Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Review: Genius: The Game

Genius: The Game Genius: The Game by Leopoldo Gout
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this book up because I recognized the name of one of James Patterson's many collaborators - who, most recently, has been working on the CBS adaptation of Zoo. Is this Gout's first solo work? It's the first I know of, anyway.

The intro feels like classic Max Ride, being presented in the form of a letter demanding your attention, and then we jump into the story itself. It alternates between three very diverse POVs of talented but underprivileged teenagers all over the world. We get the Mexican-American hacker Rex, who's looking for his missing brother, then Tunde, a Nigerian boy whose engineering knowledge is being exploited by a corrupt general, and Painted Wolf, the alias of punky Chinese hacktivist Cai. (From her, I got a distinct "teenage version of Skye from Agents of SHIELD" vibe.) The book itself is also peppered with unusual graphic illustrations to help you tell which POV you're on - Rex's POV has these weird little molecular things, Tunde's POV is loaded with graffiti on the edges and hand-drawn illustrations of his designs, and Cai's POV has these square target things on each page, certain words highlighted in a way that makes them look like printing glitches, and occasionally, very blurry video screenshots like Person of Interest.

Visually, the book is pretty cool, a hybrid of the graffiti designs from the covers of Olivia Samms' Sketchy series (which, if I remember, was also recommended by James Patterson) and the rule-breaking use of illustrations as part of the text like in Illuminae. Unfortunately, visually stunning though the book was, it did make it hard to read sometimes, particularly in Tunde's chapters, where the graffiti often distracts from the actual story. And as for the actual story, the main plot is pretty predictable, and the three narrators' backstories aren't all equally interesting. Cai, in particular, is hard to get invested in, mostly because her primary persona is a notorious mask - although given how boring her home life seems to be otherwise, that's no surprise. Tunde and Rex, however, you can't help but root for. Especially Rex, who really needs to find his brother, yesterday.

This book is quite clearly just the first in a series, and while I wasn't super-duper-thrilled with it, I'll be keeping an eye out for the sequel. And in the meantime, this reminds me, I need to get my hands on John Sandford's third Singular Menace book sooner rather than later.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Review: The Bone Season

The Bone Season The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So the third book in this series, The Song Rising, is going to finally hit shelves in about six months or so, and having all but forgotten what happened in the first two books, I've decided to reread both The Bone Season and The Mime Order.

Good thing too, because looking at this first book, I realized that in the two years it's been since I read this last, I've managed to forget just about everything that happened. Even some of the highly unique world-building, combining a near-future urban fantasy setting and alternate history so seamlessly. Although I'm a little happy I managed to forget how much of a Beast the Warden was to Paige's Beauty - and that's a pretty kind comparison, because I can also see why a lot of other readers likened him to Leigh Bardugo's Darkling (I'm probably the only one who doesn't like the Darkling, but at least the Warden isn't quite so bad, I don't think.)

But hey, all the points to Shannon for, again, the world-building, especially the super-complex magic system to which all the clairvoyants belong.

Soon I'll be rereading The Mime Order as well, although I'm taking a short break to read another something that's been calling my name for a while.

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Review: Storm Front

Storm Front Storm Front by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harry Dresden is a wizard who occasionally consults for the Chicago PD. He looks and acts a little bit like Nicolas Cage's character in The Sorcerer's Apprentice - dark and sarcastic. He's under threat of the Doom of Damocles, meaning any perceived breaking of the Seven Laws of Magic could result in his instant execution. Which seriously impedes his investigation in a very bizarre magical murder.

Hooked? I hope so.

Four years ago, I read this book for the first time and became addicted to The Dresden Files. Now, I'm rereading all the books in anticipation of the next one, Peace Talks, which is, like every other Butcher book lately, delayed. Storm Front is pretty much every bit as good as I remember it - shorter and more simple than some of its follow-ups, but that's okay, because simple - and streamlined - helps make Butcher's debut a hell of a lot of fun.

I've got the next four books already waiting in the wings, and I think I might pick up Codex Alera again soon as well. Because Butcher is a mad genius.

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Review: Sleeping Giants

Sleeping Giants Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The comparisons to World War Z and The Martian aren't entirely off, as this book contains elements of the former's style (a rough literary equivalent to found footage, consisting entirely of journal entries, interviews, news reports, and the like) and the latter's Twenty Minutes Into The Future setting and even a bit of its sense of humor (from the book, that is - I didn't like how the movie cut down on the laughs, and yet somehow won a Best Musical or Comedy award at the Golden Globes, if I remember correctly.) It's kind of a hard sci-fi read, with a touch of fantasy mixed in, but it's a pretty addictive little treat all the same.

My only issues: one, the book is way shorter than it deserves, and two...THAT CLIFFHANGER.

I'll be dying to read Waking Gods next year, that's for sure.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Review: Monsters of Men

Monsters of Men Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The thing about this series is that it starts out magnificently in The Knife of Never Letting Go, but by the time it comes to its conclusion, it's lost steam. That's not to say Monsters of Men is a bad book, not by any stretch of the imagination. But in between the message about War Is Hell, Ness gets the story so bogged down in Noise and a barrage of new terminology that, between Books 2 and 3, it becomes extremely hard to follow what's going on. Also, for all the talk about the book being loaded with feels, I think Ness front-loaded that into Book 1 - you know which infamous death I'm talking about. The sequels, however, are increasingly filled with Zack Snyder-esque slow-mo white noise, with little room to feel any feels.

That said, though, Monsters of Men satisfies on the twisty-plot front, particularly with the disturbing mind games the Mayor and Mistress Coyle keep playing against each other. That is, until the very end of the book, which doesn't feel like much of an ending at all. I don't think Ness was quite done with this story, but he couldn't bring himself to at least do what Christopher Paolini did and extend the trilogy's finale so the series becomes a tetralogy? (Wow, never thought I'd see the day when I'd be wondering why someone doesn't emulate Paolini.)

Oh well. I'll at least have the first book in this series. And A Monster Calls, as well as More Than This, to remind me that maybe Ness isn't so overrated after all.

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Review: Moonlight Secrets

Moonlight Secrets Moonlight Secrets by J.L. Weaver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second full-length novel in this series takes readers on a lovely, monstrously good trip to India. It's a unique story, I think, combining colonial India with werewolves - has that ever been done before? To my knowledge, no. And with Weaver's colorful, pop-off-the-page characters, Moonlight Secrets demands your attention, making you either impatient if, like me, you started reading it while she was uploading chapters to Wattpad, or ready to gobble it all up in one sitting.

At this point, probably the latter.

It's another top-notch historical horror story from Weaver, and I can't wait for the next one. (But for this book, I have to say, my favorite part was Pikoo. Just the name alone...this little creature begs to be defictionalized as a plushie.)

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review: The Great American Whatever

The Great American Whatever The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I gotta admit, this one disappointed me just a bit, but that was probably hype damage more than anything else.

Near-constant film references are always a plus, and this book, through Quinn's narration, delivers there. Sure, he tends to sometimes get a bit pretentious, knocking on the sort of "big-budget CGI cheese-fests" that are my bread and butter, but it's all good, because even having not seen some of the classics he name-drops, I still understand the references because of pop-cultural osmosis.

In terms of characters, however, Federle gets a bit erratic, giving us a few more misses than hits. Geoff, for instance, is a fave of mine, much more so than Quinn - because witty he may be, but he's often so self-centered that it grates on my nerves. And I'm not really a fan of Amir, for some reason. I think he's a little too "perfect," and he feels surprisingly underwritten, particularly in comparison to Geoff's pop-off-the-page personality and Quinn's traumas and guilt.

On the other hand, as someone who writes books with the explicit goal of getting them published and adapted as movies (big-budget CGI-fests too!), it was fun to see Quinn occasionally imagine the screenplay of his own life, as well as the lives of those around him. That, I could relate to.

It's a nice bite-sized piece of YA lit for film buffs, but it didn't quite live up to its potential for me.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review: Burning Midnight

Burning Midnight Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

File this one under "Hidden Gems of 2016."

In an alternate present, the world's been taken by storm by these many multicolored spheres that, when "burned," enhance you in ways both mental and physical, and have become a huge part of society - so much that nobody really remembers a time when the spheres weren't around. But where do they come from, what's their true purpose, and what happens when this worldwide real-life video game is taken to the next level?

The answers to those questions, I will not spoil.

Trust me when I say this book is an utterly fascinating, high-stakes, addictive-as-hell adventure. Especially when the unspoilable questions are answered, and the book morphs into something straight out of Ernest Cline (though admittedly less wall-to-wall with pop-culture references.) Seriously, if you've read Ready Player One or Armada, you won't be able to read Burning Midnight without comparing McIntosh's characters to gunters at least twice.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harry Potter is a huge, huge part of my childhood. Coming back to this world nine years after Deathly Hallows came out, in the form of a new sequel play, I was, like pretty much everyone else, hyped up. Cursed Child doesn't quite live up to the hype, because of the often bizarre ways in which the characters have changed, but the twisty plot, especially by HP standards, helps make up for it.

Albus Severus Potter isn't his dad. He's unpopular, he's lonely (other than his friendship with Scorpius Malfoy - now that was fun to read!), he's a Slytherin (though that's really not such a bad thing - come on, I know a bunch of Slytherins, and they're cool people!), and he's forever stuck in Harry's shadow. His relationships with pretty much everyone are strained, until he finds himself going on a life-changing adventure. Though it's not the sort of adventure Harry would have gone on, finding himself thrown into impossible situations because the gods must be crazy. No, this adventure is much more in line with the phrase, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

For details, you'll have to read the script - there will be no spoilers. But let's just say this book takes inspiration less from the original seven novels and more from a classic 80s movie or three. You'll know it when you see it.

Like I said before, characters are the play's weakness. There are surprisingly few returning favorites, and many of those that do come back get a few moments that feel out of character, even taking into account nineteen years of aging post-Battle of Hogwarts. There's also one of the big twists, which comes across as a bit of the stuff of bad fanfic when the reveal happens. (I'm mostly talking about the big twist from the middle of Part II, not so much the highly disturbing one from the end of Part I - a big "holy $#*!" moment you'll not see coming anytime soon.)

However, for the sake of Albus and Scorpius (and, yes, older Draco Malfoy), and of course Harry himself, this play, whether you're lucky enough to watch it or you'll have to settle for reading this printed script, is not to be missed by any true Potterhead.

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Review: Unteachable

Unteachable Unteachable by Leah Raeder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Going into Unteachable, I knew this book would be a risk for me, because the subject matter of a teacher-student relationship really makes it hard to enjoy the read. That said, though, Elliot Wake does have a serious way with words, and the prose, like with Black Iris, helps make this YA/NA fence-straddler so compulsively readable. That, and the supporting cast, because while Maise (not unlike Laney) tends to rub me the wrong way (which goes with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl deconstruction territory, though), there's still Wesley(pedia), who, for a while, became my one major reason to continue reading. Not unlike Josh from Black Iris, I can't help but look at him as if he's me, but not. (In this case, the differences being that he's Grant Gustin tall and has a filthy habit of smoking clove cigarettes - Adrian Ivashkov much?)

The book also scores points for its ruminations on the creative arts. In this case, filmmaking, as much of the story centers on a Film Studies class. I may not be a filmmaker myself, and I've not seen many of the classics name-dropped in this book (such as 2001 or Casablanca), but perhaps I should change that. Film, especially genre film, super-especially Marvel superhero film, and ultra-super-especially The Amazing Spider-Man, hugely influences my writing. (I'm imagining myself taking Evan's class now, and him wondering what the hell kind of barbarian I am.) I recently read a book by one of my fellow Wattpadders, itself about a writer overseeing the movie adaptation of her YA action-adventure, who's told that she writes her book like a movie - and, in-universe, is criticized for it. That's what I do - I write books for the dream of being published (as Wake does - just read the acknowledgements in this book, and the sad stories of being repeatedly rejected by agents who think the writing is good but the stories are unmarketable), but also for the dream of seeing my stories come to life (and death, for certain key characters for maximum feels) on screen. I'm Whedonian trash like that.

Basically, Wake's books (this one included) are the sort of thing I probably wouldn't pick up normally. But after seeing what he's like on the internet, I kind of had to. And I'm glad I've been reading his books, even though I'm pretty sure I'm going to Hell for reading them. (But no more than I would for becoming addicted to Lost Girl, I say while watching an episode that includes a BDSM scene.) The story in Unteachable blends predictability and unpredictability very well, and dovetails pretty neatly into the wider Wake-verse (in hindsight, this book's seriously damaged my view of Hiyam even more.)

And, again, I relate to Wesley too much, except where I don't. And when I do...well, there's this one kiss scene that plays out like all my worst nightmares of rejection, the demons that rear their ugly heads every time I even consider asking a girl out.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Review: This Savage Song

This Savage Song This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although The Archived series remains my Schwab favorite, This Savage Song is a pretty close second, I think.

You always gotta love a bit of fantasy dystopian, and this book, perhaps the closest thing to a Black City spiritual successor there's been since that trilogy came to an end, is no exception. Schwab expertly blends zombies, vampires, and demons (the closest analogues I can think of to this world's three classes of monster) into a walled-off, claustrophobic big city of the post-apocalyptic near future. It's a well-built world, but you know there's a ton more details just waiting to be unveiled in later books. (And I really hope Our Dark Duet, at the very least, includes a world map.)

We get two main characters telling the story in third-person POVs - rebellious Kate, and August, a tortured, soul-eating Sunai, one of only three known. While Kate's head was so much harder to get into (something I think Schwab herself acknowledged), August was a different story, and when the narrative jumped into his POV, I found him surprisingly relatable, mostly because of how he's kept so isolated and pretty much only gets involved in society, in any way, when he hides who he really is. It actually kind of got to the point where I dreaded Kate's POV, because frankly, I connected infinitely better with August. Both of them, however, fit neatly into the Schwab tradition of morally gray leads.

As for the story, it sags just a little bit in the middle or so, where it feels like nothing's happened for a while. But then in the final third, Schwab piles on the twists and turns like nobody's business. I mean...holy crap balls.

So, while this book did get a little damaged by hype for me, it's still a unique and enjoyable read, and as long as I'm still waiting (with decreasing patience) for The Returned (or whatever the third Archived book will be called), this and any other new Schwab book had no problem keeping me entertained.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Review: Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The internet's been hyping this book so much lately that I couldn't help but pick it up at the library recently. Unfortunately, it absolutely fails to live up to the hype for me - and makes me wonder if I've got a problem with historical fiction, and especially YA historical fiction (I recently gave a bad review to Razorhurst, for example.) The real problem with this book is that it's written in no less than four different POVs, which are, at the very least, pretty distinct from one another, especially since they belong to individuals of different nationalities. Sepetys, however, gives each one an extremely short chapter, James Patterson-style, before switching to the next one. These multiple POVs and super-short chapters don't combine well - the story lacks flow, and the pacing, not unlike Razorhurst, is highly erratic, like you've got one foot on the gas and the other on the brake. And frankly, I had a hard time connecting to some of the main characters, especially Alfred, whose chapters consist mostly of letters to a girl named Hannelore (whose name I can't read without thinking of the Questionable Content character of the same name.)

This book, I've decided to DNF. Another surprising swing and a miss for a book Adam Silvera said was good, I'm sorry to say.

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Review: Darkest Night

Darkest Night Darkest Night by Will Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first got into Department 19 a few years back, only the first three books were available, and I read those in pretty quick succession. I remember going into Book 3 and wondering when the series was going to come to an end, because at the time I didn't really see an end in sight.

Now that I've finally gotten as far as Darkest Night, that question has been answered - in 700-plus pages of supernatural horror action, a sort of YA analogue to The Strain, but the entire series all at once. This book is some long, sprawling, truly apocalyptic stuff of legend, a perfect finale to this high-stakes fusion of The Strain and CHERUB. This book validates the series' very existence, its massive size justified in order to suitably wrap the whole thing up with enough material to fill at least three movies.

I actually want to reread the whole thing from the beginning all over again now.

To Department 19, I can now say ave atque vale.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Review: Transfer of Power

Transfer of Power Transfer of Power by Vince Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Now I can finally read the first published Mitch Rapp book after reading the two prequels Flynn published before his death...and I have to say, it's striking how much the plot of this book has in common with the movies Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. It's a pretty standard post-9/11 thriller...except it was released before 9/11, even before 24 and Jack Bauer took the world by storm.

Unlike the two prequel novels, this one was extremely long, which made it a slower read than it should have been. But at least I got to read those and get a little more invested into Flynn's story world than I would have been if I'd read this one first, probably. Although it's a little hard for me to read that Rapp is in his early thirties and not still picture him looking like Dylan O'Brien - his (potential) casting in the American Assassin movie having been the impetus for me picking up Flynn's books to begin with. But at least this book is set in the actual time period in which it was written, so it's not full of confusing anachronisms like the prequels were.

I've got a long way to go before I'm caught up on these books, but I hear that some of the post-Flynn entries in the series will feature crossovers with James Patterson's Alex Cross. That's got me extremely interested - you just can't get enough Alex Cross, in my opinion.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Suicide Squad: Damaged...By Hype

***MINOR SPOILERS***

Let me just preface this review by saying, despite the title I came up with for it, I did actually like Suicide Squad. It's not exactly up to Marvel standards, but it delivers as a psychotically colorful action movie about the Worst. Heroes. Ever.

I wouldn't pick that 'shroom if I were you.

Those Worst Heroes Ever are, at the very least, excellently portrayed on screen by a talented cast. What really hurts the movie, however, is its writing, which, combined with the stories we've heard about the studio making tons of cuts behind the scenes (Jared Leto being especially pissed because, yes, his long-awaited Joker gets precious little screen time), means the movie doesn't deliver quite as well as it should have. The same could be said for last year's infamous Fantastic Four flop, which was also surprisingly well-acted, though it was very clear in that case that the movie was seriously botched beyond repair and that the actors were merely doing the best they could (but hey, props to Josh Trank for dialing up the body horror.) With this Squad, the actors are the movie's highlight, and it looks like maybe with a few scene extensions (among other assorted nips and tucks, not to delve too deeply into plastic-surgery metaphors), the movie could be a little more cohesive, comprehensible, and well worth the massive hype.

So, for this third movie in the DC Extended Universe, they're taking a Guardians of the Galaxy detour, heavy on the classic rock (Guardians has a better soundtrack, though, only because they A) actually make that stupid "PiƱa Colada Song" sound cool, and B) don't commit the cardinal sin of including Kanye West like this movie does - but that's just me) and obscure anti-hero characters. It's a pretty big ensemble they've got going on - just look at how many people are caught up in that cartoony mushroom cloud on the poster! Unfortunately, some of those characters just aren't as well-written as others. I'm looking at you, Captain Boomerang! You'd think an assbite like him would be more in-your-face, but he has a bad habit of fading into the background, and his only real character trait is his passion for a pink unicorn plushie.

At least he doesn't jack off to it like Deadpool. That we see, anyway.

Hell, the best part of his intro in the movie's opening montage is another brief glimpse of Ezra Miller as The Flash. Miller didn't get to show off nearly as much in his Batman v Superman cameo, but here, plus in the Justice League trailer, is proof that while he's no Grant Gustin, he's got a good handle on the character's innately upbeat personality, and he'll certainly avoid getting Snyder-fied like Superman did.

Pictured: Miller's Flash foiling Boomerang.
"No honor among thieves, huh?"

Also disappointing is Slipknot (built up heavily by fans, but then he gets shoehorned into the Squad at the last minute, literally.) And, to an extent, Harley Quinn - sure, Margot Robbie's performance is delightfully over-the-top (even her dreadful accent job - her natural Australian accent bleeds through every other line - adds to the character) and got more than a few laughs out of my parents, but I think we could have done with a little more explanation for how exactly she wound up falling in love with the Joker. (Thankfully, this movie doesn't make their relationship look quite so one-sided as it's often been seen in the source material, but the subtext is pretty abusive, to say the least.) And for sure the Joker - and I'm not just saying that because of his limited presence, but also because, while Heath Ledger's performance in The Dark Knight was truly a supernatural tour de force, Jared Leto goes more into the character's crime-boss side, and comes across as a little too down-to-earth in comparison.

But not by much.

Rick Flag also feels a bit underwritten, but then he doesn't need as much personality as the rest of the Squad - he's just their wrangler, that's his purpose. And he's romantically linked to the Enchantress, whose witchy schemes form the crux of the movie's wild and crazy plot - although, as a villain, she's pretty generic, and her evil plot borrows pretty heavily from The Avengers (you'll know it when you see it) and, unless I miss my guess about her base of operations being a natural history museum of some sort, Relic.

Of course, the movie does deliver with pretty much everyone else. Standout characters include, of course, Amanda Waller, the lady bankrolling the whole Suicide Squad (sorry, "Task Force X") operation. If you look up "stone-cold" in the dictionary, you'll see her picture. Katana, with her mystical soul-trapping sword, deserves her own solo movie (and I hear they're looking to explore more of her backstory in the sequel!) You also gotta love a certain Croc for his, pun intended, Killer line delivery. El Diablo is so tortured by his past (and no doubt a certain helping of Catholic guilt) that you can't help but feel for him. My personal favorite, though, is Deadshot, that improbably talented hitman with a soft spot for his daughter.

That's the real heart of this movie - family. For a while, after maybe an hour and a half of noise and explosions and occasional Harley Quinn one-liners, I was concerned this movie would be a write-off for me. But then our Worst Heroes Ever are given glimpses into a sort of Mirror of Erised, and all their deepest desires are for them to have families, loved ones to go home to. They may not get this in real life, but they'll get this for sure in their group of misfit criminals.

Family is this movie's saving grace, and that's why, from me, it gets a B. It could have been better, but you still get your money's worth.

Till next time, Pinecones...

#FeedTheRightWolf
Remember - Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Review: Black Iris

Black Iris Black Iris by Leah Raeder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I took my first creative writing class (spring 2014), there was quite a variation in genres for all the manuscripts and/or short stories me and my classmates were working on. They ranged from a pretty standard Fincher-like cop-chases-serial-killer thriller with an obvious twist to a somewhat Chandler-esque crime story set in the desert Southwest. They ranged from my best friend's fantasy world way beyond human comprehension (spoiler alert - there's a quasi-slash romance between a spoiled prince and a star in human form) to my Amazing Spider-Man-influenced piece of Whedonian work (I'm still surprised that first draft of Red Rain - Chapters 1-3, anyway - went over so well with the class.)

And then there was the one extremely dark sex-and-drugs-fueled story that featured teenage characters doing some seriously naughty stuff. Those three chapters (the only taste of that story I ever got) are probably the closest thing to Black Iris I've ever read, until now.

There's really no beating around the bush - this book is not for everyone. It has a foot in YA territory with a good chunk of the story taking place while the protagonist, Laney, is in high school. But the book is truly New Adult, with Laney not at all holding back in her descriptions of (very frequent) sex, drug use (Ecstasy, I think, is most frequently featured in this book), and the occasional spot of violent revenge. And do I mean "not holding back" - she has a way of drowning the reader in long-winded, verbose, profane, and even run-on sentences. But then again, she spends much of the book high, and, coupled with her serious mental health issues, it's a good recipe for a self-admitted Unreliable Narrator. Indulging in purple-prose narration actually fits the character, and helps make the book more addictive as a result.

Me, personally, I found my favorite part of the book to be the barrage of references to music (mostly 80s, plus some modern alternative artists like St. Vincent or Lorde) and/or the works of George R.R. Martin. And even in this world of which I'm not a part, there were moments I found myself relating to quite well - like the scene where we first meet a bookish dude named Josh, who's basically me if I hadn't quit studying computer science (and if I liked John Green.) Or the scene where Laney talks about how high school doesn't really have CW-esque cliques, that different types of students can and do hang out together. It's true - when I was in high school, you wouldn't have thought there would be jocks in honors and/or AP classes, and yet, there were quite a few. Then there's the presentation of the symptom list for borderline personality disorder. I don't have all of them, but I do have a lot of them. (Does "substance abuse" count for caffeine, though? Given how I spent over 100 bucks on Starbucks this May alone, my parents - who've since demanded I tighten my budget for all the things - would say so.) And speaking of parents, an early line about Laney's mom projecting her psych issues on her daughter resonated with me too much, because that's the way I feel about my own mom sometimes.

After following Elliot Wake on Twitter and Instagram for a few months (if you don't, you're doing yourself a serious disservice) and taking inspiration from him and his story to write an FTM character into my own books after debating the idea in my head for months, I felt I needed to read his books, though they're not exactly my cup of tea. I'm thinking Black Iris, however, is going to be my favorite of the three he wrote and published as Leah Raeder, not only for the twisting, out-of-order storytelling, but also for its addictive style, laden as it is with wolf metaphors (Teen Wolf fan, hello!) and insight into the mind of a creative writer. And also because, as I understand it, this book appears to be the start of a fictional universe he's building, and will explore further in his upcoming Bad Boy, for which I really hope my library orders copies so I don't have to special order it from San Francisco like I did for this book and Unteachable, which is waiting in my TBR pile. (Still need to order Cam Girl, but I will soon.)

And on another note - I swear to God I didn't copy Wake's cover art style for my own books. Though those books of mine are only on Wattpad yet, and will no doubt have significantly different covers if and when they get formally published.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Review: The Serpent King

The Serpent King The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OFFICIAL THE SERPENT KING PLAYLIST:


"Sometimes the only payoff for having any faith
Is when it's tested again and again every day!"
-Fall Out Boy, "Immortals"

"Love will tear us apart...again."
-Joy Division

"It's just a reflection of a reflection...
Will I see you on the other side?
We've all got things to hide..."
-Arcade Fire, "Reflektor"

"All you sinners stand up, sing hallelujah!
Show praise with your body, stand up, sing hallelujah!
And if you can't stop shaking, lean back, let it move right through ya!
Say your prayers, say your prayers, say your prayers!"
-Panic! At The Disco

"Oh, we all want the same thing.
Oh, we all run for something.
Run for God, for fate,
For love, for hate,
For gold, for rust,
For diamonds, for dust..."
-OneRepublic, "Love Runs Out"

"When we are young
Wandering the face of the earth
Wondering what our dreams might be worth
Learning that we're only immortal for a limited time..."
-Rush, "Dreamline"

"There is whiskey in the water
And there is death upon the vine
There is fear in the eyes of your father
And there is yours, and there is mine..."
-Death Cab For Cutie, "Black Sun"

"The love for what you hide
The bitterness inside
Is growing like a new born..."
-Muse

"You'll be on my mind
Don't give yourself away
To the weight of love..."
-The Black Keys

"Oh, but I know a place where we can go
That's still untouched by men
So we can watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass wave in the wind..."
-Don Henley, "The End of the Innocence"

"And in the end
I'd do it all again
I think you're my best friend
Don't you know that the kids aren't all
Kids aren't alright?"
-Fall Out Boy

REVIEW:

"Sometimes music worked on the loneliness. Other times, when he felt as if he were sitting at the bottom of a dry well, looking up at the sky, it didn't work at all."

It's a sin how much I can relate to all three of this book's protagonists. There's Travis, the reader, writer (although that doesn't come till later) and fanboy who isn't truly alive unless he's reading his beloved Bloodfall novels (loosely based on A Song of Ice and Fire, if I'm not mistaken, with a GRRM-esque author.) There's Lydia, who dreams big and can use her slowly-built-up internet fame as her ticket out of small-town Tennessee. And then there's Dill, the son of one of those snake-handling ministers I think they showed once on a particularly controversial episode of The X-Files. His parents are mired in religion and think God has a specific plan for him - following in the footsteps of his father and his father's fathers - except they're wrong.

Me, personally, I think the snakes that Dill's father would handle accepted him as one of their own because they saw him as truly one of them. A few years back, Dill Senior was caught with kiddie porn on his computer, and I was extremely shocked when Dill Junior's parents tried to get him to take the blame for it, thinking that he wouldn't be in as much trouble because he was a minor. Um, ew. That's just the beginning of why I hate Dill's parents so much - they, ironically, are so Christian that they're haughty, refusing to be truly held accountable for their mistakes and/or sins, and come across as more than a bit prideful. (This is why, if I'm lucky enough to have kids of my own, I won't want to raise them with religion.) Parents in general make some of the worst parts of this book (except Lydia's folks. They're cool.) Travis' dad is even more bad news - drunk, prone to slinging gay slurs at his son in an attempt to toughen him up, and just plain an animal. There were times in this book (anyone who's read through this already will know exactly which ones I'm talking about - no spoilers, though!) when I wanted to reach into the page and drive an axe through his skull.

All throughout this book, Dill, Lydia, and Travis prove to be some of the best friends (and, in the case of the former two, possibly more, what with their unspoken feelings for each other) ever seen in YA literature. Which, of course, means that this book will feature some tragedy. And yes, it absolutely breaks the heart. It made me cry. A lot. Ugly tears too. (And some of my readers think I have no feelings, based on my perceived fetish for killing main characters.) But again, it comes back to how much I relate to these three best friends. Though I'm not Southern, and I didn't grow up in a small town, I still feel their pain. All of it. And especially the loneliness in the above quote.

So, basically, just like Silvera's More Happy Than Not, five stars to this one for feels alone.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Review: Razorhurst

Razorhurst Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've been following Justine Larbalestier for a while on Twitter, and she's got a lot to say on the craft of writing - and also about how to write (and how not to write) diverse books. Her books, however, are a little hard to find at the library, so it's taken me a while to get ahold of one. And while I'm hoping that some of her other stories are a better indicator of the talent behind her tweets, this book, I'm sorry to say, fails to deliver.

To be fair, though, Razorhurst does get points for uniqueness. In the States, there's any number of stories about the Mob in New York, Chicago, Vegas...but blending the Mob with YA paranormal in 1932 Sydney, Australia, and giving us two flawed, strong-willed leading ladies with the ability to see ghosts? I guarantee nobody's done something quite like that before. Unfortunately, as great as the characters are, they aren't enough to save the book from its annoyingly herky-jerky pacing (it doesn't help that there's a bunch of interludes disrupting the narrative every so often, and in a book that's only 300 pages - with walls of tiny text on every page, too - the interludes are not to its benefit.) Not only that, but the third-person POV makes it harder to get immersed in this historical world the way Larbalestier no doubt did, because it makes the reader feel that much more detached from the story.

I guess I'll look for another of Larbalestier's books sometime soon, but for a first impression, this was a pretty sucky one.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Review: The Ask and the Answer

The Ask and the Answer The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Picking up roughly where The Knife of Never Letting Go left off, The Ask and the Answer gets into some seriously warped mind games as Todd and Viola are forced to negotiate a new, and increasingly dangerous, landscape. (Without Manchee. Boo. Or, more accurately, "poo.")



Power plays are the word of the day, every day, in this book. Torture, of humans and Spackle alike, forms huge chunks of the pages here, and in the end, it's just one of many psychological weapons that two shadowy enemies use against each other. "Moves and countermoves," as a certain Evil Santa-type might say.



It's safe to say that this book is the Mockingjay of Chaos Walking, or at least the Mockingjay Part 1 - the beginning of the end. (Although, of course, Ness wrote this book before Mockingjay hit shelves.)

Although a bit overlong (which, for me, meant some of the book's events, especially its many bombings, had a way of blurring together, not unlike the "white noise" effect of a few of Batman v Superman's action sequences), The Ask And The Answer continues Ness' compelling post-apocalyptic opus with only a slight sophomore slump. Soon, I'll finally be able to finish the trilogy, only six years too late. Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Review: Tell the Wind and Fire

Tell the Wind and Fire Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I've never read A Tale of Two Cities, so any references to that book in this one are all but lost on me.

That said, it's a unique enough book, updating Dickens' classic with magic and modern social commentary in an alternate New York where the Lights live in luxury and the Darks in walled-off ghettos like the Nazis took over the place. Naturally, the Lights hold all the cards, and the Darks are tired of being oppressed, and the tensions between the two halves of the city keep on simmering until it all catches fire.

Yeah, the story doesn't really tread anywhere new, especially not with that love triangle going on. Though I did at least enjoy the interactions between Lucie and Carwyn (especially the part where Carwyn complains that cream cheese doesn't belong on sweet desserts - which is why I tend to avoid red velvet cupcakes.) Those two are my ship for this story.

I only hope that the presence of an alternate-world Light and Dark system doesn't prove a roadblock in the path to publication for my own Dark Ice Chronicles, though my system's different enough, and the primary conflict is between humans and warlocks as opposed to two types of magicians.

All in all, this book is the weakest I've read from Brennan, but it does have some good ideas and commentaries that are going to stick in my head, even if they're infinitely beyond being twice-told already.

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Review: Titans

Titans Titans by Victoria Scott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A nice big thanks to the Wattpad4 for bringing Victoria Scott and Titans to my attention!

Going into this, I noticed that a lot of reviews, not without reason, compared this book to Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races, mostly because of the stories' shared plots involving some kind of genre twist on horses and horse racing. I have to say, though, that I preferred Scott's relatively little-known story over Stiefvater's heavily-hyped one.

For one, her book, because of its use of mechanical horses in a Twenty Minutes Into The Future setting, reminded me a lot of Real Steel. Its Detroit setting also made me think of a couple of indie horror movies I've seen lately, set in the same city, I believe - Only Lovers Left Alive and It Follows, which of course have nothing to do with Titans, but the association helps improve the atmosphere as far as I'm concerned.

What really brought this book ahead of The Scorpio Races for me, though, was its combination of addictive prose and a feeling of hope and lightheartedness even over its darker underbelly. I often have a hard time connecting to Stiefvater's leads and rooting for them (Sam and Grace being an exception, and also Noah and Adam, if we can count them as leads), but with Astrid, I had no such trouble. Astrid is, let's face it, cool.

If ever my sister finishes reading Jurassic Park, I might just recommend this book to her next. I bet she'd see even more of herself in Astrid than I do.

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Review: Into the Dim

Into the Dim Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book, being that it was a YA Outlander with a harder sci-fi twist straight out of Tomorrowland. Sadly, while Into the Dim starts strong, after the long info-dump that explains (to an extent) how the Tesla-based time travel tech works (and I liked how the machine's able to prevent you from arriving at a moment right as you're leaving, to ensure no time paradoxes of any kind), it turns into a real slog to read, plagued with a confusing array of characters with shifting allegiances that become incredibly hard to keep track of.

I have the horrible feeling that, not unlike this book's primary inspiration, it'll soon turn into a series that's seriously bloated with time travel and nearly impossible to follow. I don't think I'll be continuing, I'm sorry to say.

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Review: Shade Me

Shade Me Shade Me by Jennifer Brown
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The only things this book has going for it are the pretty cover (which, with its combo of black-and-white and neon stripes, reminds me strongly of the ill-fated Arclight series) and its protagonist having synesthesia (a most interesting condition.) Unfortunately, the book, as a side effect of being set in Hollywood, is laden with so many virtually indistinguishable pretty and/or superficial people (and I mean indistinguishable - for a while, I thought Jones was Nikki's brother until I saw some hint about her having dated him at some point, but I could be wrong) that it's extremely hard to get engaged with the story. The comparisons to Veronica Mars aren't that far off, but only in terms of genre (pseudo-neo-noir YA mystery.) Shade Me otherwise feels a ton more 90210 in tone, suffering as it does from a complete lack of Veronica Mars' self-awareness and sense of humor. Not to mention, I'm more than a bit skeeved by the scene where Nikki goes and screws an older guy (come on, Ms. Brown, she's barely legal!) So, after less than 150 pages, I'm DNFing.

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Review: A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So apparently The Knife of Never Letting Go wasn't my first Patrick Ness book after all. Turns out I read this one...three years ago? And I wasn't impressed at first, for whatever reason, and managed to forget I ever read it to begin with.

But now that I've picked the book up again in anticipation of the forthcoming movie, I know what I was clearly missing.

Like Knife, this book is shelved in the YA section at the library despite containing a protagonist of MG age - though unlike Knife, the YA placement doesn't come from tons of violence and other adult content. Instead, it's probably there because of the heavy content involved. It wouldn't be a Patrick Ness book without death, would it? In this case, the death being the imminent one of young Conor's cancer-stricken mother. And then there's the titular monster, a peculiar blend of traditional English giant and a golem, who forces Conor to confront his demons by actually manifesting as one.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to catch the movie in theaters, but even if I don't, I at least hope that it doesn't bomb at the box office the way The BFG did. Especially since Ness himself is writing the screenplay, a pretty rare privilege in the world of book adaptations.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Review: The Death Code

The Death Code The Death Code by Lindsay Cummings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hard to believe it's been about a year since I read the first book in this series - and now I've just finished the last. (Yep, it's a duology, like so many other series coming out these days.) Just like its predecessor, The Death Code (not to be confused with James Dashner's Maze Runner books, The Death Cure - can't wait till 2018 for the movie! - or The Fever Code - can't wait till that book hits shelves this fall!) is packed with wall-to-wall dystopian action, propelled by its insanely fast-paced, super-short James Patterson-esque chapters. And death. Lots and lots of death. But it wouldn't be a good YA book without lots and lots of death, would it?

I'm a little bit bummed that this is the end of the series, but hey, at least we can expect more great things from Lindsay Cummings in the future, yeah? :)

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Review: A Court of Mist and Fury

A Court of Mist and Fury A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I went into this book, I was happy with the way it was going, with Feyre and Tamlin trying to stick to a happy life in the Spring Court while Rhys remained far away and out of sight, though not out of mind. Unlike the vast majority of fans, I loathed Rhys. I thought, after the end of the first book, he would be little more than another Loki-copycat pretty-boy bad-boy, a viciously power-hungry creep in the vein of the Darkling (whose hype harmed the Grisha Trilogy for me) or Maven. (Don't get me wrong, I loved Glass Sword, but that ending still infuriates me after all these months.)

So, when I got 200 pages into this book and found myself surrounded by so many tons of scenes involving the bargain between Rhys and Feyre, and the former being in-your-face obnoxious as all get-out, I was angry as hell. It certainly didn't help that Tamlin was receiving so much negative character development as well (like the early scene where he and Feyre are in bed and she's musing about being his High Lady, and he says there are no High Ladies, and when she questions that, his reaction basically amounts to "shut up and let me eat you out.")



Now I at least understood better why Tamlin had become so virulently despised by the fans, but at the same time, as a Book 1 Feylin shipper, I felt betrayed. I felt that Maas had completely reversed Rhys' and Tamlin's respective character developments to pander to the shippers, heedless of sense, the way I'm still reasonably sure Maggie Stiefvater did with Pynch in The Raven King.

I was on the point of giving up on this book entirely, but for Feyre's sake, I stuck around.

And good thing I did. Over the course of this brick-sized book, the character-development reversal actually winds up making sense. By devoting 600 pages to slowly but surely peeling away the layers on Rhys, it becomes clear that as despicable as he became in Book 1, that's not all there is to him. He's better than that, particularly since he goes out of his way to treat Feyre as an equal (not for nothing are the fans cheering him as a feminist), and loses a lot of his obnoxious side over time when it becomes clear that, like Feyre, he's damaged, suffering from what can only be described as fantasy PTSD.

Then, of course, there's the ever-looming threat of war with the shadowy King of Hybern, who basically wants to enslave everyone, human and Fae alike. Challenging him will require considerable sacrifice on our heroes' part. Said sacrifices ultimately set the stage for a diabolical cliffhanger leading into Book 3.

As of the end of this book, I've gladly switched ships. The Feysand legion can now count me as a member. And when Book 3 comes along, I'll be waiting - and hoping that my library doesn't take so bloody long to order that book like they did for this one.

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