Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you know anything about N.K. Jemisin from following her on Twitter or anywhere else, you know she's a whip-smart lady, and that she's got quite a few award-winning books out there. So for my first Jemisin book, I figured I'd try the beginning of her Broken Earth Trilogy and see how it played out. Well, I can see for sure why she's an award winner, even though the book wasn't quite 100% to my taste. The book's narrative styles, while each were delightfully snarky in a genre that so often takes itself way too seriously, were so unconventional (particularly the use of second-person POV for about half the book in total, usually a major turn off for me) that reading the book proved to be almost more of a struggle than it was worth.

That said, though, as difficult as the story was to follow at times, I still very much appreciate what Jemisin's giving us in the subtext here. Not only does she beautifully blend sci-fi and fantasy, but she also blends these genres with blistering social commentary, criticizing humanity not only for bigotry - rather X-Men-like, if one parallels the orogenes with the mutants, and Jemisin also includes story threads about in-universe slurs and reclamations thereof - but also for our damage to the environment. Not unlike the Once Upon a Time Arc Words "All magic comes with a price," orogenes' power, because it draws from the earth itself, tends to cause some serious damage when used, and it's no wonder the earth fights back with such constant and deadly seismic activity. Considering the recent rise in devastating earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes the world over, it's a theme that's all too timely right now.

(On a lighter note, though, the earth's seismic self-destructive nature lends itself, in-universe, to some surprisingly amusing volcanic-themed swears in the ironically-named Stillness.)

I'm happy to report that I've already got the remaining books in the trilogy on order at the library, and that yesterday I managed to sell the only available copy of The Fifth Season to a bookstore customer. Given how thought-provoking and yet darkly funny this book is (its opening lines are some that I'll surely be quoting to other customers as soon as we restock on this book), I expect nothing less than more greatness from not only the sequels, but all the rest of Jemisin's acclaimed bibliography, which I'll surely read in due time.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall 2017 TBR

Having seen Joey @ thoughtsandafterthoughts tweet this latest installment of Top Ten Tuesday, I couldn't resist taking part again, especially since it's the Fall 2017 TBR edition and I did the Fall TBR last year as well. Now it's my turn, and you'll find that I've got a few titles in common with Joey, starting with the one on the very top of the list.

10. Patrick Ness, Release

I've heard some good things about this book. I've also heard that, tonally, it's perhaps closest to The Rest of Us Just Live Here, my least favorite Ness book of all. But maybe I'll like this one more because it feels less likely to be a satire that, for me, would fall flat on its face. And also, Ness needs all the love he can get given that his BBC baby Class went and got unceremoniously cancelled.

Sharing the UK cover 'cause I like that one a lot more than the US cover.

9. Sarah J. Maas, Tower of Dawn

Yeah, yeah, I know, SJM's problematic in all the ways and should be avoided like the plague, but I'm still a fan of hers and I'll read her books - I especially can't ignore this one about Chaol, because thanks to Aimal, he's become my favorite character again after I briefly fell for the Rowan spell. If nothing else, read this review of ToD from my friend. Spoilery, but if you're like me, you've got plenty of mutuals who've spread most of the same spoilers online anyway.

We still got robbed not having Chaol on this cover, though.

8. Jay Kristoff, Godsgrave

Also an author (and series) many of my Twitter mutuals recommend everyone avoids because he's got a history of being problematic as hell, but me, I'm too loyal a Hufflepuff droog. I named one of my own villains after Mister Kristoff for a reason! And while I'm far more psyched for Obsidio, this middle entry of the Nevernight Chronicle promises a pretty kickass magical Olympics in the vein of The Mime Order or A Gathering of Shadows. Also, this bi boy is happy to hear that the whisperings of a bi Mia Corvere I was hearing from Mister Kristoff for a while appear to have become canon.

The bookstore has no less than two signed copies of this one!

7. James Rollins, The Demon Crown

Technically not coming out till the tail end of the fall season - early December, to be precise - so I probably won't get to read this one until sometime in 2018. But James Rollins never fails with his Sigma Force series, and for this we're looking at yet another high-stakes, high-intensity dose of apocalyptic action. So apocalyptic, in fact, Sigma's gonna have to temporarily align with the Guild to stop it, five books after we thought the Guild was defeated.

Why does this cover remind me so much of Fireblood, though? Or, even better, Talon.

6. Tahereh Mafi, Whichwood

I've been waiting for this one way too long. And it's a companion to Furthermore? Like, set in the same universe? I'm so down!

#OwnVoices MG fantasy FTW!

5. Rick Riordan, The Ship of the Dead

Magnus Chase, meet Percy Jackson. You're welcome. Obviously.

This'll pair perfectly with Thor: Ragnarok, am I right?

4. Barry Lyga, The Flash: Hocus Pocus

An official kidlit Flash novel? Sounds a lot less dark than we Lyga fans can expect, but I'll be damned if he doesn't do my favorite guardian angel Scarlet Speedster justice. (I mean, he's a Barry writing about another Barry, setting up for some Barry-ception at some point, am I right?) And, being middle-grade, I'm hoping that this book shies away from some shipping routes I'd rather avoid, the main reason why I've got such a love-hate relationship with what used to be my favorite show.


3. Jo Whittemore, Supergirl: Age of Atlantis

A month after Lyga's Flash novel will come this official kidlit Supergirl novel, for which I can wait even less because Supergirl, the Angel from Krypton, has become my favorite Arrowverse character of them all. This book, I have all the faith it'll be perfectly awe...and some.

Again: winn-schott-i-love-you.gif

2. Zac Brewer, Madness

If there's one thing you need to know about me, it's that Z is one of the best in the biz and you're all sleeping on him. Remedy that immediately with all his books in order, building up to this one, which I'm thinking will be his most Silvera-esque yet. Dark, but with just enough of a nugget of hope at the end.

Make this one his next big bestseller, I beg you.

1. Adam Silvera, They Both Die At The End

*cries in bisexual because the bookstore STILL doesn't carry this one despite it being officially an NYT bestseller*

crying-garfield-spidey.gif - that one's getting attached to EVERY Silvera review I write, you know.

There you have it, my loyal Pinecones. The fall 2017 books I wanna read the most. Believe it or not, Tower of Dawn will be the first one I read, I'm thinking. Unless extra copies of TBDATE pop up at the library the way they did for ToD...hmm.

Till next time...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Ruin and Rising

Ruin and Rising Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third and final entry of the Grisha Trilogy - though not the entire Grishaverse - is dark and full of terrors, and also full of tons of twists building up to an ending you'll probably see coming, but that won't make it hurt any less, I don't think. Those tons of twists, they pile up like mad as the story goes on, and you'll have wondered why you won't have predicted a few of them earlier - and then you'll also hope to the Saints that Alina and company find some way to subvert them, for everyone's sake. (Except that of the Darkling, of course.)

On the other hand, at least my ship sails, though not without some seriously rough seas.

To the Grisha Trilogy, I now get to say, once again after three years, ave atque vale.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: Twelfth Grade Kills

Twelfth Grade Kills Twelfth Grade Kills by Heather Brewer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod conclude (for now, though I hope Uncle Z returns to this world someday, whether it be a prequel centered on Otis or a sequel about Vlad's college years and beyond) with blood, gore, guts, and delights everywhere. Not to mention what is, by far, the twistiest plot this author has ever come up with - even from the very beginning, when a major villain is unceremoniously killed off in the prologue, followed by the first steps towards the resolution of the many cliffhangers of Eleventh Grade Burns. Resolution which you think you'll be able to see coming, but then holy God, the ways Brewer subverts all the expectations...I am cry, still, just a little from thinking about it.

I seriously wish Vlad Tod and Z Brewer got more love from the YA world at large. These books and their author are shining stars that not nearly enough people know about and appreciate.

But for now, Vlad Tod, I hereby wish you ave atque vale.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: Siege and Storm

Siege and Storm Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second book of the Grishaverse takes us really up and down the world that Bardugo wrought, giving us a good expansion beyond the continent shown on the map in the first book and taking us far and wide, especially to Novyi Zem, where the book begins. It's a strange contrast, Novyi Zem being basically the Wild West against the Eurasian influences of the rest of the world, and the presence of the jurda crops makes good foreshadowing for the pernicious influence of jurda parem in Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.

In terms of story, this middle book is a bit of a sophomore slump, being longer and slower than its predecessor, and feeling a hell of a lot more padded. There's a lot less Darkling, but that amount of him we get, it reminds me of why I've despised him so much for years. As much as I used to ship Mal and Alina, I see in this book just how suitable for her Nikolai truly is, despite my long-standing support for childhood best friend shipping, Climon-style. And now I can see the presence of some important and subtle creatures featured on the original covers - though the new style, more in line with the sequel series and The Language of Thorns, makes the creatures more obvious, I think the original covers are better not only for subtle creatures, but also for showcasing more of the faux-Russian aesthetic of Ravka.

Soon, I'll be re-reading the third book as well. Can't wait to finish this trilogy off once again!

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Review: Black Moon

Black Moon Black Moon by Romina Russell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a little bummed that this third book of the Zodiac series takes another slight dip in quality - four stars for the first book, three and a half (rounded up to four) for the second, and now a straight up three stars here. It's nothing to do with the characters, really - Rho and Hysan, in particular, are some of the most shippable leads I've seen in YA, easily. But the storyline feels a little repetitive at this point, with Ochus being always in the shadows with inscrutable motives even after three books, and with each book being only 300 pages, they don't contain nearly as much as I hope they would. But at least there's a different threat each time, though - just Ochus in Book 1, the Marad in Book 2, and now a sinister group that makes a little more sense now that I've recently re-read Shadow and Bone, and also feels oddly prescient considering the book came out in 2016 but was no doubt written long before the rise of a certain leftist political subset in this country that makes idealistic promises to hide its intentions of breaking the wheel at the cost of progress.

But I digress.

I certainly can't give up now, though, not with that cliffhanger, Russell's most diabolical yet...and now I need to either order Thirteen Rising at the library or sneakily read it while hand-selling it at the bookstore. (Except how silly would that be, me hand-selling the fourth book only?)

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review: Warcross

Warcross Warcross by Marie Lu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

PINECONE GENERAL'S WARNING: This book is not to be read, listened to, or otherwise consumed if you have a heart condition, are pregnant, or have recently downed a cup of espresso con panna with two sugars. Literary cardiac arrest may ensue.

No, seriously, this book is just that Agents of SHIELD-grade intense. Especially given its author, Marie Lu, is one of the few whom I've consistently given five stars for each and every single book I've ever read of hers. Even the much-vaunted J.K. Rowling and Veronica Roth, my two biggest idols, don't share that honor with her. And on this, Lu's seventh novel overall, she outdoes herself magnificently. Here, we get her strongest heroine in the tatted, rainbow-haired Emika Chen - and more than ever, I'm fancasting Chloe Bennet for a Lu lead. And thank God Emika gets to narrate the entire book, unlike, say, June (necessary though the dual POVs were for Legend) or Adelina. The entire story hinges on us being in Emika's head all the time, because it builds up to an ending that completely turns the whole damn thing upside down and needs to be seen coming as little as possible, without any hint of an outside POV, for maximum effect.

World-building has always been one of Lu's best strengths, and this is no exception, particularly now that she's gone back to her video-game-industry roots to create a world that remains colorful and immersive even on black and white paper and text. Think Ready Player One, but a little further into the future and reliant on pop culture references beyond the 80s (Harry Potter is mentioned very frequently, to my delight, of course.) The colorful-ness even extends to the cover, controversial though it's been - I still love it because of the rainbow colors everywhere shining against a white background, but the title is laid out in such a way that it's very difficult to read. Something I really couldn't help but notice in practice today as I hand-sold this book all day long at the Stanford bookstore - many, many, many customers legit thought "Player, Hunter, Hacker, Pawn" was the real title because they couldn't read Warcross - but hey, again, I love the colors, and the sorta Rubik's Cube-like design that just begs to be animated into an official logo for an official film trailer.

But putting the cover jumble aside, hand-selling this book (after I spent my first couple of hours on shift sneakily reading the book while carrying it around on the floor, espresso-powered as I was in violation of my own Pinecone General's Warning!) proved shockingly easy. Hand-selling YA is a big challenge for me because even though it's my area of expertise, there aren't nearly as many customers in the Stanford bookstore who are into it. But this book, with its combination of virtual reality, a hyper-diverse cast, blazing fast action, bounty hunting, Dark Web deadliness, and hints to the dangers of an AI Singularity not unlike Person of Interest, has appealed to a great many customers, even those who aren't normally into YA or sci-fi books. Today alone, I sold two copies of this book and enticed several more customers to consider it. I literally even pitched it to one guy in the elevator, if you can believe that. And having freshly read and absorbed the whole damn thing in two hours, I could certify just how good Warcross truly was.

With apologies to Jason Reynolds and Miles Morales, the top slot in the potential rankings for this year's Pinecone Awards has, once again, gone to a Marie Lu book, the start of what promises to be her most incredible series yet.

Oh, and one more thing: yes, this book is part of the Legend 'verse, as proven with the VR tech behind the titular game (a later version of which appears in the Antarctica scenes in Champion if I remember correctly), and also with the character of Asher "Ash" Wing, an ancestor of Day's, right down to a strong family resemblance. In which case, I have a few ideas where this series could go next in Darkcross (that's my guess for the title for Book 2, anyway), but given how much the ending of this book alone subverted and double-subverted my expectations (and gut-punched my poor feels besides), I'm probably very, completely, terribly wrong.

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