Monday, October 31, 2016

Review: White Night

White Night White Night by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

That's two Dresden Files novels in a row for me this Halloween. This one deals a little bit more with the Hitchcockian archetype of the man falsely accused of a grave crime - or, in this case, many grave crimes, as our friendly neighborhood White Court vampire Thomas is the prime suspect in a series of serial killings in which the real killer leaves a reference to a certain Bible verse at each scene: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."

Naturally, Harry will take it upon himself to prove his half-brother's innocence. Because after the last book, it seems like "innocent until proven guilty" no longer exists in this world.

Not if our favorite wizard in the Yellow Pages has anything to say about it, of course.

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Review: Proven Guilty

Proven Guilty Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rereading this one on Halloween was a perfect idea, given how much Harry Dresden (and by extension, Butcher) poke fun at all the most obvious horror-movie tropes. In between all that, Dresden goes on another long, dangerous adventure, in which he has to wrestle with the moral quagmires of sentencing young magic practitioners to death for breaking rules they may not even know about.

But again...those horror-movie tropes. That's where these stories really shine, sinking as far into the swamps of urban fantasy as you can possibly get.

Happy Halloween, Harry Dresden.

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

HeartQuake

It seems like I can't go long without finding myself hopelessly crushed out on some girl at school. More often than not, these girls are either already spoken for, not interested in me (aren't they all?), or both.

For once, the girl I like appears not to qualify for any of the above. Of course, I've been wrong before. If you remember the last time a crush inspired a poem, I later discovered she had a boyfriend, to whom she's since become engaged. Well, that made it easy to move on from her.

I suspect I'll be wrong about this girl too, because this aligning of the stars, as it were, feels a little too perfect. Either she won't want to be my girlfriend, or my parents will interfere with our relationship if it even begins, or...something, anything, could dash all my hopes and dreams again.

Before that happens, though, I'm going to put my thoughts down as another poem. She may never see it, but maybe someday...



First crush is obvious.
But when is it first love?
When they love you back?

In which case, I've still not had my first love.

Trust me when I say
I'm a lovesick moron.

You could see that for yourself anytime I opened my mouth.

I spout off half-formed garbage.
Even if it's fully formed, it's trash.
Or I shovel in tasty trash.
You're the one who said you wanted street tacos.
Next chance I got, I blew seven bucks on three street tacos.
Messy, meaty, spicy belly bombs, they were.
Of course I tried to play it cool for you
Even as I dripped in sweat.

I'd have shared them with you.
That was my idea all along.
But as luck would have it, you couldn't enjoy them.
The day before, you were sick.
You couldn't come to class.
You were still sick that day,
And you had to present an essay.
Creative nonfiction.
And worst of all? You didn't get the chance to present that day.

But I had my way of making you feel better.
When I dropped my umpteenth joke
About being Andrew Garfield's secret twin,
You complained you had no celebrity lookalike.

I was quick to say, "What about Grant Gustin's girlfriend?"
And I showed you her picture
As she held the man's lethally adorable dog.
(One of them, anyway.)

Your response: "What are you, crazy?
I don't look like her!"

"What?"

"She's a-a-a 10!
I'm maybe a 6 or 7!
Look at this woman! She's gorgeous!
I'd date her!"

My thoughts, I didn't air them.
I should have - you'd probably have appreciated my wit.

"Yeah, so? I'd date Grant Gustin given half a chance.
Hashtag #ManCrush, and it's not even Monday.
But the point is,
I
think
YOU
are beautiful."

I didn't say that.

But I hope I warmed your heart anyway.

Just like you warmed mine by saying,
"At least I know I'm kind of Grant Gustin's type."

Which is good for me because the more I can look like Gustin,
The better.

Does that mean I'm your type?
If so, I'd be surprised.
In our class alone, there are plenty of "types" to go around.

There's the skinny, chain-smoking Greek anarchist
With all the ink.
There's the baby-faced dude always wearing blue scrubs
Like he stepped off the set of Scrubs.
There's the tall-haired guy with the glasses and the Vulcan eyebrows.
Calling Tom Keen...

And then there's the guy with whom you have
What could be the start of a verbal slap-slap-kiss relationship.
He's a funny guy, and undeniably handsomer than I will ever be,
But sometimes I think he digs too hard
Under your fingernails.
Also, he's so...old.
Parks and Rec rules say the age difference between you and him
Would be too creepy.

But remember one of the other essays we workshopped?
All that woman's first few lovers were "types."
"The Right One" wasn't a type.
I wanna be your Right One.
Would I be so lucky as to find mine in you
If you were my first real love?

I have to wonder.
Especially because of how much you look like
The female lead in my book.
My passion project.
Not a total, spot-on resemblance,
But more than any other non-famous person I've ever seen.
(If it helps,
Know the woman I had in mind was Chloe Bennet.
Daisy Johnson, you know.)

As spunky as you are,
I doubt you're as sparky as Fionna Lee.
Your hands aren't as warm as hers.
But then again,
I only know from the one time you casually brushed my bare arm
The one day it was warm enough for me to go
"Sun's out, guns out"
Before the end of tanktop season.
You wanted to prove you were cold under the A/C.

Maybe you don't have Fionna's fire.

But maybe you have Daisy's Inhuman Quake skills?
In which case,
Could I be your sparky Sparkplug?
Or, even better, your burning-heart Ghost Rider?
(Hey, don't hate. I ship 'em.)
If you didn't know,
I'm the weird boy who shipped himself with Daisy in his fanfic.
Himself as an Inhuman with blood magic.
HeartQuake, perhaps?

(Hmm. That could also make a good ship name for us, LOL.)

Ironic that I would be the fire in our potential relationship.
Sure, I was born under a fire sign in the heart of summer.
But I've long identified more with ice.

Or maybe you're the ice.

I don't know anything anymore.

But I know one thing.
That creative nonfiction class of ours?
You've counted up your demons and shown them to us all.
And then some.
You told me a secret you wish you didn't know.

I feel horrible for not responding in kind.
The best way to do this for me
Would be for me to show you my books.
We could both psychoanalyze me that way.

But then the ending.
I promise, I wrote that long before I met you.

And then we could meet up somewhere.
Anywhere.
Except my place.
My parents won't approve. They never do.
They can't stand the thought of me having a life.
Especially a love life.
Nothing to do with you, I swear.

But at your place? We could Netflix. And chill.
Literally, of course.
And maybe, eventually, figuratively too.
Last night, I dreamed of something in between
Those two extremes.
Maybe you could introduce me to Daredevil
And finally let me see
If I get cuddling right when I write.

Let me be your five-ten, 180-pound teddy bear.

I really like you.
Please show me how good we could be together.

Review: Bloodline

Bloodline Bloodline by Claudia Gray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By now, the stories of the original Star Wars trilogy, and also the prequels (love 'em or hate 'em, they're essential to understanding the originals), are the stuff of pop culture legend. So last year, when The Force Awakens began an all-new awesome sequel trilogy as only J.J. Abrams could direct it, there was really only one thing missing...

...how did we get here? The Empire was over - wasn't it? Where and when and how did a new group of galactic Nazis take hold?

Claudia Gray's Bloodline gives us a few answers, starting when Leia was serving in the New Republic's Senate, which, like the current American government, arose after a rebellion against serious tyranny...and, like the current American government, has become bogged down in debates and inefficient as hell because of an uncompromising two-party system. Leia, however, spends most of this book working together with a sparky young Senator from the opposing party, who appears to actually worship the Empire...except he doesn't, and shouldn't, because like Leia, the Empire hurt him deeply when he was young.

Boasting strong characters, timely political subtext, and nuggets of explanation as to why the events of The Force Awakens happened as they did, Bloodline is absolutely essential to all Star Wars fans' proper understanding of the newest chapters in the saga, and really deserves to be adapted into an anthology movie like Rogue One or the young Han Solo story.

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Review: Stealing Snow

Stealing Snow Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like Danielle Paige's other best-known series Dorothy Must Die, this fractured fairytale launched with considerable hype, especially with Paige running a number of snow-themed social-media campaigns. Unfortunately, unlike DMD, Stealing Snow didn't live up to the hype for me.

That's not to say it's a bad book. It is, as Kami Garcia said in her blurb, "lush and addictive." And it presents a pretty unique retelling of The Snow Queen - unique, if very strongly influenced by Once Upon A Time, and in particular Once Upon A Time In Wonderland since this book begins with Snow incarcerated in a mental hospital. At the same time, however, there are so many references to other tales - like Snow referring to her meds with Seven Dwarf names, which could easily mislead readers who go into this thinking (as I recall doing when I first heard of this book) that it's based on Snow White instead, or the "lions and tigers and bears" jokes - that as much as this book feels distinctly Danielle Paige, it also feels a little more like a hodgepodge, and not exactly in a good way. The book's primary flaw, however, is its pacing, which has a way of merrily skipping and leaping and leaving plot threads in the dust even as you want to read the book slowly to savor it.

That said, though, the book does unmistakably have Paige's voice and style, boasting, as you would expect, a looked-down-on heroine discovering her magical powers in a fantasy land, surrounded by a cast of eclectic - and often good-looking - oddballs and misfits of various shades.

So while I can't recommend this book as highly as I would the Dorothy Must Die series, I can still await the sequel with interest - and hope that the prequel novellas come out in a paperback collection soon like they did for DMD, because something tells me those novellas are essential to properly understanding this novel.

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Red Rain: Alex and Fionna's Celebrity Faces

***Spoilers for the most recent seasons of Fear the Walking Dead and Agents of SHIELD appear below. You've been warned.***

One of the cool features of Wattpad is that it lets you pick a cast list for your stories, which I do for all of mine, and in great detail. For the Red Rain series, I've had a couple of different young actors in mind as the face of Alex over the years, but ever since I rewrote him as you see him now on Wattpad and SwoonReads (with olive skin instead of white), the face of Alex has been Lorenzo James Henrie of Fear the Walking Dead fame. Sure, I throw in more references to Alex resembling Scott from Teen Wolf, but that's because A) Scott - and, by extension, Tyler Posey - is more well-known to Red Rain's target audience, and B) even if Henrie or the character of Chris Manawa were as well-known, comparing Alex to a True Alpha good guy instead of a kid who lost his grip on reality and turned murderous would make more sense in-universe and out. But make no mistake - Henrie, in my head, is Alex. Just look at him on the couch in front of Chris Hardwick on Talking Dead and try to tell me otherwise.

Meanwhile, Fionna Lee's celebrity face has been unchanged almost from the beginning of Red Rain's earliest drafts. Unlike just about everyone else, I had a huge fanboy crush on Chloe Bennet's Agents of SHIELD character Skye (now known as Daisy), and when I learned that Bennet was half-Chinese, I decided to match Fionna's ethnicity to Bennet's, making her similarly, and explicitly, biracial after months of keeping her written as ethnically ambiguous.

You can imagine my reaction upon learning that the real reason Henrie left Fear after the end of Season 2 with Chris getting killed off (a shame, but it's a small mercy given how much the writers derailed his character) was for a recurring appearance as Ghost Rider's little brother Gabe Reyes on Agents of SHIELD.

The very same show where I first saw Chloe Bennet.

Not only was his character's name a massive coincidence (the face of Alex playing a guy named Gabe), but also, the thought of Alex and Fionna's celebrity faces sharing screen space?

Which, of course, they did on Henrie's second episode.

And now, Henrie's posted a behind-the-scenes pic of himself and Bennet, in costume and everything. (At least, I assume Henrie's in costume. Bennet's more obvious, with the bandages and stuff on her arms 'cause Daisy's keep breaking. Insert crying emoji because THAT'S MY SMOL CINNAMON ROLL GETTING HURT EVEN THOUGH YO-YO KEEPS SUPPLYING HER WITH BONE-STRENGTH MEDS!)

For your enjoyment, Pinecones, here it is - the one picture that finally prompted me to get a reposting app.

Lorenzo Henrie and Chloe Bennet. Alex Snow and Fionna Lee, together at last. :D


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Review: Swarm

Swarm Swarm by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"'Cause people don't understand, understand, understand
People don't understand people like me."
-Alphas Theme

Last year, I liked Zeroes, but I thought it had a few flaws - namely, its tendency to highlight the least interesting characters in the titular group, and at considerable length too. I have to wonder if Westerfeld, Lanagan, and Biancotti got similar complaints from other readers, and worked to make improvements in Swarm.

For sure, this sequel improved on its predecessor on so many levels. It wasn't quite perfect, I don't think. Bellwether was still flat and underwritten, and I have such a hard time taking him seriously as a Zero, because his superpower basically amounts to good leadership skills. And as for Mob, while she doesn't feel redundant alongside Bellwether (her power is made more distinct from his), she spends most of the book so subsumed in crowd energy that she has little time to develop a personality of her own.

That said, though, Swarm still has its times and places for building on the world the first book established. We're still in the dark about the source of the Zeroes' powers, but whatever it is, it's not Cambria, I don't think. There are Zeroes from outside this little seaside town. Dangerous ones with some seriously deadly powers. The book's title actually refers to one of these new Zeroes, an exceedingly psychopathic dude whose power is chaos. Chaos is, in fact, the word of the day in this book, which ramps up the intensity to unforeseen levels because of Swarm's threat. Dovetailing nicely with this chaos, the book makes it very clear that many of the Zeroes, their powers are very emotionally-influenced. Now some of what bothered me about Book 1 makes a little more sense - like, for instance, Scam's power to tell people what they want morphing into an insulting bag-of-dicks voice when he gets mad, because the voice is saying what he wants to hear.

Character development continues on a hot streak in this book as well. Even Bellwether has to undergo a major role reversal when Swarm's power overwhelms his just as much as everyone else's. No less than two romantic relationships blossom - one of which is same-sex, adding more intersectionality to an already diverse cast. And my favorite of the Zeroes, Anonymous, we get to see even more of how much his own family's forgotten him. Not gonna lie - he gave me all the feels all over again, especially when he interacted with Flicker.

Best of all, unlike the fairly standalone first book, Swarm even ends with a pretty nasty cliffhanger that really tears the group asunder. Which can mean only one thing - I'll be dying to read Book 3 this time next year. Or whenever it comes out.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Peppermint Cover Reveal!

Recently, I decided that the story of Alex and Gabe Snow and all the other heroes of Red Rain couldn't finish in four books - it would instead take five. So I once again reached out to Sam Ayers, aka Whisperingwater, to design a cover for this new addition to the Red Rain series, Peppermint.

To recap, here's what Sam's given me before with the first four Red Rain books:


Amazing, aren't they? Now joining the party is the Peppermint cover in all its Christmas-colored glory, for the book will take place around Christmas time.


Green, red, winged, and full of water imagery just like all the rest of 'em. And now, the new and improved Red Rain series banner with all five covers.



To Sam Ayers, I once again say this:


Review: First Lord's Fury

First Lord's Fury First Lord's Fury by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

And finally, Codex Alera reaches its grand finale, with Tavi now officially the First Lord of Alera...but he's got to take care of some serious business with those crowsbegotten Vord first. While I honestly think, after this reread, that Princeps' Fury was the series' climax, First Lord's Fury serves as a nice coda as well, especially for its continued exploration of some of the still-unseen lands of Carna and even a scene that made me think, what'll happen when Carna reaches a modern-style point in its history and all that oil seeping under the surface gets exploited?

I kinda hope that one day, Butcher comes back to this world and shows it reflecting a different time period, like maybe the medieval era, if not modern.

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Review: Blood in the Water

Blood in the Water Blood in the Water by Taylor Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm kind of in two minds about this series at this point. On the one hand, Anderson's got a talent for high action and for expanding the world he's built with every new book he puts out. On the other hand, when is enough, enough? It's become a little hard to keep up with what's going on in every single part of the world, and as a result, the story now feels really drawn-out and spread thin.

At least he's still able to put out a new book each year, unlike, say, George R.R. Martin.

But you know what? This series...wasn't it supposed to be a trilogy? Now it's expanded to over ten books like S.M. Stirling's Emberverse, although it's still managed to keep my interest well after the six-book mark or so.

My point is, Anderson's got skills, but he should redirect his energies elsewhere as opposed to building up this series into the stratosphere because he just can't seem to freaking end this already. I'm concerned that if this series doesn't end soon, it's going to seriously overstay its welcome, if it hasn't already.

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Review: Princeps' Fury

Princeps' Fury Princeps' Fury by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Good thing I'm rereading these Codex Alera books - I'd really rather not forget some of the insanity Butcher served up here. This book, in particular, gets really, seriously, grossgustingly nasty with its onslaught of Vord horrors - Lovecraftian, Alien-like, dripping rot and ruin everywhere they go.

Truly, the stakes were never higher for Alera than they were here - although I'm sure when I reread First Lord's Fury, I'll remember stuff that was even more horrifyingly great and greatly horrifying.

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Review: The Flame Never Dies

The Flame Never Dies The Flame Never Dies by Rachel Vincent
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first book in this series, I loved because of its condemnation of religious corruption in a unique post-apocalyptic setting.

The sequel continues to build on all of that, reaching some seriously emotional, and quite often cuckoo-bananas, new heights with a twist or ten a minute, particularly in its second half.

I think I read somewhere that this is to be the end of the Stars Never Rise series, but honestly, I hope not. Not with that ending, and not with Vincent's clear gift for writing this genre. If this is the end of the series, though, I hereby bid it ave atque vale.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: A World Without You

A World Without You A World Without You by Beth Revis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A World Without You is a very quick read, despite the complications of Bo's delusions messing with reality and dropping this story into a seriously screwy realm of magical realism, if not outright sci-fi. Even with Bo's sister, Phoebe, getting some POV chapters, one has to wonder if Bo isn't delusional after all - and me, I really, fervently hoped he wasn't.

Sometimes, living in a dream, even a bad one, could be preferable to reality. That's what this book depicts perfectly - the dangerous allure of delusions.

I think this, here, is Beth Revis at the top of her game.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Red Rain Is Now On SwoonReads!

For a while, I've been considering uploading Red Rain to SwoonReads, the website through which Alex Evansley's brilliant, super-polished NA diamond in the rough Between Takes is being published. At first, I was unsure it would work - after all, SwoonReads specialized in romance, and Red Rain doesn't exactly fit the traditional romance mold.

But now SwoonReads has opened its doors to YA and NA books of all genres, which means it could be the solution I need, the avenue through which Red Rain will see its long-awaited, long-deserved official publication.

Even though I've recently had a full manuscript request, it's such a rare thing for me to get agent and/or publisher responses these days. I can't resist this opportunity.

If you haven't read Red Rain yet, well, what are you waiting for? The complete book now awaits you on SwoonReads! Go forth and follow this link into the rabbit hole...

Review: Beyond the Red

Beyond the Red Beyond the Red by Ava Jae
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After a few months of following Ava Jae on Twitter, I've decided, like with Elliot Wake, that it was about time I read her book. Like with Wake's books, I had to special order this one from another library - of course mine wouldn't have this one.

That is a massive, crying shame.

Beyond the Red deftly blends YA fantasy with space opera like no other Game of Star Wars, Star Thrones mashup since Red Rising. It's set in a rich, lovely Arab-esque world (the local language sounded a lot like Arabic in my head - or, even better, Maltese, especially with the way the letter "j" was pronounced like "y") with more than a trace of Vulcan (desert setting, one of the heroes being a half-human hybrid with strange-colored blood compared to humans).

The story's propelled by the relationship between a young queen and a rebel taken as her slave. It starts out adversarial, but the sparks fly thick and fast. And you thought it wasn't fast-paced enough...but this is one of the best, most shippable romances I've seen in quite some time.

I mean, damn. Science fantasy never looked so good.

I can't wait to read the next two books - but I really, really hope my library gets copies of this series ASAP. :D

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Review: Captain's Fury

Captain's Fury Captain's Fury by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Putting Tavi in charge of his own legion, finally unlocking his furycrafting abilities, revealing why they took so bloody long to develop (and when I saw that part again, I related to it way too much.) It was at this point that I finally started to really, really like Codex Alera the first time around, and this time is no exception, with its considerably faster pace and resolution of some of the plot threads that have been cooking almost since the beginning of the series.

Coming soon, my review of Princeps' Fury.

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Review: The Fever Code

The Fever Code The Fever Code by James Dashner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"They march on through the dust
Believe their leader, they can trust
In all the noise they lose the way...

-Kongos

Well. This is it. The Maze Runner prequel we've all been waiting for.



I should warn you, though...it wouldn't be a Dashner book without a few moments that make you go all...







The original trilogy, those helped define the end of my time in high school and the start of my community college years (Death Cure having come out about a month after I started there.) Then came The Kill Order, which I loved when I first read it, but alone of the Maze Runner books, it's probably the only one I wouldn't re-read.

When news broke that there would be a new prequel focusing on the Gladers we know and love, well, you can imagine I was just as overjoyed as anyone else in the fandom.

After taking a few years to write The Mortality Doctrine, Dashner's finally given us The Fever Code in all its post-apocalyptic glory. Imagine, if you will, Ender's Game with zombie Cranks instead of alien Formics. That's the roughest, most high-concept summary of this book I could come up with. The primary difference, though, is that in between all the laughs and fun of Thomas, Teresa, Alby, Minho, Newt, Chuck, and more meeting up before the Maze, there's a ton of horror both physical and psychological. Physical because we're seeing the monsters as visceral as ever (especially after seeing the first two very stellar movies, with their creepy clicking Grievers and Cranks crawling all up and down the bloody walls!), and psychological because we all know what's coming if we've read the original trilogy first - and yet, we don't. Some of those WICKED people are every bit as wicked as you can imagine. Not gonna name any Randall names, but...some of those shucking klunk piles needed Launcher shots to the chest.



If Wes Ball doesn't get a chance to direct the Fever Code movie, this world's getting cheated.



Now that we have another year to wait until the Death Cure movie, at least we've got this book to tide us over. And what a book that is, one of the most intense, raw YA books of 2016 so far...and now topping my list of favorite books of the year. For sure, just like the Scorch Trials movie won a Pinecone Award last year, this book's full-tilt, panic-inducing story guarantees it a win this year.



So, once again, a huge thank you to James Dashner for penning these books, helping set the stage for Dylan O'Brien to become this generation's next great action hero, teaching us all that "WICKED is good," and of course for just plain horror-fying YA literature like nobody else.



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Review: The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

So I've seen a few people loving this series - which I remembered best for the controversy it attracted when the publishers wanted to give the books these Throne of Glass-knockoff covers.

I think I'll still remember it best for that after my ill-fated attempt at getting into it.

I know The Winner's Curse came out before Sabaa Tahir's An Ember In The Ashes, but Tahir's book remains the definitive work of YA sandalpunk for me. Automatically, I have to say I'm prejudiced in Tahir's favor because she writes in first-person, which I strongly prefer to third (which Rutkoski uses.) But Tahir has something else Rutkoski sorely lacks - engaging characters. Rutkoski writing in third person doesn't help us get attached to her characters, but they feel so devoid of personality. Not to mention they keep on throwing out random Roman-sounding words to remind you what the setting is inspired by.

Yeah, I'm officially consigning this one to DNF oblivion.

And one more thing - Jess Pawley's Generation Icarus has the superior lead character named Kestrel. Fight me.

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Review: Woman of God

Woman of God Woman of God by James Patterson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Call me crazy, but I was under the impression that this book would be connected to Patterson's earlier, Catholicism-heavy apocalyptic tale, Cradle and All.

Other than being about a massive shakeup in the Church, there's not much connecting the two stories at all.

The first half of the book is dreadfully unfocused and jumps from place to place with almost reckless abandon, to the point where I almost gave up on this book about 100 pages in. Luckily, I kept going long enough to discover the major twist - which, if the book had focused on that alone, would have made it easily four stars, if not five.

You just have to trawl through a ton of crap to get there first.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Review: Crooked Kingdom

Crooked Kingdom Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"No visible means of support
Yeah, you have not seen nothing yet
Everything's stuck together...
"
-Talking Heads, "Burning Down The House"

No mourners.
No funerals.


I remember when I first read Six of Crows last fall, I thought it was a good book, if a little slow at times. A second read, more recently, helped solve that pacing issue for me as I got into the characters a bit more. So, maybe a second read a year or so down the line might improve Crooked Kingdom for me similarly, though for now, I have to admit the book felt a little dead at times.

That said, though, our six antiheroes are as compelling as ever, particularly now that they're starting to pair off a little more closely. Maybe not so much Kaz and Inej (first, there's the sticky matter of resolving Book 1's abduction cliffhanger), but more so Nina and Matthias, and especially Jesper and Wylan, this book's main couple by far, as the story explores their slow-burn relationship.

As with the previous book, there's considerable action to go around as well, particularly as Crooked Kingdom comes down to its home stretch. In fact, there's such a buildup of surprises upon surprises that, ultimately, the book doesn't seem to end, even when it does. Which makes me wonder - is Bardugo really limiting Six of Crows to two books? I actually hope not. There's room for further adventures with these characters. Or, failing that, another sequel series set in the Grishaverse, maybe even updating the setting to something resembling the modern day.

Until then, to Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, I now say ave atque vale.

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Review: Six of Crows

Six of Crows Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's a reason why this book comes with Michael Dante DiMartino's seal of approval - it's a lot like Legend of Korra in a few ways, with its primary settings being two different cities in an alternate world. One, Ketterdam, being a sort of early 20th century steampunk city. And the other, an icy city in the northern wastelands of Fjerda.

It's also got a lot of Ocean's Eleven in its DNA, being a heist story as opposed to the magical war that marked the Grisha Trilogy. As a result, in spite of a few lagging stretches of the story, there's some serious action involved in this book, and a rich array of antihero characters with dark pasts. And while most of them aren't magical, the small science still plays a huge role in the plot - because the whole reason for the heist has something to do with a new drug that seriously enhances a Grisha's power, but with nasty, nasty side effects.

Now that we're getting a little more insight into the world of the Grisha trilogy - particularly the lands beyond Ravka - I'm pretty happy. And after re-reading this book in anticipation of Crooked Kingdom (which I've recently picked up at the library and will read after finishing Empire of Storms), I feel compelled to bump up my star rating for this book - because while I did find it a bit slow at times on the first go, this time around, I got a stronger feel for our antiheroes and their distinctive, strong personalities - and I realized just how much of a Kaz I really am. Especially in terms of his interactions with others - more phobic than they (or I) ought to be.

I'm just bummed that Crooked Kingdom is the end of this series...though hopefully not the end of Bardugo's wider Grishaverse.

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Review: Cursor's Fury

Cursor's Fury Cursor's Fury by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third book in the Codex Alera, I didn't remember it as well as its two predecessors. It's a zip-fast read like Furies of Calderon and Academ's Fury both, but it also feels, undeniably, like a bit of filler. However, it does introduce a few pretty important new details - like the formation of the Knights Pisces, and also the final twist, the one that I'd expected pretty much from the beginning.

I can't believe I'm halfway through this again - I'll be finishing it off soon enough, now that I've got the second half all waiting in my TBR.

Although I'm a little bummed that I had to order this book, alone of all in this series, from another library - and the copy I got, I'm pretty sure the page that had the map of Alera in it (was it this book or Captain's Fury that first featured it?) was torn out. Oh well.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Review: Separation of Power

Separation of Power (Mitch Rapp, #5)Separation of Power by Vince Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I was considering giving up on this series after Book 4, but thank God I went in for Book 5. Separation of Power brings the series up to the standard Flynn would later achieve in the two prequel novels, with a storyline that doesn't feel too over the top or too bogged down in politics. This book manages to bridge the gap between high intrigue and high action, and if the publication date of October 2001 is real, I'm surprised this book wasn't postponed because of 9/11. I mean, Flynn did kinda predict the incursion into Iraq, but not quite for the same reasons...

...and I'm gonna give up trying to tie his books into reality now.

But for sure, I'm not done with this series yet. I'm going at least into Book 6 now.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Review: Dead Beat

Dead Beat Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So I guess I must have forgotten that there was a scene in this book where Harry Dresden animates a T. rex skeleton.

Well, that was bloody awesome!

And of course the whole necromantic (yes, that's a word, so I have decreed it!) ride up to that point makes this one of the better books of Mr. Butcher's fine Dresden Files. Not for nothing was this the first in the series to receive its original printing in hardcover as opposed to paperback.

All the yeses.

Especially for T. rex.

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Review: The Wrath & the Dawn

The Wrath & the Dawn The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this Arabian Nights retelling with most of my Arabian Nights knowledge being my many viewings of Disney's Aladdin when I was a kid. I do, at least, know the general framing device - a princess telling stories to her husband every night to stave off the death that's befallen all his previous wives, and deliberately not giving him the ending, so he'll have to keep her alive to know what happens next...

Curiously, this book focuses less on the storytelling aspect, as it's a little more character-driven. Shahrzad doesn't just marry the boy-king Khalid - she wants to kill him because he killed her best friend. Meanwhile, Tariq, a young man who likes Shahrzad, worries that she might be experiencing Stockholm Syndrome (which, of course, it wouldn't be called.) And then the twists start making themselves known - because you know there's going to be twists, and you want them to come, and you can't decide which character you root for the most. (I'm going with Tariq, though, for his sense of humor. "Aging camel," anyone?)

I hope I can pick up the sequel to this book soon...and in the meantime, I'm adding Renee Ahdieh to my "must get this author's newest books ASAP" list.

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Review: Blood Rites

Blood Rites Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first time I read this particular Dresden story, I gave it four stars. I guess I must have forgotten how madcap it was, even by Butcher's usual standards. All the blood, sugar, sex, magik...wait, isn't that a Chili Peppers reference? If so, you may shoot me.

Just kidding.

But seriously, this is definitely one of the better Dresden Files books out there, and I'm not just saying that because of the greater inclusion of vampires - and especially the White Court, otherwise known as Incubi and Succubi (which, of course, makes me think of Lost Girl now that I've spent a month or two slow-bingeing that entire series.)

Rediscovering this series is simply too much fun.

Coming soon - a review of Book 7.

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Review: Furthermore

Furthermore Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tahereh Mafi's Alice in Wonderland-reimagining middle-grade debut is markedly different from Shatter Me, which can only be a good thing. It's, surprisingly, a little slow to get started, and after about 100 pages, I was really starting to wonder when things would happen.

Then the adventure really kicks off in earnest, making for a seriously page-turning read. Page-turning, and aggressively surreal, though not in the same "is this even a story?" weird way of, say, Wink Poppy Midnight. Mafi's surreal style is undeniably fun, wild, constantly breaking the fourth wall (I read a good chunk of the book in the voice of Jim Dale doing his Pushing Daisies narration), and willfully defiant of the laws of physics in all the best ways.

What I really liked most about Furthermore, though, was what this version of Alice has in common with Tavi from Codex Alera - a kid without magic in a world where everyone has magic, one who learns very quickly that perhaps not having such an advantage wakes up other advantages instead. Specifically, a greater dependence on one's own wits, which makes one a little more capable of survival.

So far, it appears this book may be a standalone, but if there's a sequel (in addition to Mafi's other work in progress of which I've heard - a YA historical fantasy set in ancient Persia, if I remember correctly), count me in for going down this paper foxhole again.

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

#StayPeculiar: The Miss Peregrine Movie

***THIS IS A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW.***

I didn't realize Tim Burton was capable of so much awesome...oh wait, it's Tim Burton, of course he's capable. But put him in the director's chair for a movie based on a Ransom Riggs novel, and made with an as-always seriously on-point screenplay by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, Kingsman), and it's easy to say one of the most gifted cinematic visionaries of our time has outdone himself. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is not only Burton's best movie since Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I now think it's Burton's best movie, period.

Can you see the monsters too?

For Burton fans in particular, this movie's a treat because it combines stylistic elements from his other movies in a surprisingly cool bit of self-pastiche. It starts out in Florida, so there's a bit of Edward Scissorhands in the creepy, pastel-colored Stepford Suburbia with an ominous other place just beyond the horizon - in this case, the swampy forests behind the home of Abe Portman, grandfather of our hero, Jake Portman. On the subject of Jake, Asa Butterfield (Hugo, Ender's Game) is the perfect fit for this role - the palest, skinniest, least outdoorsy teenage boy in Florida. Abe's nickname for him, "Tygrysko" (Polish for "little tiger"), he doesn't agree with it - he thinks he's more of a chicken. (Naturally, he'll soon prove himself wrong.) But back to the self-pastiching thing - in addition to Scissorhands, we also get a nice little bit of Nightmare-esque stop-motion in Enoch's first demonstration of his homunculi, and the otherworldly, colorful magnificence of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland - both of which really took me back to my teenage years when I first discovered Tim Burton. (Although I was actually twelve when Charlie first hit theaters, but close enough.)

Story-wise, the movie is, again, a lot like Charlie - it's pretty faithful to Riggs' novel, but then it starts slipping in some differences that make for a wildly different ending from the source material. Not only does this make the movie actually work very well as a standalone, it also averts that truly hellish cliffhanger from the book by incorporating twists that wouldn't have been out of place in Hollow City or Library of Souls.

One of the major changes, however, is the much-ballyhooed switching of Emma's and Olive's peculiarities, giving Emma air powers and Olive fire powers. Naturally, the trailers got a lot of fans riled up because of this, but not me. I love Jane Goldman's screenwriting work, and I thought she could do a good job with this little mix-up. As I watched the movie, I was a bit unsure, feeling that there was the (not-terribly-wanted) potential for a sticky little love triangle between Jake, Emma, and Olive. But no - shipping-wise, there's little deviation from the novel there, switching of peculiarities be damned. Hell, I think Goldman managed to do a better job writing Jake and Emma's relationship than Riggs ever did, focusing as much as she did on the tension between them. It's a bit of a nice foreshadowing of Butterfield's next role, too, in the upcoming movie The Space Between Us (where he'll be starring opposite Britt Robertson of Under the Dome and Tomorrowland fame.)

And in terms of other changes to the story - well, I can't really detail those without spoiling things, and I promised a spoiler-free review. But I can promise you this as well - there's a certain climactic fight scene that's equal parts awesome and funny (I had my jaw dropped pretty much the whole time), with slapdash, quick-cut shots of top-notch elemental combat and bloody amazing CGI work and even some cool music in the background, so other than the fantasy elements, it really smacks of Goldman, feeling like it wouldn't have been out of place in Kingsman. As much as I would have loved Tim Burton to help bring my story in Red Rain to life, up to now I didn't think he quite had the action chops to pull it off. But when paired with a Jane Goldman script, Burton can work magic he's never done before, and now I've really got to see what he would do with a Red Rain movie.

Speaking of magic, the peculiars themselves are so much fun to watch. The aforementioned elemental powers (which, when used to fight, are worthy of Avatar: The Last Airbender or Codex Alera), the protective badasses that are the ymbrynes (Miss Peregrine, of course, and Judi Dench as Miss Avocet), and even the dreaded villains, the hollows and wights, led by Samuel L. Jackson having WAAAAAAAY too much fun as Mr. Barron, late of the Society of Syndrigast Scientists. And of course the nature of the loops. Sure, the physics involved don't go as well-explained as they should, but they still make about as much sense as they do in the books, and for one movie, it's only too easy for me to park my brain at the door.

To all those involved in this A+ movie, all the props.

Till next time, Pinecones...

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