Saturday, March 17, 2018

Review: The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"We're bobbin' along in our barrel
Some of us tip right over the edge
But there's one thing really mystifyin'
Got me laughin', now it's got me cryin'
All my life I will be testifyin'
Till I know...
-Andy Partridge, "I Wonder Why The Wonderfalls"

Seriously, I still find it very hard to believe Shaun David Hutchinson never saw Wonderfalls, not after he wrote this book that feels like the closest thing to a YA equivalent there will ever be. A little bit of Joan of Arc (with sarcastically mouthy inanimate objects), a little bit of Jesus and the Virgin Mary (but don't ever call Elena "Mary," she hates that), and a little bit of current-America political critique (the ways Hutchinson, through his characters, makes a mockery of Der Fuehrer Drumpf must be seen to be believed.)

As is usual for Hutchinson's books (I'm particularly looking at We Are the Ants and At the Edge of the Universe here), it's a Florida-set story, largely contemporary but with genre trappings that grow ever more prominent over the course of the book. Elena may not be a gay teen boy, but she's still certifiably queer (bi, to be precise) and, like Hutchinson's last two boy MC's, has a certain amount of family trouble to be going on with. The cast in general is wonderfully diverse, with numerous races and sexualities represented and included. Bear in mind that yes, there is an instance of a trans girl being deadnamed - and since she never even shows up anywhere else other than this one mention, it's as problematic as you would think.

Then again, though, I also see it as just another sign of Hutchinson recognizing that everyone's problematic in some way or another, and it's not the only thing worth calling out among the cast in this book. Eschatology may be a major theme in this book, but it's not alone, not when it's in company with dissections of toxic masculinity - such as Javi's story arc, in which he falls back on a lot of his immature and entitled ways at first, but eventually does accept that he and Elena will never be a couple again. Also, the backstory of David Combs, the boy whose attempt to kill Elena's love interest Freddie sparks the whole plot. It reminds me a lot of discussions I've seen lately re: school shooters (such as Nicholas Cruz and the Columbine killers), challenging the suggestion that bullying them turned them rotten because too many have leaped from that suggestion to more toxic ones like, say, women having to give (fragile, white) men love just to prevent them going off the deep end.

As with Hutchinson's previous entries, it's pretty morally grey and leaves no easy answers.

I can tell you, though, it's for sure a far more satisfying ending than Ants or Universe, especially because, again, of that cheeky and on-point little allusion to Trump. It got a real laugh out of my friend at work this morning when I mentioned it to her.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review: The Final Six

The Final Six The Final Six by Alexandra Monir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's only been a few weeks since I heard about this book, and the hype built up for it pretty quickly, especially given that it's #ownvoices for having an Iranian-American main character. Well, one main character is Iranian-American. The other is Italian. Both Leo and Naomi, however, are uniquely awesome and awesomely unique. As for the storyline, it reminded me a hell of a lot of Nyxia - a sort of Hunger Games and Divergent meets Illuminae, following a group of teenagers competing for primo spots in an interstellar colonization mission. The stakes here, however, are far, far higher than in Nyxia. For one thing, we're on Earth throughout most of this book, seeing exactly how poor shape the planet is in after numerous floods and tidal waves and earthquakes. For another, the trip off-planet doesn't begin till the end of this book - and by that time, that's when Monir starts deploying cliffhangers aplenty. Not unlike Nyxia, or especially Truly Devious, there's so much cliffhangage that a veritable ton of plot threads don't get resolved here and are clearly being saved for Book 2. But you know what? Despite that bit of a flaw, I still give The Final Six a five-star rating, rounded up from a 4.5, because of its blazing fast prose and absolutely lovable lead characters, as well as the great diversity of cast in general. Trust me on this, you're going to need this book immediately if you haven't picked it up yet.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Restore Me

Restore Me Restore Me by Tahereh Mafi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's a new Shatter Me novel, starting a new trilogy, no less.

Like Iron Gold, Restore Me - the latest in one of my favorite trends in YA and SFF and combinations thereof, the continuation of a series that reached its logical conclusion some years back - is more of a 4.5, but I'll round it up to a 5. Like with Iron Gold, Restore Me experiments with more POVs than any of the main novels of the original series - though Mafi only gives us two POVs as opposed to Brown's four. Those two POVs, Juliette and Warner, alternate long chapters throughout this book. Long, mostly. Not always. But often. And many times, when the chapters are shorter, it's because Mafi's employing some kind of weapons-grade cliffhanger, a very tantalizing hint about some dirty secret underlying Juliette's and Warner's post-apocalyptic life. These cliffhangers often take long enough to resolve that the novel tends to have a disjointed feel - quite appropriate given that the whole point of Restore Me is upending the balance left at the end of Ignite Me, the one book where Mafi didn't have Juliette's narration filled with numerous strikeouts. The strikeouts return here, in old diary entries, but they still make sense for making us return to Juliette's distressed POV.

I've seen a few readers complain that Juliette's and Warner's character arcs regress too much in this book - and since there's a fair few parallels between them and Mara and Noah in The Becoming of Noah Shaw, I don't blame people for making these comments. I also don't blame people for objecting to a certain blatant display of transphobia, in which an already-villainous character cements that status by doing just about everything transphobic you can think of - misgendering, deadnaming, the works. To Mafi's credit, though, said transphobic villain is called out immediately by just about every other character in the scene - including the trans woman she mocks, who tells her in Spanish, unless I miss my guess, something along the lines of threatening to take her body to her room and dismember it.

There are numerous pluses to Restore Me, though. Among them, the usual fast-flying prose, not unlike any of Mafi's previous novels. The aforementioned balance-upending for Juliette and Warner, proving that there's still so much more that they don't know about each other - and alongside that, some blowing-open of Mafi's world-building skills to King's Cage levels. Seeing more people coming in from around the world, we get racial representation all over the place - and many new characters make heavy use of their native languages, leading to a number of multilingual conversations using English, Spanish, Arabic, and more all at once. Mafi even throws in a few nods to present-day racial issues, to illustrate how the apocalypse essentially forced all those issues aside and led to a less bigoted world - though, unfortunately, not un-bigoted, as attested by the scene of transphobia. And going back to the balance-upending and character development, Adam makes it clear that he's recognizing the error of his ways and wants to redeem himself. He doesn't get to do much in this book, but there'll be two more, so I'm counting on Mafi to give him a little more attention further down the line.

My favorite parts of the book, of course, are the scenes between Juliette and Warner - maybe not quite as iconic as their love scenes in Books 2 and 3, but still pretty powerful stuff, especially given that it's erotic but not explicit. (Certainly not to circa-2016 SJM levels, lol.) Kenji, of course, is my absolute favorite character, and since I'm hearing rumors that he might be bi, this reader also hopes Mafi will give me a little on-page-confirmed rep to make this book officially #ownvoices reading for me.

And then there's that cliffhanger. Quite an Aveyardian one that still, nearly twelve hours after I finished the book, has me totally scratching my head.

Two more Shatter Me books? You know I'm ready to snap them up. I'll be buying them the second each one hits shelves!

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Review: Nexus

Nexus Nexus by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Westerfeld, Lanagan, and Biancotti bring the Zeroes trilogy to a pretty action-packed conclusion in Nexus - not quite on the same one-year cycle as the first two books, more like almost a year and a half after Swarm. Which, given the second book's massive cliffhanger, was a pretty aggravatingly long wait.

Sure, at times, Nexus moves a little too fast for its own good, and adds a few too many characters for its own good - some of whom are, deliberately, repeats of some of the first book's original Zeroes. Multiple Bellwethers, multiple Crashes, etc. At least we don't get multiple Scams, that would've annoyed me to no end. But I'm actually glad we get a lot of Bellwether's side of things in this book, because while he was always flat and underwritten to me before, here he hits rock bottom and has to claw his way back up. Finally, he validates his presence for me.

Perhaps the best part of the book is that it ends with a surprisingly happy ending. Sure, it's a bit bittersweet, but not as lethal as I expected. A breath of fresh air and hope going forward, even though we won't be seeing any more from the Zeroes. Unless Westerfeld et al. decide to reboot the series in the future the way Westerfeld's doing with Uglies now? Je ne sais pas.

But for now, I hereby bid the Zeroes trilogy vas ir...anoshe.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Review: Sandman Slim

Sandman Slim Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first tried reading this book a few years ago, and for whatever reason, I couldn't get into it at all at the time. Looking at the dates, I think it might've been some kind of lingering reading slump after reading Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey, for which I'm still dying for the sequel...but I digress.

More recently, my friend Harry at work put an official Staff Pick tag on Sandman Slim and he convinced me I should give this one another try.

So I did.

And I found I loved it a hell of a lot more the second time around! I flew through it now, enjoying so much how irreverent and darkly whimsical it was - and of course, now being a fan of Fox's Lucifer really helped me get a better feel for this book's black-comedy horror-show urban-fantasy tone.

Now I know I've got a long way ahead of me to catch up on this series, and it's gonna be a hell of a lot of fun too! :D

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Review: City of Endless Night

City of Endless Night City of Endless Night by Douglas Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, so perhaps this book doesn't quite reach the heights of a few of the more recent Pendergast thrillers, but it's more on a level with The Obsidian Chamber - not exactly perfect, and a little slow at times. But at least it dispenses with some of Obsidian's more outlandish and silly plot elements in favor of a more straightforward mystery closer to the vein of White Fire. Not really as world-class as that book was, but it's a good exercise in keeping the reader on their toes the whole time. Maybe we could've done without the whole subplot involving the priest trying to fancy himself the second coming of Savonarola with his burning, because it was more of an unnecessary distraction than anything else. But the main mystery subplot is unpredictable and wild and nothing short of Preston and Child at their best, even if only for two thirds of the book instead of the whole thing. Here's hoping that the next Pendergast novel gets back up to White Fire or Crimson Shore levels of awesome, but for now, City of Endless Night is a more than serviceable return to the world of our favorite alien-looking hypocrite lecteur.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Review: Reign of the Fallen

Reign of the Fallen Reign of the Fallen by Sarah Glenn Marsh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fact that a book like this exists - a YA fantasy with not only bloody disgusting, bloody awesome necromancy driving its core story, but also a bisexual lead and several other queer characters besides - is great enough.

The fact that I kept on reading even when one of my near-instant faves bought the dust and my ship wound up torpedoed just as I was afraid it would be? (Because my ships so rarely sail, and this is no exception.)

Sarah Glenn Marsh, you are a bloody genius.

Sure, the story gets a little slow in the middle third, after the big death and before the big climax and setup for the inevitable sequel. But that's not too much of a hassle. Not when Marsh gives us so many lovable and relatable characters to go around. Especially Odessa, who, while she develops a bit of a potion addiction, never loses more than, oh, maybe twenty percent of her "muchness," as the Mad Hatter would say. She's simply too unique and memorable a lead to miss.

Hopefully the sequel will be along soon, whatever it may be called. And I'm also hoping this series won't wind up being yet another addition to YA's weird duology trend.

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