Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Review: The Astonishing Color of After

The Astonishing Color of After The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was...long.

This book was...difficult to read.

That's not just because of the sheer Silvera-grade feels, but also because of the strange magic involved. Ascribing a genre to this book is very difficult, because it's not only got paranormal-type strangeness, but also just plain surreal fantasy. Magical realism, maybe? Well, maybe not for the purists who insist magical realism must be Latin American in origin, but it's about the closest term I can think of to describe how unusual this book is. Or, perhaps, Toni Morrison-esque - while working at the bookstore today, I had this book in hand while talking to a coworker, and when I described it to her, she immediately compared it to Morrison's style, sight unseen.

Whatever the genre or style of this book may be, it's a haunting and powerful read, and if you think you can handle this level of feels, I do recommend you go right ahead and read it.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Review: The Bishop's Pawn

The Bishop's Pawn The Bishop's Pawn by Steve Berry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Steve Berry's continuing his several-years-long hot streak of US-history-based conspiracy thrillers, now with one he claims he's had in the pipeline for a decade, but hasn't published till now because it'd be perfectly timely with the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. I've heard a few of the conspiracies this book delves into before - like how J. Edgar Hoover was determined to out MLK's character flaws, or at least get him widely considered a communist, in an attempt to delegitimize him. But The Bishop's Pawn, set against the backdrop of Cotton Malone retrospectively examining one of his earliest cases, dissects those conspiracies as masterfully as one can expect from Berry, and showcases that even a flawed man can still have a strong and positive impact on history and should still be remembered as such.

I'm obligated to warn you, if you're considering going into this book, that there are a lot of potentially troubling moments when Malone and allies unearth some seriously disturbing transcripts re: Hoover and/or James Earl Ray. Racist language abounds, as you can imagine. Not to mention scenes written, as if in journal entries, to describe the moments of MLK's assassination and death - these are extremely, extremely bloody and graphic.

But I'll say this much - it wouldn't be a proper Steve Berry novel if you didn't come out of it with a newfound appreciation for US history, and a sincere wish that maybe, just maybe, people would actually take its lessons to heart and not try to emulate the worst of the worst of its players. Emulate the best instead. Like MLK.

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Review: Aru Shah and the End of Time

Aru Shah and the End of Time Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first official release of the new Rick Riordan Presents imprint gets this whole enterprise off to a speedy start. If you are a child, whether actually or at heart, pick up Aru Shah and the End of Time. If, like me, you weren't all that impressed with Roshani Chokshi's earlier YA fantasy titles (I couldn't even finish The Star-Touched Queen), pick this up anyway because it's the point where Chokshi gets to really cut loose with the fun and funny, #ownvoices fantasy style. And Riordan-style, of course - a lot of the storyline and humor are extremely Riordan-like, but that's not a bad thing, not for this fanboy who's never tired of that signature comic style, and especially not now that it's being tailored to include Hindu legends and culture in a highly modernized way. Seriously, the Night Market being a literal Costco on steroids? All the gods and demigods of the Hindu pantheon proving themselves just as bonkers as Riordan's versions of the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse ones? Aru and Mini's never-perfect but still-so-precious questing dynamic? The most unexpected twists re: the villainous Sleeper? And of course, Boo? What's not to love?

For sure I'm going to be recommending this book at lot at the bookstore, especially to potential #ownvoices Indian readers. And especially to a lot of the kids I tutor, many of whom are Indian themselves and will almost certainly see themselves in Aru like few other kidlit heroes.

Three more books in this series, not to mention several other series planned for Rick Riordan Presents?

Bring it on.

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Review: Immortal Reign

Immortal Reign Immortal Reign by Morgan Rhodes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can't believe it's been over a year since I read the fifth Falling Kingdoms novel, though given there was a pretty long gap between that book and this concluding sixth entry, that's no surprise. And along the way, Rhodes has given us quite a wild ride, more so than I ever would have expected. It ain't my favorite series by a long shot, but Falling Kingdoms has become the Song of Ice and Fire we'd be getting but better if only George R.R. Martin would actually finish the books in a timely manner. Over the course of six books, there's been an increased focus on magic and old gods' shenanigans as opposed to the more soapy royal-court stuff that pervaded the first two or three books. A lot of characters I used to dislike have proven themselves to me as far more complex than they appeared on the surface (I'm looking at Magnus and Gaius, and definitely Amara too.) And while it wouldn't be Rhodes if it weren't a deadly novel, as the conclusion to the series, it ends on a most unexpectedly hopeful note.

Though I don't think Rhodes is done with this 'verse yet - she's still got one more book in that Outlander-style spinoff trilogy, I believe - as for the original Falling Kingdoms series, I can now say vas ir...anoshe.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Review: Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not for nothing has Tomi Adeyemi debuted as strongly as she has, taking the YA world by storm with this instant #1-bestselling fantasy epic. Richly steeped in Nigerian culture (Orïsha, the fantasy kingdom in which Adeyemi sets her novel, being an alternate Nigeria with the cities located roughly where their real-world counterparts would be - and the world map strongly reminds me of Dhonielle Clayton's Orléans too, because of the many islands), boasting a terrifically complex magic system (ten clans carrying ten different types of magic, though this book primarily focuses on two of them), and split between three disparate first-person POVs to showcase a diverse cross-section of Orïsha's society and the deep class divisions thereof, Children of Blood and Bone is nothing short of a pure masterpiece.

Over the years, I've heard many readers and writers say that long series debuts - and long debuts, period - are absolutely for no. But in this 500-plus-page opus, Adeyemi breaks that particular rule in all the best ways. I'm reminded so much of the best of such writers as N.K. Jemisin, Kate Elliott, and Nnedi Okorafor here...but I think perhaps the greatest influence on Adeyemi must have been Marie Lu's The Young Elites. The parallels between this book and Lu's are as strong as it gets - fantasy kingdom with ruling elites oppressing their people and condemning those with magical abilities to the underest of underclasses, forbidden romance between an up-and-coming magic user and a prince with conflicted loyalties.

My hope for Zélie, though, is that she doesn't come to follow quite the same villainous path that Adelina did in The Rose Society. She very well could, but I'd also like to think that unlike Adelina, Zélie has a stronger support system from the get-go, more anchors to keep herself better rooted morally.

Then again, though, the title for that second book - Children of Virtue and Vengeance - gives me some foreboding feelings about what's next for Zélie and company.

For sure, Children of Blood and Bone is a virtual lock-in for this year's Pinecone Award rankings, just like The Hate U Give was after I first finished reading it almost exactly one year ago. I don't wanna call it as the winner just yet - I did that with King's Cage last year and it wound up in fourth place - but if I did, I'd do so with considerable confidence.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Review: Genesis

Genesis Genesis by Brendan Reichs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reichs returns in the middle entry of his gnarly, supernaturally deadly, seriously dangerous Nemesis trilogy. Going forward, I do have to drop major spoilers for Book 1 - or do I? I mean, the dust jacket blurb does a terrific job of not being too spoilery in case someone picks this book up by accident without having read its predecessor.

But I'm not writing dust-jacket copy. I'm writing a review for Genesis and, maybe just a little, hoping it manages to blow up my blog stats a bit and become one of my top 10 posts just like my review for Book 1.

So I'll spoil Book 1 going forward. Just not Book 2, as best I can.

I can tell you that while Genesis does suffer from one or two of its predecessor's same flaws - namely its oddly slow start - being decidedly more post-apocalyptic and Matrix-y than Book 1 is a major help. And also more Maze Runner and Lord of the Flies than ever. Noah and Min are at such odds throughout most of the story that it's downright maddening, and then when various other characters start showing signs of turning morally grey if not outright evil, one has to wonder exactly how far down in the depths of human nature Reichs is willing to plumb. It all plays out in a scarily Hunger Games-like scenario too, where only a certain number of the Fire Lake sophomores can move forward, but then the ending.

That ending.

Reichs, how many times did you read Cixin Liu's books? They must've inspired you a great deal.

Just like the first book, Genesis reads, to me, almost like someone threw my own books into a blender with those of Michael Grant and hit "chop." And I'm totally here for it, especially as long as I keep using Nemesis as a query comp title.

Speaking of which, I need to get back to querying. If you'll excuse me, I'll be back in my cave again. Querying, and maybe writing into my book a shoutout of some kind, just like Reichs shouts out so many other giants like Star Wars and Warcross, to name a few.

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Review: Pitch Dark

Pitch Dark Pitch Dark by Courtney Alameda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading this book on the same weekend in which I got to finally see A Quiet Place, I thought they paired very well, featuring aliens that hunted by sound and some pretty gnarly body horror. There the similarities kinda end, though, because while A Quiet Place is a straight up horror show without much in the way of humor (if anything), Pitch Dark throws in significant levels of both humor and drama. And also some even stronger social commentary, largely rooted in Laura's part of the story - because she has to deal with a supremely abusive ex-boyfriend who not only forces her to wear a subjugator that lets him digitally control her at all times (if you're like me, then when you learn about the subjugator, you'll run around the room trying to fight off all the Falling Skies harness flashbacks), but said ex also repeatedly pronounces her name in English instead of Spanish. Then he insists he's not at all racist, showing that he's cut from much the same cloth as Hailey from The Hate U Give. In other words, he's either in severe denial or severely pathological a liar. (I'm gonna go with the latter.) I can tell you, though, that thanks to Alameda infusing her #ownvoices experience into Laura, her storyline ends with serious satisfaction, even if it doesn't end in we the readers getting to personally beat Sebastian's head in. Alameda does just as great a job with her other POV lead too. Tuck is oddly lovable, made of complete and utter win and tons of retro movie references, especially to Die Hard. If my buddy Koda ever gets into acting, I hope he gets to play Tuck in the movie of this book - he's the first and only person I fancast for the part. Together with Laura, Tuck takes on a ton of actionized responsibility, a weight they both carry marvelously.

My one hope: I really, really hope this one isn't a standalone. It works pretty well as one, but it'd be such a crime to leave Laura and Tuck and never pick up their story again.

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