Monday, January 15, 2018

Review: Golden Son

Golden Son Golden Son by Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The sequel to Red Rising subtracts a lot of the Ender's Game and Gladiator elements, but retains many of the elements of The Hunger Games (imminent revolution across this pseudo-Roman future society) and Game of Thrones (families at war, either winning or dying with no middle ground) that made the first one so good. And, just like its predecessor, it keeps up the war themes in such ways that it manages to feel scarily more relevant in this post-American world, a war of the rich going at each other and still using all the lower classes for their own ends like nothing else matters.

Really, truly, it's hard as hell to believe Brown wrote this all at such a relatively tender age, and yet, he did. Proves that he's truly a better human than the rest of us.

Oh, and Sevro. In this book, we are all Sevro. And Darrow too, but Sevro as well. No bloodydamn kidding.

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Review: The Demon Crown

The Demon Crown The Demon Crown by James Rollins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Scary coincidence that the day after an accidental Emergency Alert went out to the citizens of Hawaii that ballistic missiles were coming, I read this book, in which a major biological threat gets Sigma Force seriously contemplating nuking the same islands for quarantine purposes.

For the thirteenth Sigma Force novel, Rollins seriously pulls out all the stops, giving us monster-movie horror on the level of Jurassic Park (the original, or Jurassic World, that is), or Alien. It's even more terrifying for me because the main threat in this book, genetically engineered parasitic killer wasps, is one of my biggest fears. So even now, as I type this review, I'm itching like nobody's business. But for jacking up the monster-movie game to levels worthy of a Marvel movie budget, and giving Sigma super-personal stakes (especially for Gray and Seichan), and especially for those gnarly as hell wasp-POV chapters, Rollins here presents the best Sigma book in a while. Best since Eye of God, at least, if not The Doomsday Key or even Map of Bones, which is still my favorite. Scary this book may have been for too many reasons, but I managed to devour it all in one sitting. That's how good it is, my friends.

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: Whichwood

Whichwood Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first read Furthermore, I said that I was eagerly awaiting a potential sequel to that book, as well as the #ownvoices Persian fantasy Tahereh Mafi had also promised. Naturally, Mafi being Mafi, she couldn't help but get us a book that could be both - and Whichwood delivers very well as both. Slightly less surreal than its predecessor owing to its nature being less of an Alice in Wonderland retelling, this book is still no less richly detailed, and of course it's heavy on fourth-wall breakage just like Furthermore was.

I was a little confused about some aspects of the world-building - like, if Whichwood is a Persian-inspired fantasy realm somewhere close by Fernewood, why does Whichwood have an equally English-sounding name? (Unless Translation Convention is in effect? Or perhaps there's enough cultural cross-pollination between Fernewood and Whichwood to explain it, likely given their apparent proximity and the fact that Alice and Oliver can communicate with Laylee with next to no difficulty.)

That said, though, Whichwood, while pretty whimsical, is also a darker and more thought-provoking story than Furthermore. Of course, a lot of this owes to Laylee's job, washing the dead. And also to Alice and Oliver's initial considerable revulsion at the thought of lending her a hand in her duties as mordeshoor, for which the narrator takes a few opportunities to teach the reader that, maybe, helping others should be done out of the goodness of your own heart and not with the expectation of a reward. And Laylee needs to learn a good lesson too, that she shouldn't be so proud as to insist on working alone. After all, this job is literally killing her...but Mafi's not about to let Death take her without a fight, is she?

A special mention goes to Benyamin, largely because of his buggy little powers. I think that's a sign of Ransom Riggs' influence on Mafi - I mean, it can't be a coincidence she describes him as "peculiar," no?

Whichwood helps do for Persian views of mortality and the afterlife what The Book of Life and Coco do for Day of the Dead, and on that level, I highly recommend it. Though you could do with reading Furthermore first, this book's just standalone enough to jump into it headfirst instead (and don't worry, Mafi's got you covered with the occasional humorous footnote to recap the first book if you need it.)

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Review: The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So this one's a sequel to Old Man's War...but a very loose one, set in the same universe but exploring all-new characters with much of the same tech and of course a similar Scalzi sense of humor. It's just too bad that rather than keep on going with the story of the titular "Old Man" - though I understand he returns in the third book - Scalzi decided to take a detour, exploring a whole new set of characters who just plain lack John Perry's charisma. I mean, it makes sense in the end, when the storylines really start to come together and set up for a most interesting new spin on things in the third book. But overall, The Ghost Brigades, smart though it may be, feels like just so much Sophomore Slump from Scalzi, enough that I almost don't want to keep going on the rest of the series. But again, for Perry, I'm gonna order Book 3 at the library as soon as possible.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review: Unearthed

Unearthed Unearthed by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank God this is going to be the first in a series, because after that ending, if there wasn't to be a sequel, I'd be enraged as all get-out. Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner's latest collaboration, while set in the Starbound universe - as evidenced by a mention of Francois LaRoux - is a little closer to Kaufman's collaboration with Jay Kristoff, The Illuminae Files, in style. It's a ton more action-packed, though not sacrificing any of the romantic elements. Maybe a little too much on the insta-love end of the scale, but Jules and Mia at least admit it's more insta-lust than anything else. Especially Jules, making him oddly super-relatable to me. We also get a little more diverse here than in previous Kaufman and/or Spooner works, Jules being black - well, technically, he's described as having brown skin and curly hair, but I headcanon him as black unless told otherwise.

And best of all, the storyline - basically the love child of Indiana Jones and Prometheus. I'm not kidding, especially with that unholy cliffhanger of an ending - which, hopefully, won't lead to an Indiana Jones and Alien: Covenant hybrid! I bought this book practically sight unseen on Monday just to have it in time for getting it signed on Wednesday, and let me tell you, it's very much worth the purchase price. I'm putting this on my official Staff Pick tag at work the next time I come in: "BUY THE HELL NOW."

Onward, if you dare.

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Review: Red Rising

Red Rising Red Rising by Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nearly four years after first reading Red Rising, I've returned to this trilogy, this time with my own copy, which I'm hoping to get signed by Pierce Brown himself next week. Rereading this first book has allowed me to discover a ton of details and moments that I managed to either miss the first time around or forget all about, somehow. But thank God I've gone and re-read this book, because it's bloodydamn awesome and compulsively readable and endlessly thought-provoking. If you haven't read this story of Darrow and Eo and Sevro and Mustang and all the other awesome people Pierce Brown gifted us way back in 2014, then as I say on my official Staff Pick tag at work, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Review: War of the Cards

War of the Cards War of the Cards by Colleen Oakes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a strange case, this book. I really don't know why I gave the first Queen of Hearts book five stars anymore - I mean, I liked the book, I thought it was fun, but five stars' worth of fun? More like four, maybe. Certainly not as down in quality as the sophomore slump that was Blood of Wonderland. And now, here we get the trilogy's conclusion in War of the Cards, which, like its predecessor, actually lacks a little in what its title promises...but overall doesn't lose the fast-moving, addictive quality that made me really power through the first two books.

What's really odd about this book is how much I like it, since it really plays with expectations perhaps a little too much. The way it links back to the original Alice in Wonderland story is...rather unexpected, especially when we find out that Lewis Carroll's Alice is nothing like the one in this "real" Wonderland. To be fair, though, that makes sense given how different some other characters are from their Carroll counterparts - Cheshire, especially, comes to mind. Like Blood of Wonderland, the Native American-esque Yurkei feature very prominently, and their function in the story does, again, feel a little too Daenerys-ally-ish...but thankfully, Oakes makes it a point of avoiding writing them into seriously problematic plotlines, one of which would have been potentially caused by the book's real villain. There's also a very surprising scene in which Dinah catches Wardley in bed with a woman - thus subverting how Blood implied that he was gay, and while I did feel a little bit queerbaited at first, checking back against Blood, it's clear that Wardley never actually said he was gay, just...not in love with Dinah. Reading between the lines is all well and good, but refrain from assuming, y'know? (That said, though, even though Queen of Hearts was one of the next books in my system of hand-selling choices for this day, I decided to put off the promotion for a bit.)

Maybe the ultimate ending that Oakes gives us feels a little too much like the unholy love child of Mockingjay and Gone Girl, but I have to give her credit where credit is due, and she deserves credit for flipping my expectations - almost all of them, in fact - on their heads.

To the Queen of Hearts trilogy, I now say ave atque vale.

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