Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: The Ship Beyond Time

The Ship Beyond Time The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is this really the end of Heilig's debut series? I hope not. Not with that relatively open ending, which, I think, is probably the only reason why this book isn't quite as five-star-worthy as Book 1. Well, that and the fact that while we do get chapters in Kashmir's POV - sweet! - there simply aren't enough of them. But at least the book's shipping tides shift in a favorable direction, making Nix and Kash the official couple like they should have been from the get-go - and raising the stakes because thanks to a certain prophecy, Kash is so totally in danger for being Nix's love interest. And also I really liked the places Heilig took us this time around - especially Ker-Ys, which I almost thought was a real place. (Though given that it's pretty much Mont St. Michel according to Heilig, it sounds cool enough.)

I wish I didn't have to say ave atque vale to this series already, but I guess Heilig's going to be moving on to some different literary seas now...

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: Wintersong

Wintersong Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't quite say whether it's because I read this book on the heels of the (as expected) terrific The Hate U Give, or if it's because this book genuinely isn't as good as A.C. Thomas' debut (apples and oranges though the comparison may be), but S. Jae-Jones' debut wasn't as good as I was hoping for.

To be fair, it seems that everyone else went into this thinking it was a Labyrinth retelling, and having never seen that movie might not have helped me, like how not having read A Tale of Two Cities hindered my enjoyment of Sarah Rees Brennan's Tell the Wind and Fire. Well, to be fair, I've also never read too much of Christina Rossetti's poetry, outside of snippets in English textbooks and in Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon, and that doesn't help me going into this book either.

My overall impression of Wintersong is that it's a beautiful, haunting book, brought down by its slow pace, interminable length, a plot that has a way of meandering (or sometimes feeling completely lacking), and some pretty awkward romance - borderline new-adult romance, though the book is of course marketed as YA - between Liesl and the Goblin King. Honestly, the impression I got of the Goblin King was that he was another one of those Loki-clone love interests who's pretty, but creepy and hyped to death because of his fantasy bad-boy nature. The Warden and the Darkling come to mind, and Rhysand, and Legend, and especially Morpheus.

That said, though, I couldn't stop reading once I got started, and while I'm typically not too enamored with dreamy, surreal-type fantasies that sacrifice plot for atmosphere, JJ writes so well that I couldn't help myself.

For sure I'll be reading the sequel, Shadowsong, but I'll be going into that one with a bit of trepidation - and hope that JJ gets the story a little more off the ground, and a little less directionless.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Review: The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Funny that the song that played on my iPod as I finished reading this book was Alabama Shakes' "Don't Wanna Fight," because the ending of The Hate U Give makes it clear the fight isn't over no matter what.

I've seen #BlackLivesMatter storylines on recent episodes of such TV series as Chicago PD and Murder in the First. Hell, even Fear The Walking Dead had the police taking on the first infected getting mistaken for brutality, leading to in-universe protests as the world started to burn. Compared to what we saw in this first excerpt from Angie Thomas' debut, though, TV's playing it too safe. And that's just her first of many tastes of searing commentary on some of today's biggest, most pervasive social ills.

Subtlety may not be Thomas' strong suit, but neither is simplicity. She populates this 400-plus-page book with some of the most complex characters to grace the YA world. Starr and her family are such standouts, especially Starr herself, caught as she is between worlds. Her home, and her school, and in the latter place, she refuses to let herself look or sound "too black" lest she get pigeonholed by her mostly-white classmates. Race relations are such a sticky topic, especially given that some of Starr's classmates are unrepentant, unconscious racists who don't understand how hurtful their "jokes" or "activism" are. But there are those who empathize and want to learn how to help Starr cope with all the horror she faces in her world now. Truly, no group is a monolith, whether privileged or marginalized. Heck, even within Starr's family, there's a lot of debates and clashing opinions - such as Maverick's (rightful) mistrust of the police vs. Uncle Carlos trying to defend his career choice as a cop, and questioning why Maverick has to make everything a race issue.

But the heavy stuff isn't the entire book. There's plenty of the little things in life to read and enjoy around here too. Especially given that Starr, like so many of our generation (authors and characters alike), is quite a fangirl, especially of 90s R&B, Fresh Prince, and of course Harry Potter. Also, the many scenes of family and friends bonding even when everything's going to hell in a handbasket, between the police brutality, gang turf wars, and rampant protests.

Bottom line, believe the hype. Thomas is terrific and everyone needs to read this book yesterday. Not for nothing did it top the bestseller list for as long as it did!

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review: The Burial Hour

The Burial Hour The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Going into this book, I kinda expected it to be extra-sinister because it's the thirteenth in the Lincoln Rhyme series. Maybe not, but it's pretty special compared to its predecessors because while Rhyme very rarely leaves New York, due to his reclusive nature (as well as his disability), The Burial Hour takes Rhyme, Sachs, Thom, and the reader to Naples, Italy. As a result, this thirteenth Rhyme book feels a little like an extended episode of Beyond Borders, but far better researched, I think. (It's Deaver, after all.) While I'm not entirely sure Deaver was right to have the Neapolitan cast of characters speaking standard (Tuscan) Italian more often than their own regional dialect, it doesn't distract too much from a pretty compelling story about a musically-inclined serial killer, the ongoing Middle Eastern refugee crisis (emphasizing not so much Syrians as Libyans displaced by that country's own civil war, even if it was half a decade ago), and an American or two who may have been wrongly accused of a serious crime.

As usual, Deaver delivers.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: Goodbye Days

Goodbye Days Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I would be remiss in my duties as a reader, writer, and fanboy if I didn't warn you that if you go into this book while not in tip-top mental or emotional health, then reader discretion is advised.

I was a pretty big fan of Zentner's debut, The Serpent King, and so I was looking forward a lot to his follow-up, Goodbye Days. While this book is no less readable than Serpent, it's nowhere near as enjoyable, and that, for me, largely stems from the fact that it's not only got a protagonist who's less instantly relatable than Travis, Lydia, or Dill, but also because Zentner takes more than a few headlong dives into death, grief, and mental illness.

I admit, when I first heard of this book, I was a bit scared that Zentner was taking too many risks with the premise. But I also admit that I misinterpreted said premise, believing that Carver, our protagonist, directly caused the deaths of his friends by attempting to answer a text, crashing the car, and killing them all while he survived. The truth, however, is that he sent the text to his friends while they were on the road, and as a result, he's consumed by guilt, believing himself responsible for their deaths. So, in a sense, it's got a few shades of The Great American Whatever, only the protagonist is straight as opposed to gay. (One of his three dead friends is gay, though, and I'd like to mention that his full name, Blake Jackson Lloyd, reminds me of a fairly little-known Booktuber whose Red Rising review video is required viewing for all Pierce Brown fans...but that's not exactly germane to this discussion.)

If you read The Serpent King, you'll remember that that book was set in Tennessee, and is thus full of descriptions of hot, sticky, sweaty Southern summers. Goodbye Days continues that trend, allowing for a certain distinctive Zentner voice to show. But the thing is, it's now filtered through the perspective of a character who, again, reminds me a little too much of Tim Federle's Great American protagonist with his toolish ways of attempting to cope with his grief. Carver also has certain artistic leanings, being a writer, and I liked that Zentner made him somewhat of an unpopular guy at his arts-oriented high school, because the popular kids are dancers and stuff, and writers, well, sometimes aren't counted as artists. (A surefire way to offend me - tell me I'm no artist when my only art form in which I'm remotely proficient is creative writing.)

So Carver's not the nicest of guys. He gets casually racist and sexist at times, and while he's always quickly called out on it (usually by his love interest, Jesmyn, who used to date one of his dead buddies), and knows he's wrong, he doesn't seem to learn much from it. (I'm also more than a bit weirded out by the moment where, as part of the "goodbye day" where he relives his memories of Blake with Blake's grandmother, he basically outs the guy to her postmortem. Insert Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler going off on Carver with a "Really?!" segment on "Weekend Update.") Then again, though, his frequent panic attacks (described in some pretty nasty detail - this can be triggering, so beware!) make him a little more sympathetic, because as much as he can't have possibly known his friends were going to die after he sent them THAT TEXT, he's so guilt-ridden it hurts.

I'm not particularly prone to panic attacks myself, but I do have (undiagnosed) issues with anxiety and depression (and guilt, though that's mostly because I was raised Catholic), and I also have a certain fear that I'll eventually start experiencing panic attacks someday. With that in mind, I found Goodbye Days a bit of a tough read. It was fast, at the very least, but that was probably because I just wanted to end it because I've been in a bad place lately. Books don't normally trigger me much, if at all, but feeling as mentally fraught as I do right now, I think maybe I should have waited a little longer to read this book. And if you have any emotional health issues yourself, I'd honestly advise you to wait too, or even not read the book at all.

But that's just my opinion. I obviously don't speak for all people with mental and/or emotional illness, diagnosed or not.

If nothing else, though, there is one person that makes this book absolutely worth a try someday, and that's Georgia. If you don't love her from the get-go, shame on you.

I'll still look forward to all future Jeff Zentner books, but based on this one, I'm going to have to lower the bar and not expect too much based on The Serpent King alone.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: The End of Oz

The End of Oz The End of Oz by Danielle Paige
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't believe this is it...the final book in Danielle Paige's dark, deadly, delectable, and diabolically amazing Dorothy Must Die series!

Now that we know who the real Big Bad is, the Nome King, it's up to Amy, Nox, and Madison to travel to the land of Ev and figure out a way to defeat him before he manages to subjugate the land of Oz as well. Of course, he's got a secret ally on his side, one who may not be such a good ally after all...but to reveal who that ally is would be a spoiler. (Let's just say, though, that if Emma Roberts were to play this character in the eventual movie or TV adaptation - preferably not on Netflix too! - I wouldn't be surprised one bit.) And you know what? Amy and friends have a pretty good, if not perfect, ally in Ev themselves. You'll know who they are if you read the third volume of the Stories first, so if you haven't yet, go ahead and get that taken care of.

It's not a particularly big book, but Paige jam-packs it with tons of twists and feels to make it a more than suitable finale, even if she does kinda leave us hanging just a bit right at the end. Oh, how I wish this wasn't the end...I don't wanna say goodbye to my faves from this series now!

But I must.

To the Dorothy Must Die series, ave atque vale, and of course, vas ir...anoshe.

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Review: Dorothy Must Die: Stories Vol. 3

Dorothy Must Die: Stories Vol. 3 Dorothy Must Die: Stories Vol. 3 by Danielle Paige
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Three more bite-sized but oh-so-very-important stories that further flesh out the Dorothy Must Die 'verse - one centering on a young witch named Lanadel, another centering on Polychrome, and another on Pete. The last, I thought was especially cool, because I kinda missed Pete, especially since he was pretty much nowhere to be seen after The Wicked Will Rise. But Lanadel was also a very great protagonist, even for less than 100 pages, and Polychrome's story was pretty wild too if only for its general psychedelia. (Helps that it's named for the famous "Dark Side of the Rainbow" phenomenon - does Danielle Paige listen to Pink Floyd too?)

Oh, and yes, this is required reading before The End of Oz. Just FYI.

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