Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Framed!

Framed! Framed! by Malcolm Rose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As my first read for my book group at work, I have to say this one was a fun one, if a little difficult to figure out what exactly it wanted to be. The murder-mystery part was there, sure, and it had a nice little sci-fi twist with Malc the robot sidekickj, as well as our teen-prodigy YA protagonist. (I might also want to recommend this book to middle-grade readers, though the violence level is just high enough that perhaps not.) But then there were some strange little nuggets of world-building, implying a sort of dystopian setting (after all, where else would the government be so invested in making sure artists reproduced more artists, architects reproduced more architects, etc.?), and because of how short the book is, these more unsettling elements are all but left to take a backseat to the murder mystery. I suppose maybe the sequels will expand on this somewhat - hopefully so if I'm to continue the rest of this series.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review: Murder of Crows

Murder of Crows Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book 2 of Anne Bishop's The Others series doesn't really bring too much new to the table, but it does continue in the first book's strangely addictive style blending paranormal romance with urban and contemporary fantasy. Though the world-building underpinnings are still a bit uncomfortable because of the parallels between human-terra indigene relations and ongoing real-world colonialism issues (even if the indigenous-coded shifters are dominant), they're nothing compared to the highly disturbing main plot involving what basically amounts to the trafficking of cassandra sangue. Not only are they sold for sex (it seems there's a pretty widespread underground CS fetish community in-universe), but for drugs made from their magic blood. In between all of this, Bishop fills the story with tons of small character moments, usually involving Meg getting to know Simon and all the Wolf pups a little better (the cookie scenes, in particular, are pretty funny, as are, to an extent, the scenes highlighting Simon and Meg's unresolved sexual tension), and all contributing to my need to keep on reading the rest of the book. So, while it's not really my favorite series by a long shot, I'm still invested enough to keep on reading. Pretty soon I'll be picking up the third book!

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Review: Into the Black

Into the Black Into the Black by Ava Jae
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was lucky enough to win a signed ARC in a Twitter giveaway from Ava Jae themself, and holy Christ I'm so in love with this book! Though I loved Beyond the Red when I first read it, about a year or so ago, Into the Black, the continuation of Jae's trilogious masterpiece of Star Thrones-slash-Game of Star Wars blows its predecessor out of the water, one of the most six-star-worthy books I've read this year - and bear in mind this has been a banner year for YA as it is, but publishing is really saving one of its best and brightest new books for the eleventh month (I almost said "hour," haha) with Into the Black, and it'll be my mission (which of course I choose to accept) to ensure you're not sleeping on it when the book comes out!

(Sorry, Cassie Clare, but I think you've fallen out of contention for one of the top prizes at the Pinecone Awards.)

The royal intrigue in which Kora and Eros find themselves entangled forms most of the story's backbone, but its real appeal lies in a lot of smaller moments and character developments. Eros' endless affection for Mal, for instance. Also the spot-on incorporation of themes of prejudice and marginalization, even more so than in Beyond the Red, particularly since Eros now provides good intersectional rep. He's bi, and pretty well in the closet throughout most of the book because he's spent his life in environments that aren't at all queer-inclusive, and then he meets the right guy who helps him start coming out of his shell in all the ways. Though I loved the Kora/Eros ship in Book 1, I'm so much more here for Eros and Deimos and their dynamic, easily comparable to Mateo and Rufus from They Both Die At The End. I see way too much of myself in Eros, especially how he feels unsafe coming out (and yet watch me, hiding behind my online alias, being a lot more open about it like Simon chatting with Blue), and for that reason, this #ownvoices bi reader gives Ava Jae all the thumbs up.

As for the main story, getting Eros to really stake his claim to the throne...well, I can't really go into that because spoilers. But what I can tell you is that Jae, using their gift for action when they're not weaponizing their gift for romance, throws down an intense climax combining elements of Beyond Thunderdome, Insurgent, and Taran Matharu's The Novice. You'll read it gasping for breath the whole time, then be sorely disappointed that you'll have to wait at least another year for the trilogy's finale in The Rising Gold.

(And speaking of that book, I'm kinda hoping for the cover to have blue as its dominant color, to complete the bi-pride color scheme we have with the pinkish Beyond the Red and purplish Into the Black covers.)

Ava Jae, you awe and some genius, I salute ye.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: They Both Die at the End

They Both Die at the End They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


"Alone and scared
I sit here and I stare into the emptiness
Feeling emptiness
I am waiting for my eyes to open wide
I am waiting for my heart to feel alive
'Cause I've been dead...


"I said I'm gonna buy a gun and start a war
If you can tell me something worth fighting for
Oh, and I'm gonna buy this place, that's what I said
Blame it upon a rush of blood to the head...

I think by now, for the third Adam Silvera book, I should know to expect to give him five stars for feels alone, and yet I'm never quite prepared for the Amazing Spider-Man 2-level weapons-grade feels he serves up. They Both Die At The End, spoileriffic title and all, is absolutely no exception, and as with both of Silvera's previous books, it left my feels more than a little bruised and battered.

Of course, there were also more than a few sweet moments too. Moments where we see just how much having a Last Friend can help your deathday. Moments where we port over to people elsewhere in town in this alternate world that's so scarily obsessed with death it can't possibly be real...oh wait, it pretty much is. Such is the magical-realist touch Silvera graces us with here, more than in any of his previous books - heck, I found myself thinking of Exit West time and again when the story went on one of these tangents. Moments where you start to wonder about the metaphysics of it all, which go pretty much unexplained in the midst of Silvera's genius world-building, but that's okay, because the theories Mateo and Rufus discuss at one point (like the "two afterlives" theory) are so much more tantalizing when unproven. Moments of glorious geekboyishness - the real reason, for me, why I can't and won't ever stop reading this man's bibliography, because even I don't reference Harry Potter (sorry, Scorpius Hawthorne - I mean, of course this takes place in the same 'verse as More Happy Than Not, amirite?) and Spider-Man to quite this degree, I don't think. Moments of quiet queer affirmation, the other real reason why I'm so into Silvera's work, and why I wish they were around when I was a little younger. (Insert me still searching for an alternate universe, like Griffin would, where that's the case.) And of course, moments of love and sweet awkwardness in which the boys Silvera gifts us with today really channel their inner Andrew Garfields.

Let me tell you, when I first heard this book was a thing, my mind immediately jumped to a sort of Red Band Society scenario in which They Both were going to die because they were both terminally ill. Silvera throws my expectations out the window, burns them to the ground, and dances on the ashes like there's no tomorrow in this book, in which every chapter brings up a few more surprises, and maybe a few more laughs, but always the threat of tears prickling my eyes, especially with less than twenty pages to go when they really burst forth, and then, even right at the very, very end, a surprise in store. (No spoilers.)

But those feels will gut-punch you and that's a promise. Even as I type this, I'm still looking a little like this guy, whom my most loyal Pinecones will recognize as my standard response to all Adam Silvera books for always and eternity:

Okay, now I have to go to bed because I gotta get up in less than seven hours for another day selling books, and my store STILL doesn't have a single copy of this book on the shelves at all. But you'll be damn right I'll be hand-selling the shit out of They Both Die At The End first chance I get.

And as I go to bed wondering who my Last Friend would be if I ever needed one - except not really, because I totally know who it'd be, and wouldn't you know it, we probably would wind up being Deckers on the same day - I leave you with one more awe and some GIF to perhaps brighten your heart and strengthen it before reading this book like I attempted to do with an overload of chocolate ice cream and chocolate-creme Oreos before starting my final push through the book tonight.

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review: Every Deadly Kiss

Every Deadly Kiss Every Deadly Kiss by Steven James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another story with Patrick Bowers, though this one, the tenth overall, challenges expectations with its unusual blend of two major story arcs - one involving a former child star turned FBI agent (and her horrifying backstory - you'll probably never look at any child star the same way again after reading this book!), the other, a fairly reluctant jihadist, one who doesn't 100% subscribe to the same warped ideology as do his comrades, and armed with a very deadly, and very unique, weapon indeed. Set between Every Crooked Path and The Pawn - and with an ending implying at least one more good story in that in between - Every Deadly Kiss, like its immediate predecessor, benefits from James' use of a floating timeline. You'd expect this book to take place sometime in the late 90s to early 2000s (that is, if the original Bowers Files series takes place roughly around the times the books came out), but James adorns this story with the high-tech nature you expect in a story of this decade, heavy on social media apps (clearly modeled on the likes of Tinder and Snapchat in particular) and even tinges of biopunk with the big terror plot. And as with all of the other novels to date in the Bowers Files, James gives us such a blazing fast plot that well over 500 pages read all too quickly. Seriously, why aren't more people reading these books? They're some of the most underrated crime stories out there. Dark but not excessively so, and adrenaline-pumping like nobody's business.

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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've seen Patrick Rothfuss' name floating around the internet and book blurbs for quite a while, and it's only now, after his books came highly recommended by one of my Stanford Bookstore managers, that I've finally picked up The Name of the Wind. This book, it starts out pretty slowly, but when we finally get into Kvothe's POV and he starts really telling his own story, that's when the book really begins to shine. Kvothe's story is long, but richly detailed, packed with surprises, and laced with tons of the sort of humor so often lacking in fantasy novels because they tend to be either too self-serious, too much of an homage to Tolkien, or both. It's pretty good for fans of Jay Kristoff, or of Jim Butcher, particularly the Cinder Spires series. I can't wait to read the sequel! Though, to paraphrase my manager, we'll likely all be retired by the time Rothfuss finally releases the end of the trilogy.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Review: Never Never

Never Never Never Never by Brianna Shrum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second Peter Pan retelling I've read in the last year or so, I think this one, I enjoyed a lot more because of how uniquely it centered James Hook and his rise from a Lost Boy to a feared pirate captain. Though I've spent months, if not years (well, I've only been on Twitter for two anyway) being mutuals with Brianna Shrum, it wasn't until very recently that I found out my library happened to have this book of hers, and I'm very glad I stumbled across it after all this time.

Here, Hook's story is beautifully tragic as he gets suckered into the charm of Neverland and then, after it becomes clear that he's not the perfect fit for this place, pigeonholed into the role of villain and forced to live there for the rest of his days. And he's not the only one - all the rest of the pirates and the Lost Boys, and of course Hook's love interest Tiger Lily, are mere pawns moving around the board at the whim of the Pan, pretty much. Though this version of Pan isn't quite so outright villainous as, say, the infamously iconic Once Upon A Time version, Shrum's Pan feels all the more sinister for how understated he is.

I rather wish there was a sequel to Never Never. Or, failing that, that it could've been the first in an anthology series where Shrum reimagines famous fairytale villains as tragic anti-villains instead.

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