of mind where I can handle reading about it or seeing it depicted, and your warnings are really helpful.

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    1. Thanks, Megan! It's nice to know I'm not the only one, and that my reviews are helpful to some of my fellow geek girls out there.

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  15. Across the Universe was a great read indeed. I really liked the sequels too. I feel like a dolt though because I just posted about it too, and popped over here to check for a new post. D'oh! Oh well. I'm on a steampunk reading craze, and going through the Infernal Devices series. I think you may like those.

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  16. If you're still on the lookout for steampunk books, I would heartily recommend the short story anthology "Steampunk!" edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant. The stories are definitely more YA, but each is a fresh and original take on the genre. I know I really enjoyed it!

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  17. I started reading Off to Be the Wizard yesterday! I haven't had much time to read, so I'm only on page 19, but so far it's really intriguing. I love Scott's Basic Instructions. His recent comic on Florida had me and my husband laughing out loud with every line.

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  18. I think I've found a good way to explain my own entertainment sensitivities. (When I say "watch", I mean in either a book or movie).

    If I never want to watch my loved ones do or say it, then I don't want to watch it in my entertainment. So:
    Murder - no
    Bloody violence - no
    Sex - no
    Almost sex - no
    Rape - no
    F-words - no

    Discussion of murder, violence, sex, or rape, WITHOUT experiential details - I can handle that.

    So basically, I can address tough topics, but I cannot experience them with the main character.

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  19. Seriously can't wait to read Across the Universe now, it sounds really great.

    I do have to insist that you go back and read another Jim C. Hines book now. He started a new series, the first book is called Libriomancer, where the protagonist is part of a group of people who can reach into books and pull things out. It is geek reference heaven! Whatever you can fit through the pages is fair game. He's also careful never to rely on the concept and let the writing slip, which is the only thing I worried about going into the book. The next one will be out in August, and I am psyched!

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  20. Hi Jen! I'm so glad that you liked Across the Universe! Thank you so much for reading it (although I feel like a dolt for not mentioning the scene that troubled you ahead of time; I should have thought of that). I hope you like the sequels! :)

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  21. Hey, Jen! I wrote a book!

    Ok, so it was a magazine article. It was in a textile magazine Piecework earlier this year. But, I have two articles and three knitwear designs in a book being released Friday! Wanna proof it? ;)

    Laura R

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    1. Ooh, I love Piecework! Which article? What book?

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  22. Started Across the Universe yesterday on your recommendation, and TOTALLY hooked! Thanks!

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  23. I absolutely LOVED Across the Universe and the sequels. I blazed through them the first time and am currently reading them for a second time. An awesome series!

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  24. Oh, well, since you asked -

    I've written two novels, too, although they're not SciFi or Fantasy, they're historical novels with rather unusual protagonists.

    The first one, Portrait of the Past, centers on Marguerite, an African-American artist who is the daughter of a white slave-owner. It examines the aftermath of slavery and the Civil War from several different directions.

    The second one, They Say Love is Blind, is a sequel to the first book, this one centering on Henry, a soldier blinded during the Civil War who spends the next twenty years attempting to build a training center for blinded adults.

    Both books deal with overcoming tragedy and opening oneself up to new experiences in the face of it.

    There is an attempted rape in the first book, but it's not at all graphic.

    Both books are available through Girlebooks.com. Even if you're not interested in my books, check out the site. It's got some great stuff written by and of interest to women. I particularly recommend 'Radium Halos'.

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  25. I emailed Beth Revis to tell her that her book is on my extra credit reading list for my science classes. She actually emailed me back. I was totally star struck by that.

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  26. Happiness is a pile of new books on my bedside table. Unbridled joy is time to read them. Thank you for helping me with the first half of that statement. ;-)

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  27. I'm in the middle of Across the Universe now thanks to your recommendation! My roommate, friend, and I all 3 fell in love with Divergent thanks to you! So far I love Across the Universe but I feel I have figured things out already. I'm really hoping I'm wrong. But I wanted to ask your opinion on something; Harley just told Amy about Kayleigh. The moment I read it I immediately thought of Firefly! Kayleigh, tinkers with mechanics, the vines around her door, it feels like a sneaky Firefly reference to me and I love it. What do you think?

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  28. A late comment, but I wanted to say thank you, Jen! I enjoyed the OtBtW preview so much I bought Scott's book (and plan to enjoy his webcomic now as well, not sure how I've managed to miss it before now!)

    I will check out your other recommended read as well, since you steered me straight on Scott's book. Again, many thanks!

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  29. The two sequels to Across the Universe are on their way to my home (now that I'm over the claustrophobia I wrote to you about!), but in the meantime, please tell your good buddy Scott that the world needs more Martin, Gwen and Phillip. A LOT MORE. NOW. Love. That. Book.

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  30. I am not the biggest reader in the world but after reading about OtBtW on here I bought a copy and I LOVED it!

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  31. Had to come back to say that I bought Off to be the Wizard based on your review & my husband & I both loved it!!! Keep the great reviews coming!

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  32. Gah! I keep forgetting that your review page should be my go-to when I'm looking for a new read. I read Off to Be the Wizard a few months ago and adored it. If there's an audio version, I'd love to even get my husband to "read" it.

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