Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: Shatter Me

Shatter Me Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Welcome to X-Men Shatter Me, story of a strange young woman named Rogue Juliette who can kill people just by touching them. And she hates herself for it, but can't do anything about it and wants to die, poor girl.

This novel is a tiresome cliche storm. This novel is awesomely cliche-riffic.

I loved it. Just loved loved loved it. I would read this book 1 2 1500 times. Really. Juliette was oh so relatable, a mirror to so much of me. And Adam was great in this book too, but my favorite was Kenji, that guy who walks with his own laugh track.

(Not so much Warner, that piece of bantha fodder piece of so much early Rhysand.)

Can't wait to reread the remaining two books!

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: The Fall of the House of Cabal

The Fall of the House of Cabal The Fall of the House of Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a member of the Cabal Cabal, I confess myself a tad disappointed in this fifth novel in the series. This, I think, largely stems from the novel's relatively unfocused, scattershot plot, in which there were simply too many characters (besides those Cabal brothers) to keep track of, and even as they trotted the globe, it was only too easy to forget, sometimes, what the stakes really were this time around. That said, I didn't find it lacking in the signature Cabal dark humor, and there were quite a few welcome callbacks to previous Cabal stories, including the return of the Mirkarvian aeroship, the Princess Hortense.

Though I hear Jonathan Howard's taking a break from this series, I still can't wait to see what he gives us next.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: Wires and Nerve, Volume 1

Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first, I thought this graphic novel would be an adaptation of the original Lunar Chronicles books - and then when I heard Iko would be the central character, I thought it would be another side, another story. Nope, just another story, a sequel to the original series with Iko as the star. And damn, she is so good in this lead role - Meyer should've given her more spotlight sooner! My only real complaints about this book are the general lack of Scarlet and Wolf, as well as the artwork - I dunno, it doesn't appeal to me that much. At least it's not Dark Knight Returns levels of ugly, though, so there's that. And there's a great story in this graphic novel - a story that ends in a wild cliffhanger, which demands to be resolved ASAP. So I'll be better at putting myself in line for Wires and Nerve, Vol. 2 when it comes out. :)

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aimal Farooq recommended this author, and mentioned the movie based on this book of his. So when I got them both at the library, I decided to read the book first, and I think I made a wise choice. The movie, while not half-bad (and nor should it be, not when Riz Ahmed is the star!), loses a lot of the novel's poetic quality in its effort to expand, to build on the story Hamid gives us in under 200 pages. And while I sometimes found the story a little unfocused, Hamid writes the book so uniquely, so heavy on Gray and Grey Morality and Pakistani culture (especially food - mmm!), that I couldn't help but finish the whole thing in one sitting - and, from there, wonder exactly what had happened. Especially with that ending, the ambiguity of which puts Inception to shame - and, naturally, means it's not adapted that way in the movie.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: Cibola Burn

Cibola Burn Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After Abaddon's Gate left me questioning my faith in the team behind James S.A. Corey and The Expanse, I'm happy to say that Cibola Burn restored that faith.

By taking the setting well beyond our solar system and bringing us to the most terra incognita place yet, and delivering some damn good apocalyptic thrills worthy of Ridley Scott's work on that most underrated classic Prometheus, I think the series bounced back up to the quality I came to expect from Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War both. Though I was a little weirded out by those random "Investigator" interludes and their repetitive nature, and slightly daunted by the sheer length, Cibola Burn proved to be one of the most rewarding entries yet in the world of The Expanse - especially with the return of two of my favorite characters, even if for all too brief periods of time, and holy crap on a cracker, that epilogue.

The second I finished this book, I had to place my order at the library for Book 5 - which apparently is proving quite popular right now, so I had to special order it from another library. But I promise, soon I shall read and review Nemesis Games and hope it keeps on building this series' high hype.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review: Flame in the Mist

Flame in the Mist Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I liked Ahdieh's first duology and its unique take on the Arabian Nights, but this book wasn't nearly as enjoyable. Rather than the lush, romantic fantasy she gifted us with before, Ahdieh's story of a young Japanese noblewoman forced to hide out with the group that tried to kill her (calling it a Mulan retelling is highly inaccurate, especially given the Japanese setting as opposed to Chinese, but other reviewers have covered that in greater depth) is dark and full of terrors, but suffers from a muddled, repetitive plot, like Zack Snyder possessed Ahdieh as she wrote this book. Not helping is the fact that, even though chapters alternate between Mariko's and Kenshin's POVs (and I love Mariko, especially), the fact that both are rendered in third person makes it very hard for me to connect with them, or even differentiate between them sometimes. But the "dark and full of terrors" helps boost the story out of the trash heap for me, especially with that carnivorous jubokko tree, as well as the final scene, which is scarily reminiscent of a recent episode of Supergirl - no spoilers, though.

I'll read the sequel to this book - it's ending another duology, right? But I'm going into that one with some reservations, unless Ahdieh manages to tighten the pacing and make her characters more vibrant.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: Girl Out of Water

Girl Out of Water Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If not for this book getting flooded with trolls a few months back, I probably wouldn't have heard of it, nor ordered it from the library as soon as I did. On the surface, it really doesn't seem my style. And yet, reading this book, I found it pleasantly surprising how good it was. Though the story does lose considerable steam in the final act, which builds up to an ending so open I feel like it doesn't wrap anything up at all, I have to say, Laura Silverman can write some damn good characters. They pop off the page, each lending a slightly different flavor to this book's salt-tinged voice - my favorite flavor, though, is that of the twins, Parker and Nash, those adorable little buggers. And for what it's worth, even with the ending (as well as the love triangle that I kinda wish wasn't there - I ship Anise with Lincoln a hell of a lot more than I ship her with Eric) making me feel like this book is wanting, I read the whole thing in one sitting, easily.

And now, I'm wondering why I don't go to the beach more often. Hell, from the sound of it, everyone in Santa Cruz is happy to hook up with tourists over the summer. I should've done that as a teenager, LOL. Be the tourist, that is.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Review: The Alloy of Law

The Alloy of Law The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The original Mistborn trilogy gives way to this, the first book in a new series of at least four planned novels. It's set about 300 years after the original trilogy, meaning that it takes the old magic-metal system and updates it with the tech and aesthetics of steampunk and westerns. Perhaps our new heroes aren't quite as memorable as those Sanderson gave us before, and the story takes its time to get going because the early chapters come with some annoying time-jumps in very quick succession, but the always-stellar world-building and beautifully visual writing style make up for it. And bonus - this book isn't nearly as long and sluggish to read as the original trilogy was. Here's hoping for more fun in the remaining books - including the one (or perhaps more?) not yet published.

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Review: Fall of Hades

Fall of Hades Fall of Hades by Richard Paul Evans
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The fifth book in this series felt like so much filler and I wasn't sure the series would pick up in quality again after that. I'm happy to say, though, that Fall of Hades not only improves on the lousy Storm of Lightning, but also boasts some of the most high-intensity action yet in this series, enough to really make it clear just why James Dashner gives this series good blurb. Although the story suffers from some poorly-applied romantic tension and Hatch managing to get even more cartoonish a villain than ever (and you know if the Walking Dead writers ever saw this book, they'd have a ball incorporating some of Hatch's deepest descent yet into darkness into Negan), the story finally ramps back up when it builds up to a scene that will make your jaw drop or your money back.

And then...cliffhanger. DAMN.

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review: The Upside of Unrequited

The Upside of Unrequited The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hate to be the next person who goes and says that their rating of a book is something-point-five stars because for some reason, those never sit well with me. But really, my assessment of this book is a 3.5, because I really can't decide whether it merits three or four more. But because I'm a nice guy, I'll round up to four.

I think my expectations for this book were a little lower than for most other readers because I never bought into the Simon Vs. hype machine. I liked that book but didn't love it, even though Simon Spier (or as I still like to call him for some reason, Simon Spider) was nothing short of lovable and relatable. Molly Peskin-Suso, I found her relatable in a bit of a different way. Nobody would call me "fat," but I'm just overweight enough that I'm a little more self-conscious about it than I should be. Molly, naturally, has a lot of that same self-consciousness, especially when her surprisingly fatphobic grandma pays the family a visit. But her real issue in this story isn't so much about her weight as much as it's about her nonexistent love life - now that is what I relate to the most.

YA contemporary tends to really not be my thing, or it's absolutely my thing, or it falls squarely in the middle. This book falls in the middle range between the latter two. It's classic Becky Albertalli, overall very lighthearted but running a surprisingly broad emotional spectrum, and so loaded with diverse characters (who are much more memorable than a lot of Simon Vs.' supporting cast, which was my main issue with that book) that just about everyone's gonna find someone to represent them, whether they're supporting cast or main. (Bonus points for Simon making some damn good cameo appearances, including that one "Gryffinpuff" line on his and Abby's Skype call with Molly.) And as for Molly's love life, well, you'd think you know how it goes, but Albertalli has some serious surprises up her sleeve.

So, now it's time to wait for Albertalli's next book, Leah on the Offbeat. Man, where does she come up with those titles?

(Also, as lighthearted as this book is, I gotta admit, it's super fun to balance it out, like the colors of a classic Oreo, with the Orphan Black premiere playing in front of me as I type this review. Just sayin'.)

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Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: Red Rain

Red Rain Red Rain by R.L. Stine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, after five years, I'm finally reading this book, apparently R.L. Stine's first for adults, and not to be confused with my own someday-to-be-published YA science-fantasy mystery of the same name...and I confess myself disappointed. Well, I'm not surprised, given how shockingly abysmal the GR average for this book is - I don't think I've seen any other book (notwithstanding the outright garbage fires that are legendary here for all the wrong reasons) with such a low rating! And you know what? This book really could've been so much better, and validated all the hype it got from Douglas Preston, Kathy Reichs, Steve Berry, et al. But no, while Stine does some good Stephen King-type material with those angelically demonic twins Daniel and Samuel, he kinda ruins it by slipping in other characters' less interesting lives all over the place, including one surprisingly gross and explicit scene of a guy cheating on his wife with a much younger woman. Unprotected. What is this, American Horror Story? (By which I mean Murder House or Hotel, one of the shitty extra-sexual seasons.)

But hey, at least part of the twist ending of this book called to mind one of my favorite Goosebumps books from my childhood - the most underrated one that made an impact on the 2015 movie, if I remember correctly. (Now that movie is what I prefer to remember Dylan Minnette for. That, and Awake, or Agents of SHIELD - but that's neither here nor there.) So that made up for the blahhhhh parts, though not enough to make me really recommend this book too highly.

One day, maybe my book will take this one's place as the top search result under Red Rain on this site. A guy can dream, no?

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Review: Heat Storm

Heat Storm Heat Storm by Richard Castle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Given that Castle hasn't aired a new episode in over a year, this'll probably be the last we see of any of Richard Castle's novels, whether they feature Nikki Heat or Derrick Storm. But at least they got to combine forces, if only just this once, and at least this story managed to tie up a few of the lingering storylines from both Wild Storm and High Heat with neat little bows, relatively speaking. Oh, and getting Derrick's politically incorrect, borderline-jingoistic POV (and his love of Ford) was surprisingly fun, because overly patriotic he might be, but I'd rather have his brand of over-patriotism than that of any GOP stooge.

Ave atque vale, Heat and Storm.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Review: The Dark Prophecy

The Dark Prophecy The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gotta admit, I was just a tad bit disappointed in Riordan's latest madcap mythological adventure. Sure, it's fun to keep going in the POV of an assbuttish god who's still being brought down all the pegs and is none too happy about it, and I'm overjoyed that Leo's back (even though Calypso comes with him and doesn't do as much as I'd like, but still, Leo!) and hasn't lost a bit of his personality.

But the book, while it does evolve a bit from its predecessor and becomes darker (and deals a lot in Apollo's guilt and troubled romantic past with the main villain), it sometimes feels a little too dark, lacking at times in the signature Riordan humor. (Though I admit, as a classic rock fan, I laughed my ass off when Apollo basically said he sang Tom Petty's part on Stevie Nicks' hit, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," and has never been credited for it, not once.) Sometimes, that darkness gets to the point where I had to wonder, why even is Riordan writing this as a middle grade series again and not making it more YA?

(Though it's a good thing he is, if only to ensure that the target audience sees the normalization of an LGBTQ+ protagonist - bi, in Apollo's case, but you already knew that.)

Naturally, this book ends on quite the cliffhanger, with another old fave making a return and promising to play a massive part in next year's third novel. Bring it on, Uncle Rick.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review: The Battlemage

The Battlemage The Battlemage by Taran Matharu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

According to that (new) cover, it's welcome to Mars, I guess...with Fletcher looking very, very dangerous. And of course, Ignatius in the background, having evolved...sorry, metamorphosed from a cute little Salamander to a bigger, be-winged, and now, more Toothless-like than ever, Drake.

So at last we come to the end of the Summoner series...or is it? Not with this level of high action, and highly relevant social commentary as the previous books' allegory for the rampant prejudices of today's world continues to develop, and deep emotional investment because we the readers need Fletcher and Ignatius and all their comrades-in-arms to survive these trials, gorrammit!

Naturally, some of them don't.

But the ride there is loaded with all that action, right up to the very end. I'm not kidding - Taran Matharu gives this series a Deathly Hallows, Allegiant, Mockingjay-level final battle that takes a lot of lives, and a lot of energy, and propels the reader nonstop.

This one's going in with King's Cage, Nemesis, and The Hate U Give in serious contention for this year's Pinecone Awards for sure. And thank God we're not done with this story world yet - even though the ending to this book, not unlike City of Glass or The End of Oz, leaves room to expect further adventures, Matharu's next book, The Outcast, will be a much-needed prequel centering on a younger Arcturus.

Can't wait to read that one!

And until then, to the original Summoner Trilogy, now's the time to say ave atque vale, and also vas ir...anoshe.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: The Traveler

The Traveler The Traveler by David Lynn Golemon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I guess in the last year or so, Golemon's hit a bit of a slump. This might be because he went and wrote two books in that time instead of one, with one being a surprisingly not-so-fun horror story that felt like a knockoff of AHS: Roanoke, and the other being this Event Group book - and thank God for that! But while the book had all the action that comes with Event Group territory, and the history-bending, I felt that the central conceit of Wellsian doors and time travel hundreds of millennia into the past was, by Golemon standards especially, surprisingly thinly constructed and unmemorable. But hey, at least the Event Group was back, and they got to make contact with one of Golemon's most memorable characters yet, a very complicated woman connected to those weird Wellsian doors.

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Review: The Four Legendary Kingdoms

The Four Legendary Kingdoms The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's been a while since Matthew Reilly put out anything this good. Maybe not since the last full-length Jack West, Jr. book - and now, after so many years, he's given us the fourth book, and it's peak classic Reilly in all the ways. Ancient conspiracies, interstellar threats, wall-to-wall action like you simply wouldn't believe, gods and monsters...I mean, seriously, why the hell haven't any of his books become movies yet? Probably because they'd all be the most expensive movies that aren't the Pirates of the Caribbean series, especially the movie from this book, which is the one super-high-concept creation I've been expecting for the longest time as a fan of this author - Matthew Reilly does the Hunger Games. And for some of the highest stakes he's ever written, what better time to finally introduce Jack West, Jr. to Shane "Scarecrow" Schofield? It's an Avengers-grade crossover that, seriously, why isn't this a bloody movie yet? Read this if it kills you. (And be amused when Mother casually mentions having not been so bummed since Zayn left One Direction. Hey, maybe she likes his solo work, though?)

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Review: 16th Seduction

16th Seduction 16th Seduction by James Patterson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Funny that this book has the word "seduction" in the title, and yet there's pretty much none of that to be had in the book itself. What it does have, however, is the Women's Murder Club taking on a terrorist who bombs a San Francisco museum that's the Exploratorium in all but name (and especially considering that last year's Women's Murder Club outing included a plane crash on the ground of Mills High School in Millbrae, it's so weirdly jarring that Patterson and Paetro would use a phony-named version of a real landmark.) While the ongoing subplot of Lindsay and Joe's marital issues distracts from the plot with its general lack of presence, at least the trial of the Sci-Tron bomber proves gripping like this series was in the old days. I only hope that Book 17 is an improvement on this one.

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review: The Adjustment

The Adjustment The Adjustment by Suzanne Young
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Suzanne Young only gets better and better with the world of The Program - and by that, I mean that she makes the Program ever more sinister, especially in the books that both precede and succeed the original duology. Even with the Program gone, the world in this latest novel still suffers from having ever had it in the first place - especially the teenagers who are still too afraid to not only express their emotions, but to emote, period. And while there's the promise of a memory-retrieval method called the Adjustment, if you know this series, you know it's too good to be true. But you don't know just how mind-screwy this book really is until you read through it all.

I should warn you - whatever you do, do NOT read the diagram of the books in the series that precedes this book. It reveals the title of the upcoming sixth novel, The Complication, but gives just enough info about it that it kinda spoils this one. Avoid that diagram at all costs and you'll get Suzanne Young's best book yet.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review: Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been seeing tons of buzz for this book lately - and for the author himself, because Older always has something topical and intelligent to say. Reading the book, I'm not disappointed by said buzz. Shadowshaper gets a lot of comparisons to The Mortal Instruments, which aren't that far off, and for me, the Columbia University scenes made me think of Raimi's Spider-Man Trilogy too. But what this book really made me think it was, was the missing link between Miss Peregrine before it and Labyrinth Lost after it. It's a unique urban fantasy, in which our main character, Sierra, is inextricably linked to some long, dangerous family history (especially through her grandfather, not unlike Jacob Portman), artistic magic with an Afro-Caribbean twist, salsa-metal (I need to listen to some samples of this particular genre mashup if I can find any), and some well-placed social commentary, particularly in the scene where Sierra calls out her aunt after she gives her one too many racist insults for being, basically, "too black." (Like such a thing even exists.)

Bottom line, I need to finish this series now - and also read some of Older's, uh, older work, because I hear he's got a kickass adult urban fantasy series that comes with Rick Riordan's stamp of approval, among others.

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: Waking Gods

Waking Gods Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really, Neuvel's an author you have to watch out for - and thankfully, my library is doing exactly that. Though they were very late to the party with Sleeping Giants - I recall having had to special-order that one from Sacramento - they were much more on top of things getting ahold of Waking Gods. And thank God - pun intended - for that, because while the first book was a little bit of a World War Z-The Martian hybrid (of the books, that is, combining the textual-equivalent-of-found-footage style of the former and the humor of the latter), this book shifted a little closer to Brooks' book, dialing up the action and introducing strands of War of the Worlds into the book's DNA, with weapons eerily reminiscent of the Heat-Ray and the Black Smoke. (Probably because of this book, I rewatched Spielberg's movie last night for the first time in years.)

So far, there's no word on when the third book in this series will hit shelves - but it better hit shelves, especially after that ending, a cliffhanger even more weapons-grade than Neuvel's first one.

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Review: High Heat

High Heat High Heat by Richard Castle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me a while to pick up this Castle book, mostly because I almost forgot it was coming out until about six months after it did. And that, I think, owes a lot to the fact that the show closed out its eighth and final season last year on a pretty sour note, with an annoying storyline of Castle and Beckett being forced to stay apart most of the time, not to mention the fact that, had a ninth season been ordered, it would've been without Beckett or Lanie and would've suffered so much as a result...and, of course, this book, in between its developments of an "American ISIS" and a strangely charismatic independent presidential candidate from Texas, plants the seeds for replicating that aggravating Castle Season 8 storyline.

So, on that basis, I wasn't a fan of this book. But at least it sets up the ninth and final novel - the long-awaited Nikki Heat/Derrick Storm crossover event - with gusto, so there's that.

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Review: Unplugged

Unplugged Unplugged by Donna Freitas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I decided to give this one a try because I saw its sequel sitting on the "New Books" shelf at the library a few weeks back and decided to go back to the beginning. What I found in this book was a sort of YA version of The Matrix, but with far less agonizing philosophy and far more cheesy, cornball teen love. Oh, and the occasional bit of thrills and chills and action, but even that feels surprisingly lacking over the course of this surprisingly long book.

It's not that bad a read, and it's pretty addictive, but I can sort of see why A) this one doesn't have a terribly high GR rating, and B) this one isn't getting tons of hype.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: City of Heavenly Fire

City of Heavenly Fire City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


"Strangelove, strange highs and strange lows
Strangelove, that's how my love goes
Strangelove, will you give it to me?
Will you take the pain?"
- Depeche Mode

"Tonight I feel my heart begin to fail me
And my head begin to fall
Like two ships crossing their paths
I see you like a new dawn

My perfect stranger, don't sail away
It was meant to be
We met this way
We met this way..."
- Civil Twilight

"'Cause you use your heart as a weapon
And it hurts like heaven..."
- Coldplay

"My body is a cage
That keeps me from dancin' with the one I love
But my mind holds the key..."
- Arcade Fire

"If I could turn the page
In time that I'd rearrange
Just a day or two
Close your, close your, close your eyes

But I couldn't find a way
So I'll settle for one day
To believe in you
Tell me, tell me, tell me lies..."
- Fleetwood Mac, "Little Lies"

"And it feels like I'm just too close to love you
There's nothing I can really say
I can't lie no more, I can't hide no more
Gotta be true to myself
And it feels like I am just too close to love you
So I'll be on my way..."
- Alex Clare

"Do you know what's worth fightin' for?
When it's not worth dyin' for?
Does it take your breath away
And you feel yourself suffocatin'?"
- Green Day, "21 Guns"

"Your skin, oh yeah, your skin and bones
Turn into something beautiful
Do you know, for you I'd bleed myself dry
For you I'd bleed myself dry..."
- Coldplay, "Yellow"

"When we lift the covers from our feelings
We expose our insecure spots
Trust is just as rare as devotion
Forgive us our sinful hearts..."
- Rush, "Emotion Detector"

"Follow me, you can follow me
And I will not desert you now
When your fire's died out
No one's there, they have left you for dead

Follow me, you can follow me
I will keep you safe
Follow me, you can follow me
I will protect you..."
- Muse

"It was a cup of good intentions
A tablespoon of one big mess
A dash of overreaction
And I assume you know the rest..."
- Barenaked Ladies, "One Little Slip"

"In the garden I was playin' the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You, you were actin' like it was the end of the world..."
- U2


Cassie Clare goes all-out for the final entry in the Mortal Instruments series. Of course, it's not the end of the Shadowhunter-verse, not by a long shot. We're only halfway along the ride, people!

But I have to wonder...just how is Cassie gonna up the stakes in future installments? She literally took the cast to Hell and back again in this one. (Speaking of which - does Cassie watch Sleepy Hollow? I have to wonder based on Chapter 14.) And the things she put them all through...those were some seriously intense feels she subjected us to.

My favorite things about this one, though, were A) the return of Tessa Gray (and while I wish she could have had a bigger role, CoHF was already long and jam-packed and epic enough anyway without her, much like TASM 2, so I'll forgive that lost potential), and B) the introduction of the two MC's for The Dark Artifices, Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn.

*pants, takes a breath*

Well. This was an amazing ride. Wish I could have caught it sooner (the rest of the world had about three years' head start on me.) Ave atque vale!

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: Abaddon's Gate

Abaddon's Gate Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the first two books of The Expanse well enough, but compared to Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War, Abbadon's Gate had a certain something lacking. No, it wasn't the action - that was pretty much all there like expected. The problems lay mostly in two things: A) the lack of Bobbi and Avarasala, two of my favorite characters from Caliban's War, and B) the general sense that this book was mostly filler, a whole lotta nothin' plot-wise. I get that Holden and crew are fighting the good fight, but at this point, it's hard to tell even what they're fighting, if at all.

I hope the fourth book picks things up a bit, because I wanna see some improvement.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review: Mars One

Mars One Mars One by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When it comes to Jonathan Maberry, I usually expect tons of action and tons of horror. This book lacks the latter and features less of the former, being much more focused on characters and feelings. It's different for him, but maybe sometimes, a little different is a lot good. Although the story does suffer from some slow pacing - especially in its first 100 pages or so - and frequently drops hints of a greater conspiracy but leaves them hanging, untouched, for extended periods of time, it's still a very addictive read. The short chapters and the surprising emotional emphasis help.

This, I think, is going to be a standalone novel, but if there's a sequel, I'd be happy to give it a read. Oh, and the playlist at the end. Terrific choices, especially the TONS of David Bowie. And who says YA characters shouldn't be allowed to appreciate good music from before they were born?

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy: Collect Them All

Guardians of the Galaxy: Collect Them All Guardians of the Galaxy: Collect Them All by Corinne Duyvis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Corinne Duyvis has published two original novels, and for her third book, she's giving us some nice little Marvel YA. Though it's not my favorite Marvel YA - that honor, of course, still goes to Margaret Stohl's Black Widow books - Duyvis gives us a pretty unique and unexpected novel that proves to be a quick, fun read. It's not perfect, though. Some of the characterization feels a little off to me - Quill comes across as less respectful of women than even his film counterpart, Gamora feels a tad underdeveloped, and Rocket...well, he's a scene-stealer for sure, but Duyvis' insistence on liberally filling his dialogue with made-up sci-fi swear words like "flark" and "d'ast" and "krutacking," in addition to the more standard "freaking," feels pretty out of place, as does his nicknaming of Gamora as "Gam" or, worse, "Gammy." But around these flaws, Duyvis gives us a story just as thought-provoking as her original novels - when Groot gets cloned and each clone's existence saps a little more of the original's power, is it ethical to collect them and wipe them out, or keep them alive and well-cared-for?

There are no easy answers.

Keep in mind before going into this book that it's not really related to the movies, despite featuring the same band of five Guardians. It wouldn't take place between the two volumes released thus far, so unlike Stohl's Black Widow books, it's really not explicitly part of the MCU. But if you like Marvel, and you like Guardians, you owe it to yourself to pick this book up and give it a good read.

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Review: Star Wars: Rebel Rising

Star Wars: Rebel Rising Star Wars: Rebel Rising by Beth Revis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beth Revis delivers a really good story that helps bridge the gap between the prologue and main story of Rogue One by detailing what happened between the time Jyn Erso wound up with Saw Gerrera and the time when she was rescued from an Imperial prison. Along the way, we see Saw's very slow descent into borderline madness as he becomes ever more fanatical about his cause, Jyn's nasty disillusionment with her father, and even, in a few scenes that remind me just a bit of E.K. Johnston's Ahsoka novel for some reason, Jyn finding companionship in a boy her age named Hadder. I almost wish he'd appeared in the movie...oh, but it's probably for the better that he didn't. But it'd be nice to see more of his story sometime.

I think Revis should write more Star Wars stories - heck, maybe even the backstory of Rey, should she choose to accept such a mission.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: Replica

Replica Replica by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I guess Lauren Oliver really isn't the author for me, because while I enjoyed the first two Delirium books well enough, I thought the third wasn't so great, Panic was kinda meh, and now there's Replica. It promises a sort of Orphan Black-Max Ride kind of story, and it's very uniquely laid out, with the first half of the book narrated by Lyra and the second half, printed backwards and upside down so you literally have to turn the book over to read it, by Gemma. Lyra's POV proves much more engaging, though, simply because she's discovering more of the world, while Gemma comes across as entitled and rude and stuck with a perpetual chip on her shoulder that makes me not want to connect with her...though, of course, I can't help it.

I'm surprised that there's actually going to be a sequel to this. I might read it, I might not...but if I do, I probably won't be first in line for it.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review: Legion

Legion Legion by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last year, Kagawa gave us the midpoint of the Talon Saga, serving us a diabolical Aveyardian cliffhanger to rival some of the most aggravating such examples of 2016 (Glass Sword, of course, and also Empire of Storms.) This year, we're back in Kagawa's best series yet for Book 4 of 5, and while I'd love to get into the particulars of what happens, to do so would lead to some massive, and do I mean MASSIVE, spoilers. No, seriously, the spoilers (happy spoilers for me, but spoilers nonetheless) start right away. But what I can tell you, spoiler free, is that A) we get some much-needed flashbacks to Dante's childhood (and showing that he was a traitor to Ember as far back as the first book), B) you would not believe what Riley does right at the start, and C) the action. Dear God, the action. This book, when it gets made into a movie, is gonna be one of the most expensive ever just from the big battle scene alone.

Only one more book to go, called Inferno...I can't wait to read it next year!

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Best And Worst Of The 2016-17 TV Season

Last year, I wanted to wait until the end of my favorite show's season to put out my Best and Worst list. This year, I'm doing so right after my favorite show ends its season. Because while it's become tradition that the party don't stop till The Flash walks out, I'm sorry to say that that show's writers have committed so many party fouls this year (mostly relating to their increasingly heavy focus on WestAllen, and also the interminable "Save Iris" arc) that I can no longer call The Flash my favorite show. I can no longer even count it in my Top 5, and I'm scared that, for the first time, it'll fail to win a Pinecone at year's end.

But while The Flash has disappointed me, it's been a great year elsewhere for five other shows. And there are also five shows (one of which is also a longtime fave) that have either annoyed me or made me want to rage against my viewing machine week after week because of their ongoing existence.

As usual, let's get my Five Worst out of the way first.

5. Powerless

I think it might've had something to do with the change in concept between the initial pilot's filming and the actual airing of the final pilot, but this DC Comics-based NBC sitcom proved shockingly low-quality. Really, given the presence of the likes of Danny Pudi and Alan Tudyk, I was expecting better. But then, I'm a little more forgiving of this show for its faults because, well, they couldn't help having trouble behind the scenes, could they? I only wish they could've stuck with the original insurance-agency idea, and maybe looked for a better lead actress than Vanessa Hudgens...but would it have helped the show last more than one season? Who knows.

Here's hoping for a stronger effort at a DC Comics comedy someday. A Vibe spinoff from The Flash, perhaps?

4. Taken

I literally only started watching this show because my dad saw the trailer for it and thought, "Hey, a spinoff of the Liam Neeson movies? Count me in!" Too bad the trailers for this reboot (it's a prequel, but it's still set in the present day) did such a good job of hiding the fact that this show, being the secret origin of Bryan Mills, pretty much lacks everything that makes the movies worth watching. It's nowhere near as intense or over-the-top as the movies, and with its desaturated color palette and standard plots for every episode, the show is so subdued as to fade into the background - and that's not getting into the fact that each episode suffers from erratic pacing and hole-filled plots. I was also very shocked that NBC renewed it for a second season - which, unless it manages to do well in its new Friday Night Death Slot, will probably be its last.

Personally, if you want more Clive Standen, I'd recommend Vikings. Still getting through their early seasons.

3. No Tomorrow

Maybe this show wasn't for me because it was more for the crowd that watches Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - both critically acclaimed out the wazoo, but also both with premises so absurd that it alienates me from the get-go for some reason. No Tomorrow, with its promise of potential apocalypse, sounded a little more up my alley, but one episode was all it took for me to realize that it was basically a John Green book for adults, with only a gender-swapping of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope (and Joshua Sasse's presence, creepy and douchey though his character was) to sell it. One and done for the CW, and hopefully next year they'll think twice before wasting The Flash lead-in on something so incompatible.

They should've given that lead-in to Frequency, which I won't forgive the CW for cancelling. EVER.

2. Conviction

It never fails to peeve me that ABC's spent the last few years either putting half their eggs in Shonda Rhimes' basket (am I the only one who simply can't get into any of her shows?) or putting another quarter of their eggs in the wastebaskets of ShondaLand's seemingly infinite imitators (Quantico, anyone?) while making me fear for the lives of my favorite genre shows on the network (as I especially did last year with Castle and Agent Carter.) Speaking of the latter, I really hope that Hayley Atwell's not totally done with the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet, as dirty as they did her in all the ways. But this year, they put her in as the lead on the legal drama Conviction, which, despite a fairly all-star cast, was so derivative of Scandal (and, again, I say this as a decided non-fan of that show) that it bored me to tears and made me feel so sorry for Hayley Atwell, saddled as she was with a piss-poor consolation prize of a job.

Come back soon, Ms. Atwell. Maybe in an Agents of SHIELD flashback? :)

1. The Walking Dead

Bet you didn't expect to see this bottoming my Bottom 5, did you? Well, if you've followed my Twitter anytime in the last seven months or so, you probably did. Honestly, I'm ashamed of what this show's become - torture porn for Robert Kirkman, Scott M. Gimple, et al. to beat off to while they laugh at how much we the viewers are scarred for life by the gratuitous physical and psychological violence of the Negan arc. It's gotten to the point where, because of this season, I've taken to telling people who haven't started watching the show to skip it. Not even to watch from the stellar beginning, because that's a surefire way to get you hooked - and therein lies the insidiousness of this show. You can't stop watching, even when you really, really want to. Even through the nihilistic valleys of Season 2, Season 4B, Season 5A...and now, all of Season 7, where all the show's worst flaws (too many characters, too many locations, glacial pacing because they spend entire episodes in one place, the writers blatantly plot-armoring the villain because they have such boners for him, and worst of all, forgetting that this is supposed to be a goddamn zombie show!) come out in full force. Bottom line, if you value your mental and emotional health, avoid The Walking Dead.

Also, that episode where Carl met Negan? Fiction has never made me so ragingly bloodthirsty.

And now for my Five Best!

5. The Good Place

I thought this show was a fun fantasy-comedy in the vein of Bryan Fuller's early days, before he started dabbling in the Gothic and back when he could see the funny side of death. But The Good Place is so much more than that - it's a skillful parody of all the best myth-arc kind of shows on TV. Lost, Fringe, Westworld, Breaking Bad, The X-Files...but to get into particulars of how wild and unexpectedly awesome this show's first season is would risk massive spoilers. Watch this show, love it to death, scream at the finale...then we'll talk.

And if, somehow, you don't like it, go fork yourself.

4. Timeless

Last week, I was scared that NBC had made the same epic mistake they pulled with Revolution and got trigger-happy on the ass of another underrated Eric Kripke show. But it took so little time for the fan outcry to convince the network that, hmm, maybe they had a potential hit on their hands? And after the cliffhanger ending to this terrific time-travel drama's first season, no resolution, ever, would have made me so incredibly raging mad at NBC, you wouldn't believe it. Though they had their pitfalls (God, could we please go back in time and wipe that Bonnie and Clyde episode from existence?), they were otherwise so awesome that I had to watch each episode twice - once live by myself, and the second time with my dad. Sixteen episodes in Season 1 were certainly not enough, and neither will be ten episodes for Season 2...but you know what? It's always worth it, because Kripke never fails.

All hail the all-awesome #TimeTeam. (And Garcia Flynn, that charismatic anti-villain.)

3. Lucifer

I was raised Catholic, but am so over religion. So I have that in common with the title character of this super-cool Fox paranormal crime drama, now ramping up to the end of its second season and with no end to the awesomeness in sight. I also have certain parental issues, trouble connecting with normal humans (and a tendency to balk at said connections when they're made only because I'm suddenly paranoid that something's wrong with it), bisexuality (though he's far more confident in expressing his own), and...and you know what? If you don't believe me, give this show a try. Forget Mark Pellegrino - Tom Ellis as a cuddly and adorably douchey Lucifer is always going to be my definitive version of the character.

You saucy boy, Luci.

2. Supergirl

Taking The Flash's place on my Top 5 list (roughly) is the true shining star of the Arrowverse these days - Kara Zor-El, Supergirl, the Angel From Krypton whose show I've had so much fun pairing with viewings of Lucifer (which will be a little harder to pull off next season if Supergirl stays on Mondays at 8, thus putting it on TV at the same time as Lucifer, but that's neither here nor there.) And as petty as it might be for me to say, the primary reason for this is because of shipping. While I'm so over the main ship on The Flash (and also bummed that Cisco continues to be one of the most relatable characters on that show because he's pretty much forever alone like me), Supergirl has ditched its chemistry-free canon ship as set up at the end of Season 1 in favor of pairing her with her love from the comics, Mon-El, played amazingly by Chris Wood. (It helps that he and Melissa Benoist are now dating in real life, lending Stonefield-level natural chemistry to their performances.) Unpopular opinion - I LOVE KARAMEL. Mon's character development has dovetailed so wonderfully into his and Kara's blossoming relationship, and alongside this emotional roller coaster, we've had Winn taking more of the spotlight being the DEO's resident inventor, and Alex's coming out and finding love in Maggie Sawyer. Oh, and some damn despicable villains in Lillian Luthor and Rhea, the truly monstrous Queen of Daxam. The season finale is next week, and with Tyler Hoechlin returning as Superman, that's just the tip of the iceberg of awesomeness.

Though I'm still shipping SuperFlash like nobody's business, I'm so in for Karamel, those sweet space bunnies.

1. Agents of SHIELD

My favorite show on TV right now isn't The Flash anymore - it's last year's second-place Pinecone winner, Agents of SHIELD. Last year brought the show to new heights with the white-knuckle "Fallen Agent" storyline that cut me deep in my Daisy Johnson-loving heart, but this year, they've taken the show higher and higher. Dividing the series into not two, but three "pods" tightened the writing and pacing to perfect degrees, and each pod serves up a totally different surprise and style that keeps you guessing at every turn. In order, we've got "Ghost Rider" (with Gabriel Luna kicking all the ass as Robbie Reyes), "LMD" (with Mallory Jansen creeping everyone the fuck out as AIDA), and "Agents of HYDRA" (a scary backwards world where SHIELD is dying, HYDRA rules the roost, and Brett Dalton is playing Grant Ward as we all want to remember him - Awesome McCoolguy.) The whole way, it's clear, now more than ever, that I had the right fave all along - Daisy is the true hero of this show now, with Yo-Yo and FitzSimmons not far behind. #ItsAllConnected - all of it. And let me tell you, now up there with The Flash's "Out Of Time" or Person of Interest's "If-Then-Else" or Fringe's "Over There" or The 100's "Perverse Instantiation" on my list of the best episodes of TV ever is Agents of SHIELD's "Self Control." Written and directed by Jed Whedon, it more than rivals anything Joss ever did, and is one of the most screamingly intense hours in TV history. I'm still sure I died watching it that night and came back as a ghost - or, perhaps, a Framework construct. (Huh...that might actually explain a lot about this shitty world, except we wound up in the Framework while the "Ghost Rider" pod was still happening.)

And thus endeth my Best and Worst lists...what do you guys think?

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

A Court of Wings and Ruin A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So. Here it is, mes amis. The conclusion to the original Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy - and make no mistake, this book wraps up the story begun in the first book two years ago. Though SJM is planning at least three other books and two novellas, those will all be spinoffs, for which I'm pretty grateful because as compelling as Feyre's story has been, it'll be nice to jump into someone else's POV once in a while. Hopefully Azriel's, mostly because he provided my single favorite scene in this book, when he talked about how he learned to fly a little later than some of the other Fae. I could relate all too well to what amounts to him being a late bloomer - but also, so can many of my characters who are, of course, reading this and many other YA books (Gideon Cabrera just raised his hand.)

Like the first two books in the trilogy, ACOWAR proved to be a very long read for me. It certainly didn't help that the book was itself very long, about the same length as Empire of Storms - and like that book, this one was printed, unfortunately, on super-thin paper that made me feel like I was going to tear the page every time I turned it. And was that page count, pushing 700, really necessary? SJM's proven that as her books become longer and longer, and she all but burns herself out writing more and more books each year, that quality really suffers for it. Usually in the form of overwrought sex scenes (each one roughly the length of Rhys' dick) and an overemphasis on shipping, especially ships that aren't winning this book any diversity points.

True, it appears that Maas is somewhat aware of her problems with diversity, and she tries to rectify them...but she simply doesn't try hard enough. Most of the primary characters are white (with a few POC thrown in, including references to a faraway land in the southeast where gold and lapis lazuli are prized - basically, Ancient Egypt, and I'm seeing a trailer for The Mummy pop up on my phone as I write this) and/or straight (with a few queer exceptions, many of whom, sadly, draw on bad stereotypes.) Most of this book's particular diversity issues have been brought up by others more qualified than I - especially the Desna-and-Eska-like Dagdan and Brannagh, subjects of the "soulless" line which many have accused of acephobia (it's not hard to see it as, instead, referring to incest, though the acephobic reading, sadly, makes just as much sense in context), Mor's coming out as lesbian (and some readers wondering if she would seek a male lover to "turn her straight," though in context, she's more worried about how her heteronormative peers would react to her sexuality - and Feyre, to her credit, offers her the support and confidence she needs), and Helion apparently desiring a three-way just because he's bi (which, yes, hit me a little more personally and ticked me off just a bit, but then I'm also that Lucifer fan who frequently quotes the title character's line, "It's called a 'Devil's Threesome' for a reason!")

Really, though, the above problematic moments are drops in the 700-page bucket that is this book. Though considering how long the book is, SJM really should have striven to cut it down more. The book is still very page-turning, but the trouble is, I found myself more often than not with glazed eyes from reading interminably long stretches that don't really amount to much in the grand scheme of things - that grand scheme, of course, being Rhys and Feyre's plans to unite with other High Fae to take down Tamlin and the dreaded King of Hybern. It'd be nice if we'd been introduced to some more of those other High Fae in previous books, but the first two books spent so much time focusing on the extreme ends of Prythian Fae land - the Spring and Night Courts, as well as Under the Mountain - that all the other courts in between have simply been neglected for so long that detailing them now doesn't earn much interest from me. It's not unlike with Veronica Roth and Carve the Mark - SJM built a pretty big world, but couldn't be arsed to give it the development it needed.

Though I won't lie. I didn't give up on the book the way I kept thinking I would during ACOMAF last year, not even in the face of spoilers and problems. And no, this book isn't perfect, and I've soured somewhat on Feyre and Rhys again in the months since I read ACOMAF because one of my Twitter mutuals absolutely loathes Rhys, especially. But then I also have a Wattpad mutual who finds both Feyre and Rhys relatable for a variety of reasons, and while neither are anyone's definition of a major hero, they're surprisingly complex enough that it manages to keep my interest despite the book's severely bloated overlength.

So, for what it's worth, the book I've been calling TACOWAR for a while is a fatiguing read, but if you want closure on Feyre and Rhys' story, you've come to the right place. You've also come to the right place if you're looking for plenty of this:

I'm at least hoping that SJM's future books (like the spinoffs in this series, or the Chaol-centric Tower of Dawn for another nice change) pick up again and get me back to the levels of fan love I used to have a couple of years ago or so.

To the original ACOTAR Trilogy, I now say vas ir...anoshe.

And one final thought: in case I ever need a place to find Aimal Farooq's hilarious reaction to this book's title reveal, I'll keep it here just in case. Because I can never, ever unsee it, and neither will you. #SorryNotSorry

A court of wings... and ruin
— westfall aimal ❄️ (@aimalfarooq) December 5, 2016

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Review: Alone

Alone Alone by Scott Sigler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scott Sigler's kick-ass YA trilogy concludes, and while it's maybe a little less kick-ass than Alive and Alight, largely due to length, Alone is nevertheless a rip-roaring piece of sci-fi terror and awe, drawing more than ever on its Mayan and Pandoran (as in, from Avatar) inspirations. As with the first two books in this series, I'm giving you...NO SPOILERS.

To the Generations Trilogy, I now say ave atque vale and eagerly await whatever Sigler gives us next.

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review: The Thousandth Floor

The Thousandth Floor The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

So I've seen this book on store shelves for a while, and I thought, maybe it'd be a good book? It had an interesting idea, with its futuristic premise and all, and that cover is some beautiful stuff. But then, all that glitters is not gold. Often, it's merely a gold veneer covering absolute crap. (A certain Orange Menace ought to know all about that.) That, sadly, is what this book is - a glossy sci-fi sheen, but underneath it's populated with a bunch of annoying, hard-partying futuristic teenagers who do next to nothing to get me interested in them. Well, maybe Watt, because he seems cool. But when he's the only remotely likable one out of the book's five POV characters, and you see a lot of other people's reviews saying this one is basically sci-fi Gossip Girl...well, that's my cue to give up only about fifty pages in.

DNF, and I don't think I'm coming back anytime soon.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire Ring of Fire by Brad Taylor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I was able to get through this second of two Pike Logan thrillers in pretty near record time, and while I liked it pretty well, it wasn't as good as its immediate predecessor for me. Mostly, this stems from the book going back to the jihadist well all over again, like Taylor went and channeled the ghost of Vince Flynn. But Taylor also takes care to highlight how jihadists aren't representative of the average Muslim, that they tend to be ultraconservative types twisting their religion to suit their own ends, and that it's not like Christians and Jews don't have such groups within their own ranks either. Truly, everyone has a way of committing atrocities on each other if left unchecked, and the antagonists of this book are no exception.

It looks, though, as if Taylor's going to slow down the pace on his writing, not releasing another Pike Logan book till early next year. You never know, though. He may get back to his usual two-books-a-year thing and we just don't know yet. I only hope, though, that the twelfth book is an improvement.

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Review: Ghosts of War

Ghosts of War Ghosts of War by Brad Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again, I find myself a little behind on this series, and I've got two books to catch up on (though there'll be another one in between for texture.) In the meantime, there's this tenth Pike Logan book, which, as Taylor states in the acknowledgments, is a welcome diversion from his usual fare. Not only does he shift the focus from jihadist antagonists to Russian ones (Putin himself appears in all his sociopathic glory, to the point where I'm pretty sure this book, as well as all others by Taylor and even the man himself, is banned in Russia now), not only does he bring back one of my old faves (the Ziva-esque Shoshanna), but he further shifts the plot away from his usual Flynn/Thor-style material and more into Rollins/Berry territory with the focus on a lost cache of gold the Nazis stole from Jewish people during the Holocaust.

I'll take a break to get back to my usual YA reading as a sort of palate cleanser, but soon I'll be reading the next book in this series as well.

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