Sunday, July 22, 2018

Review: Fugitive Six

Fugitive Six Fugitive Six by Pittacus Lore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this might be the first time I've read a Pittacus Lore book and not been super-duper invested in it. Don't get me wrong, I still really enjoyed Fugitive Six for what it was worth, but it was considerably harder to enjoy at times than previous books in this 'verse. Even more third-person POVs clamor for dominance here, and just like Generation One, it leaves me feeling more than a bit disconnected from the characters compared to the original Lorien Legacies.

But there's one thing for sure about Fugitive Six - we're venturing into some seriously choppy, muddy waters here. The narrative gets super political at times, with jibes at in-universe "Wolf News" and "Jon Leary" as stand-ins for Fox News and Sean Hannity and, building on the previous book especially, a most welcome disdain for conservatives - look no further than Caleb's asshole brothers, who hit him with the homophobic insults and mock the concept of trigger warnings for good measure. They're bloody cartoons, but then again, one thing I've learned from writer Twitter is that the current crop of right-wingers is too one-dimensional and transparent for self-respecting writers to write. (Incidentally, I totally headcanon Caleb as bi. Just sayin'.)

What's really the selling point of this book is how much it turns things very morally grey compared to previous novels. Everyone's going behind everyone's backs, and there's not a lot of distinction between the good and bad guys sometimes. (Though there's one returning unfavorite who's pretty much the absolute worst, even more so than ever.) And by the end of this one...well, I won't spoil it, but it gets pretty Aveyardian, that cliffhanger. Not like the original Aveyardian cliffhanger of Glass Sword, but more like King's Cage in that you'll be begging the book, "Nooooooooooooooo..."

All I will say is this: I hope that Book 3 comes out by this time next year like scheduled.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Review: We Sold Our Souls

We Sold Our Souls We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My people at the Stanford Bookstore, when we got our latest shipment of ARCs, thought this one would be tailor-made for me. After all, I liked My Best Friend's Exorcism, certainly well enough to try and hand-sell it a lot of the time, right? Well, this latest from Mr. Hendrix deviates a bit from the culture of the 80s and moves into a culture I'm far less well-versed in: metal. Perhaps not being the metalhead I know a lot of my friends to often be - cough KODA cough - I was often struggling to really grok the significance of a lot of the references herein, and just in general having trouble connecting to the characters for the most part. And for being all about the selling of souls and demonic shit, none of that really popped for me - I just felt that it was a little too much about the demon in us all, that it felt a little too metaphorical. Not like MBFE where it was pretty unambigously not a metaphor. Then again, after a while, I did kinda zone out on this one. But that said, though, it delivered pretty well on absolute grodiness - often to a degree more appropriate for punk than metal, methinks, with our protagonist Kris having to watch a hotel guest wander into her lobby naked and piss all over the floor just 'cause. So I'm not going to write this book off, but I'm certainly going to hope that it's the worst Hendrix book I read. (Bear in mind this is only the second one I have.)

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Review: Legendary

Legendary Legendary by Stephanie Garber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first book in this series was a little hype-damaged for me, and I'm sorry to say that the hype damage continues in the second part - not the final part, though, not when both books have been as wildly successful as they have. No way is Garber gonna end it here, and she's already promised us one more book, aptly called Finale. This middle entry, though, is on the level of Michael Grant's Hunger or Susan Dennard's Windwitch in terms of noticeable Sophomore Slump.

Garber gives us a book that's about a hundred pages too long - after a while it really wears thin, the whole "Who is Legend?" and "What's his deal with the Fates?" mystique. It would help if the book was a little better developed in terms of world-building - there's a lot that goes too unexplained, especially for the second book of the series. Legend himself gets on my nerves a lot too after a while, because he's just so ridiculously overpowered that it's hard to take him seriously. I'm reminded of Pierce Brown's critique of The Wheel of Time - when you overpower a character so soon, the story gets really boring after a while. (Okay, so Brown was critiquing Robert Jordan's hero, and a giant series that goes on far longer than the Caraval trilogy will, but still.) But there's enough of a human side to Legend after all that there's one action he takes near the end that actually, finally, endears him to me.

And then Garber goes and imitates The Cruel Prince at the end, and not for the first time either. I don't know why, but I just feel like too many people are trying to do the Holly Black style these days, and more often than not it just doesn't work. (Like how, for me, it usually doesn't work with Black's own books.)

I'm still giving this book three stars because I enjoyed Tella's POV and her continued super-loving sister dynamic with Scarlett. Those two were this book's real saving graces, just like they were in Caraval. But I seriously hope Garber's building up to a much more impressive book in Finale, otherwise that's the end of me hand-selling Caraval at work.

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Review: The Pharaoh Key

The Pharaoh Key The Pharaoh Key by Douglas Preston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two years after Beyond the Ice Limit, here we are again with Gideon Crew, except he's no longer got the backing of Eli Glinn. That ol' Musk knockoff (dating back to before Elon Musk was even a thing) has decided to screw over all his people, Gideon included, by shutting down his company. Luckily, though, Gideon and his old friend Manuel Garza get to go off on one last mission together, based on the findings of one of Glinn's side projects - a possible decryption of the mysterious Phaistos disk.

Because Glinn is no longer bankrolling the adventure, it's decidedly a more minimalist one than previous Gideon Crew stories. Just Gideon and Garza, mostly, as they travel to Egypt and deal with a sinking ferry, corrupt cops, haboobs, thieving expedition guides, the mysterious Imogen, and of course a small Coptic village, isolated from the outside world for so long that they continue to keep to pre-Islamic customs.

It's not the best Preston and Child book of all, but for what it's worth, it's a fairly nice 300-page time sink. Even if it relies a little too much on fakeout "deaths," and ultimately leads up to a string of partial reveals but never reveals all the answers to all the mysteries, because the Crew books are so infamous for lead-on kind of endings that really sting given the longer gap between them than for novels with Agent Pendergast. But at least this one had a more linear, easy to follow plot than Beyond the Ice Limit, and felt like a smaller-scale James Rollins story with the historical background behind the treasure that Gideon, Garza, and Imogen do eventually find.

I just hope P&C intend to follow up on this book sooner rather than later.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Review: The Legacy Chronicles: Trial by Fire

The Legacy Chronicles: Trial by Fire The Legacy Chronicles: Trial by Fire by Pittacus Lore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just like with the Lorien Legacies parent series, so Lorien Legacies Reborn gets itself a series of ebook novella spinoffs, and just in time for the latest entry in the series, Fugitive Six, we finally get the first three novellas in this series bound up in print together for those of us, like me, who don't do ebooks. Man, I'm always super happy that Pittacus Lore can print-publish these stories in such a timely manner. *side eyes Cassie Clare for often taking a year or two to finally put out the Bane Chronicles or Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy compilations* And this little three-story collection does the job pretty well, focusing back on old faves Six and Sam (and a little bit of newcomer Nemo as well) while starting to bridge the gap between Generation One and Fugitive Six. I guess the Legacies Reborn and Legacy Chronicles series are going to be more or less strictly chronological, unlike how the original series' supplementary ebooks went all over the place in the timeline. It's a change I can appreciate from the Pittacus Lore team, though, taking on a bit of different style. Though I'm not happy that Six and Sam are relegated to third-person POV like everyone else in this second phase of the Lorienverse, again, their presence in these stories is a most welcome breath of fresh air. And it helps me get sufficiently super-pumped for Fugitive Six, which I finally picked up from the library today. I'll be sure to read it sometime in the next 2-3 weeks or so!

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Review: Only Human

Only Human Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At last, I reach the end of Sylvain Neuvel's kick-ass, increasingly apocalyptic trilogy, and as expected, Neuvel goes more all out for the finale than ever before. And I didn't think he could possibly top the War of the Worlds-level alien nightmarishness of Waking Gods...oh, but you kid. Well, ten years have passed in-universe since that game-breaking cliffhanger, and now we get to see where Rose and team went. And what happened on Earth in the meantime, where the apocalypse may not be aliens attacking us, but us attacking us.

Cold War II is upon the world as both the US and Russia resurge, colonizing their neighbors, and putting anyone with alien DNA in concentration camps - which also happens to include a lot of people of color, and especially a lot of Muslims, because almost by coincidence the Middle East was where the aliens mostly interbred with humans a long time ago. Like racists need more excuses to be the assholes they really are, but they're just a sign that the human race in general is a bunch of bastards and needs more than just a good kick in the pants to course-correct. Not that the aliens are much better, though. They're often very hard to read from a moral standpoint, but they display so much of a head-in-the-sand attitude towards the ramifications of their centuries of interstellar colonization that it mostly makes them hard to like.

Overall, this book reminds me a bit of N.K. Jemisin's The Stone Sky in its depiction of a world where everything's gone to shit and even the good guys aren't convinced it's worth it to save said world.

But don't worry, it's Neuvel. He won't give us a complete downer ending. Just like he won't go a whole book without loads of Star Wars references.

To the Themis Files, I now say ave atque vale, and of course au revoir.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Review: Love Scene, Take Two

Love Scene, Take Two Love Scene, Take Two by Alex Evansley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars





I was lucky enough to read this book in its original form, Between Takes, on Wattpad. I enjoyed it so much because it read kinda like an old fantasy of mine from my earliest writing days, in which my books got made into a movie with Chloe Bennet as the leading lady, and I got to date her. The difference being that Teddy Sharpe and Bennett Caldwell are more like Dylan O'Brien and Alex Evansley, but that's okay. The point is, even though this style of book is normally very much not for me, Alex's book was completely the opposite, so much up my alley and enormously lovable.



Now, she's got this new version of her book available for all of us to read, and I'll be damned if I don't get them not to stock it at the Stanford Bookstore where I'll make it yet another Staff Pick.



I did notice a few small changes in the road from BT to LS,T2. Like, for instance, the slight de-aging of both Teddy and Bennett. Teddy's now just a couple of months shy of 21 at the start of this book, so he can't just get a bourbon on the rocks when he boards the flight to Charlotte. And Bennett, she's 18 - so this one part where I remember, from the original version of the story, where Bennett muses about how her creative-writing professor criticized her a bit for writing as if Parachutes was already a movie with trailer-ready snappy dialogue. Or something like that. I'm honestly surprised my own creative-writing professors never went there with my own writing, but then again, they never read more than, oh, maybe twenty pages out of the hundreds I've created for my big old series. And they were far less critical than this one classmate who was just the biggest assbutt of them all...but I'm not affected by his nonsense at all.



I also don't remember much of Liz and Will from the original version, but I'm definitely not going to forget them as written here. Will is so much me - he's a queer guy (though gay, not quite like little bi me) surrounded by family who doesn't understand him in the slightest, and I wouldn't be surprised if my own family, were I ever to really be out to them, would out me to anyone and everyone they could just to embarrass me. The way Liz does, among other truly atrocious things that make her the most supremely unlikable character in the whole book. (And I thought Burt Bridges was the actual worst back in Between Takes.) On a lighter note, I actually have a friend named Liz whom I told about her namesake, and she and I agreed, this fictional Liz felt a little more like she got possessed by the spirit of Mihai, the worst neighbor in Bucharest (or so Romanian Duolingo would have us believe in this little running joke.)



But you know what? I'm very, very glad I went and bought myself this book, because I so badly need the lovely chemistry of #Shardwell5Ever in my life. By sheer coincidence, the week when Teddy and Bennett meet for the first time, in my real life, was marked by me trying an OKCupid date for the first time and getting totally stood up because I'm basically cursed to never be loved.



Yeah, Ted.



Mm-hmm. He's got me pegged.

But then there's Teddy and Bennett, who are almost exactly what I want in a relationship. A little insta-lovey, to be sure, and maybe a little too reliant on repetitive lines for laughs (like the "alphabet of hepatitis" bit, but then Bennett also comments on repetition of lines being literally Teddy's job, so there's that.) But the chemistry they have is Stonefield- or Melwood-grade beautiful and natural and I'm always there for that.



But then again, there's a reason why this book gets a fair few references in my own manuscripts, including a recently-written bit in Peppermint where I have Alex Snow mention two clubbers being a Shardwell couples cosplay. Not gonna lie, if I ever do break my relationship curse, get me a girl I can do this couples cosplay with. I'm pretty sure I resemble Dylan...sorry, Teddy enough to pull off that half already, lol.



As for whoever's the lucky lady who gets to be my Bennett, well, all she's gotta do is make me a real sucker for a chick in a ball cap. (Not that I'm not already.) And the part I liked the best was how the Caldwell family was such a friendly and mellow bunch - the kind of family I wish I had. Certainly the kind that would've let me drink a little even while underage (as long as I didn't cut too loose, y'know). Or the kind that would've let me be openly bi in peace - seriously, Will got the wrong branch of this family tree. He deserves to be a Caldwell, sib to Bennett and Tanner both.



I remember Alex was working a bit on a sequel, titled Outtakes at the time, but I'm sure if she writes it now, it'll have a different title. I just hope it comes, though. I'm not sure I can handle a world where this is the only Shardwell tale we get! And though I'm not sure I'll get to publish my own books through SwoonReads, if I do, I know me and mine will be in great company with Alex and hers. (Which reminds me, I need to try and revive my SwoonReads account. It's been dead for quite a while.)



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