Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: The Ship Beyond Time

The Ship Beyond Time The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is this really the end of Heilig's debut series? I hope not. Not with that relatively open ending, which, I think, is probably the only reason why this book isn't quite as five-star-worthy as Book 1. Well, that and the fact that while we do get chapters in Kashmir's POV - sweet! - there simply aren't enough of them. But at least the book's shipping tides shift in a favorable direction, making Nix and Kash the official couple like they should have been from the get-go - and raising the stakes because thanks to a certain prophecy, Kash is so totally in danger for being Nix's love interest. And also I really liked the places Heilig took us this time around - especially Ker-Ys, which I almost thought was a real place. (Though given that it's pretty much Mont St. Michel according to Heilig, it sounds cool enough.)

I wish I didn't have to say ave atque vale to this series already, but I guess Heilig's going to be moving on to some different literary seas now...

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: Wintersong

Wintersong Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't quite say whether it's because I read this book on the heels of the (as expected) terrific The Hate U Give, or if it's because this book genuinely isn't as good as A.C. Thomas' debut (apples and oranges though the comparison may be), but S. Jae-Jones' debut wasn't as good as I was hoping for.

To be fair, it seems that everyone else went into this thinking it was a Labyrinth retelling, and having never seen that movie might not have helped me, like how not having read A Tale of Two Cities hindered my enjoyment of Sarah Rees Brennan's Tell the Wind and Fire. Well, to be fair, I've also never read too much of Christina Rossetti's poetry, outside of snippets in English textbooks and in Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon, and that doesn't help me going into this book either.

My overall impression of Wintersong is that it's a beautiful, haunting book, brought down by its slow pace, interminable length, a plot that has a way of meandering (or sometimes feeling completely lacking), and some pretty awkward romance - borderline new-adult romance, though the book is of course marketed as YA - between Liesl and the Goblin King. Honestly, the impression I got of the Goblin King was that he was another one of those Loki-clone love interests who's pretty, but creepy and hyped to death because of his fantasy bad-boy nature. The Warden and the Darkling come to mind, and Rhysand, and Legend, and especially Morpheus.

That said, though, I couldn't stop reading once I got started, and while I'm typically not too enamored with dreamy, surreal-type fantasies that sacrifice plot for atmosphere, JJ writes so well that I couldn't help myself.

For sure I'll be reading the sequel, Shadowsong, but I'll be going into that one with a bit of trepidation - and hope that JJ gets the story a little more off the ground, and a little less directionless.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Review: The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Funny that the song that played on my iPod as I finished reading this book was Alabama Shakes' "Don't Wanna Fight," because the ending of The Hate U Give makes it clear the fight isn't over no matter what.

I've seen #BlackLivesMatter storylines on recent episodes of such TV series as Chicago PD and Murder in the First. Hell, even Fear The Walking Dead had the police taking on the first infected getting mistaken for brutality, leading to in-universe protests as the world started to burn. Compared to what we saw in this first excerpt from Angie Thomas' debut, though, TV's playing it too safe. And that's just her first of many tastes of searing commentary on some of today's biggest, most pervasive social ills.

Subtlety may not be Thomas' strong suit, but neither is simplicity. She populates this 400-plus-page book with some of the most complex characters to grace the YA world. Starr and her family are such standouts, especially Starr herself, caught as she is between worlds. Her home, and her school, and in the latter place, she refuses to let herself look or sound "too black" lest she get pigeonholed by her mostly-white classmates. Race relations are such a sticky topic, especially given that some of Starr's classmates are unrepentant, unconscious racists who don't understand how hurtful their "jokes" or "activism" are. But there are those who empathize and want to learn how to help Starr cope with all the horror she faces in her world now. Truly, no group is a monolith, whether privileged or marginalized. Heck, even within Starr's family, there's a lot of debates and clashing opinions - such as Maverick's (rightful) mistrust of the police vs. Uncle Carlos trying to defend his career choice as a cop, and questioning why Maverick has to make everything a race issue.

But the heavy stuff isn't the entire book. There's plenty of the little things in life to read and enjoy around here too. Especially given that Starr, like so many of our generation (authors and characters alike), is quite a fangirl, especially of 90s R&B, Fresh Prince, and of course Harry Potter. Also, the many scenes of family and friends bonding even when everything's going to hell in a handbasket, between the police brutality, gang turf wars, and rampant protests.

Bottom line, believe the hype. Thomas is terrific and everyone needs to read this book yesterday. Not for nothing did it top the bestseller list for as long as it did!

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review: The Burial Hour

The Burial Hour The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Going into this book, I kinda expected it to be extra-sinister because it's the thirteenth in the Lincoln Rhyme series. Maybe not, but it's pretty special compared to its predecessors because while Rhyme very rarely leaves New York, due to his reclusive nature (as well as his disability), The Burial Hour takes Rhyme, Sachs, Thom, and the reader to Naples, Italy. As a result, this thirteenth Rhyme book feels a little like an extended episode of Beyond Borders, but far better researched, I think. (It's Deaver, after all.) While I'm not entirely sure Deaver was right to have the Neapolitan cast of characters speaking standard (Tuscan) Italian more often than their own regional dialect, it doesn't distract too much from a pretty compelling story about a musically-inclined serial killer, the ongoing Middle Eastern refugee crisis (emphasizing not so much Syrians as Libyans displaced by that country's own civil war, even if it was half a decade ago), and an American or two who may have been wrongly accused of a serious crime.

As usual, Deaver delivers.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: Goodbye Days

Goodbye Days Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I would be remiss in my duties as a reader, writer, and fanboy if I didn't warn you that if you go into this book while not in tip-top mental or emotional health, then reader discretion is advised.

I was a pretty big fan of Zentner's debut, The Serpent King, and so I was looking forward a lot to his follow-up, Goodbye Days. While this book is no less readable than Serpent, it's nowhere near as enjoyable, and that, for me, largely stems from the fact that it's not only got a protagonist who's less instantly relatable than Travis, Lydia, or Dill, but also because Zentner takes more than a few headlong dives into death, grief, and mental illness.

I admit, when I first heard of this book, I was a bit scared that Zentner was taking too many risks with the premise. But I also admit that I misinterpreted said premise, believing that Carver, our protagonist, directly caused the deaths of his friends by attempting to answer a text, crashing the car, and killing them all while he survived. The truth, however, is that he sent the text to his friends while they were on the road, and as a result, he's consumed by guilt, believing himself responsible for their deaths. So, in a sense, it's got a few shades of The Great American Whatever, only the protagonist is straight as opposed to gay. (One of his three dead friends is gay, though, and I'd like to mention that his full name, Blake Jackson Lloyd, reminds me of a fairly little-known Booktuber whose Red Rising review video is required viewing for all Pierce Brown fans...but that's not exactly germane to this discussion.)

If you read The Serpent King, you'll remember that that book was set in Tennessee, and is thus full of descriptions of hot, sticky, sweaty Southern summers. Goodbye Days continues that trend, allowing for a certain distinctive Zentner voice to show. But the thing is, it's now filtered through the perspective of a character who, again, reminds me a little too much of Tim Federle's Great American protagonist with his toolish ways of attempting to cope with his grief. Carver also has certain artistic leanings, being a writer, and I liked that Zentner made him somewhat of an unpopular guy at his arts-oriented high school, because the popular kids are dancers and stuff, and writers, well, sometimes aren't counted as artists. (A surefire way to offend me - tell me I'm no artist when my only art form in which I'm remotely proficient is creative writing.)

So Carver's not the nicest of guys. He gets casually racist and sexist at times, and while he's always quickly called out on it (usually by his love interest, Jesmyn, who used to date one of his dead buddies), and knows he's wrong, he doesn't seem to learn much from it. (I'm also more than a bit weirded out by the moment where, as part of the "goodbye day" where he relives his memories of Blake with Blake's grandmother, he basically outs the guy to her postmortem. Insert Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler going off on Carver with a "Really?!" segment on "Weekend Update.") Then again, though, his frequent panic attacks (described in some pretty nasty detail - this can be triggering, so beware!) make him a little more sympathetic, because as much as he can't have possibly known his friends were going to die after he sent them THAT TEXT, he's so guilt-ridden it hurts.

I'm not particularly prone to panic attacks myself, but I do have (undiagnosed) issues with anxiety and depression (and guilt, though that's mostly because I was raised Catholic), and I also have a certain fear that I'll eventually start experiencing panic attacks someday. With that in mind, I found Goodbye Days a bit of a tough read. It was fast, at the very least, but that was probably because I just wanted to end it because I've been in a bad place lately. Books don't normally trigger me much, if at all, but feeling as mentally fraught as I do right now, I think maybe I should have waited a little longer to read this book. And if you have any emotional health issues yourself, I'd honestly advise you to wait too, or even not read the book at all.

But that's just my opinion. I obviously don't speak for all people with mental and/or emotional illness, diagnosed or not.

If nothing else, though, there is one person that makes this book absolutely worth a try someday, and that's Georgia. If you don't love her from the get-go, shame on you.

I'll still look forward to all future Jeff Zentner books, but based on this one, I'm going to have to lower the bar and not expect too much based on The Serpent King alone.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: The End of Oz

The End of Oz The End of Oz by Danielle Paige
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't believe this is it...the final book in Danielle Paige's dark, deadly, delectable, and diabolically amazing Dorothy Must Die series!

Now that we know who the real Big Bad is, the Nome King, it's up to Amy, Nox, and Madison to travel to the land of Ev and figure out a way to defeat him before he manages to subjugate the land of Oz as well. Of course, he's got a secret ally on his side, one who may not be such a good ally after all...but to reveal who that ally is would be a spoiler. (Let's just say, though, that if Emma Roberts were to play this character in the eventual movie or TV adaptation - preferably not on Netflix too! - I wouldn't be surprised one bit.) And you know what? Amy and friends have a pretty good, if not perfect, ally in Ev themselves. You'll know who they are if you read the third volume of the Stories first, so if you haven't yet, go ahead and get that taken care of.

It's not a particularly big book, but Paige jam-packs it with tons of twists and feels to make it a more than suitable finale, even if she does kinda leave us hanging just a bit right at the end. Oh, how I wish this wasn't the end...I don't wanna say goodbye to my faves from this series now!

But I must.

To the Dorothy Must Die series, ave atque vale, and of course, vas ir...anoshe.

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Review: Dorothy Must Die: Stories Vol. 3

Dorothy Must Die: Stories Vol. 3 Dorothy Must Die: Stories Vol. 3 by Danielle Paige
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Three more bite-sized but oh-so-very-important stories that further flesh out the Dorothy Must Die 'verse - one centering on a young witch named Lanadel, another centering on Polychrome, and another on Pete. The last, I thought was especially cool, because I kinda missed Pete, especially since he was pretty much nowhere to be seen after The Wicked Will Rise. But Lanadel was also a very great protagonist, even for less than 100 pages, and Polychrome's story was pretty wild too if only for its general psychedelia. (Helps that it's named for the famous "Dark Side of the Rainbow" phenomenon - does Danielle Paige listen to Pink Floyd too?)

Oh, and yes, this is required reading before The End of Oz. Just FYI.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Infinite

Infinite Infinite by Jodi Meadows
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The third and final book of Newsoul isn't much of an improvement from its predecessors, but like Asunder, Infinite brings up more world-building - more specifically, helping to confirm the post-apocalyptic setting, and while still a little vague, it's a comfort knowing that we're officially five thousand years into the future. But what's not a comfort, of course, is knowing how high the stakes are as our souls old and new fight to reverse course on the whole immortality thing. It all builds up to a pretty powerful ending. Powerful, and a bit head-scratching, especially in the final chapter.

Ave atque vale to this trilogy, and now I'm all caught up on Jodi Meadows before the release of Before She Ignites.

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Review: City of Lost Souls

City of Lost Souls City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beware of spoilers ahead for the first four books in the series...

After the events of City of Fallen Angels, Jace and the seemingly dead Sebastian have vanished without a trace. Clary is, understandably, highly distressed, as are Alec and Izzy because the Clave has decided to put this whole situation on the back burner. So, what is a gang of three Nephilim, the warlock boyfriend of one of them, and the vampire best friend of another, to do?

They try a lot of things, each one more drastic and outrageous than the last. I'll tell the first one, but no more: they go to the Seelie Queen, and she demands that they give her a pair of rings that are, apparently, faerie-made and give the wearer the ability to talk to another via their thoughts, no matter how far apart they are, as Clary and Simon eventually find out. What's that? You want more? Well, let's just say it involves a lot of inadvisable summoning.

This really is a wonderful book, even better than any of its predecessors - although, of course, none of the Mortal Instruments books have quite held a candle to the absolutely amazing Infernal Devices stories. Beware of plotlines even more insanely tangled-up than the last TMI book, and also a major cliffhanger, which, back in 2012, was even more painful given that we had to wait a whole TWO YEARS until City of Heavenly Fire came out!

Oh, and one more thing - thanks to this book, it's now more clear how far back Cassie planted the seeds for The Dark Artifices by introducing some of the Blackthorn siblings pretty early, even more so than in CoHF. It's nice to see the names we know now, attached to much younger kids this time, though.

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Review: Asunder

Asunder Asunder by Jodi Meadows
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second book of the Newsoul trilogy, picking up from where Incarnate left off, finally delivers some much-needed improvement to the series' world-building and answers to some of the driving mysteries behind the scenes. Unfortunately, most of these answers are loaded towards the back of the book, so to get to them, it's a bit of a long read, longer than some people might have the patience to put up with. At least the book comes with a pretty healthy dose of romance to keep the first 250-300 pages of mostly dead air interesting anyway.

I'll soon be reading the third book. Here's hoping for an epic conclusion to the trilogy with Infinite.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Review: American Street

American Street American Street by Ibi Zoboi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To put this book on my "fantasy" or "supernatural" shelves is a bit misleading, but I don't exactly have a shelf for magical realism. Mostly because just about every time I read a book that claims to be that genre, it's something else entirely - and usually not in a good way. Usually some kind of screwy surrealist thing that comes at the expense of plot, characters, or both.

Ibi Zoboi's debut, however, does magical realism without those sacrifices - in fact, this story of Haitian immigrants comes loaded with a gripping plot, vibrant characters (most of whom get interludes showcasing important times in their lives - and that includes the house where most of this book takes place, too), symbolism aplenty revolving around Fabiola, her family, and their struggles to join in American society, and one of the richest atmospheres you'll ever see in YA.

Take it from me - American Street is absolutely not to be missed, and Ibi Zoboi is an author for whose future books I'll now always strive to be one of the first in line at the library.

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Review: Conjuror

Conjuror Conjuror by John Barrowman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've heard that John Barrowman's been getting into the author game with his sister Carole, but until now I'd never picked up any of their books. As a first impression of Barrowman and Barrowman as authors, this was a pretty good one. Conjuror is short but very fast-paced and uniquely terrific, loaded with artistic-based superpowers and history-bending galore. Though I'm a little weirded out by the PG-13 levels of cussing - not that it normally bothers me, but it only does so here because I feel that without it, this book would have been perfectly marketable as middle-grade - the book is so unbelievably quick to read. I was actually able to swallow it all in under an hour, even.

To my surprise, the notes at the end of the book reveal that Matt and Em are the stars of another series from the Barrowmans. I'm going to have to look into those books sometime...

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Review: Heart of the Storm

Heart of the Storm Heart of the Storm by Michael Buckley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really loved Undertow and liked Raging Sea, but didn't love it nearly as much as its predecessor. The trilogy's conclusion, Heart of the Storm, has a quality level more in terms of Book 2 - it's got plenty of action, and plenty of frequent lampshading of the hackneyed story elements, but overall doesn't pack quite the same punch as the deadly, social-commentary-laden first book. And while the love triangle's finally resolved, Lyric spends much of the book kinda flip-flopping around on which boy she wants to pair off with, and when she finally makes her choice, I'm sad to say that, as so often happens with me, I shipped wrong. But hey, the trilogy at least wraps up wonderfully, bringing the war between the humans and the Alpha - and the age-old enemy of the Alpha - to its long-awaited conclusion.

To the Undertow trilogy, I now say ave atque vale.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: Empress of a Thousand Skies

Empress of a Thousand Skies Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I believe I promised that King's Cage would still be my favorite 2017 book by the end of the year, and while Aveyard's massive threequel still soars, Belleza's making me break my promise with this book that breaks the rules so beautifully.

The blurb says Empress of a Thousand Skies is perfect for fans of The Lunar Chronicles and Red Rising, and I gotta say, it really, really, is...but you probably wouldn't guess that from the fact that not only is this a very small book compared to Cinder or Red Rising, or that this is meant only to be the first of a duology. I once read a magazine's review of a small car that called it a "quantum-mechanics grade illusion" for being deceptively roomy inside, and that same description can apply to Rhoda Belleza's terrific debut - so much punch in such a small package.

What really, truly makes this book one of the best in its class is how well-built this story world is. So many planets, each with its own array of diverse inhabitants, and while not every world is explored in this book, that's what the sequel is for - and besides, we're mostly concerned with what's going on on Kalu, where even after a much-needed cease-fire in a recent, and pretty needless, war, the powers that be (listen to me whistling that Roger Waters song) just can't abide not having something to rattle their sabers at. Really, with all the recent god-awful politics we've had to put up with in the real world, this book is so accidentally and unsettlingly relevant with its depictions of in-universe racism and xenophobia.

While the two main characters - Rhee and Aly - don't interact much over the course of the story, that's okay too. It reminds me a bit of how, in The Fifth Element, Bruce Willis and Gary Oldman, as the movie's hero and villain, never once meet, nor directly communicate. Though, of course, Rhee and Aly aren't hero and villain, but co-protagonists, each one the hero of their own story. It's only at the very end where it becomes clear that they're perhaps a little more deeply connected than the somewhat Legend-esque blurb implies with Aly being on the run after being falsely accused of Rhee's assassination. (Oh, and before I forget - Marie Lu fans ought to check this book out too.) And, again, that's what the sequel is for.

Until that sequel comes out and wraps this story up (though, really, is it wrong of me to wish for more?), all I can say is this:

Ma'tan sarili.

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Review: Aftermath: Empire's End

Aftermath: Empire's End Aftermath: Empire's End by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first two Aftermath books weren't absolutely stellar, and neither was this one, really, but Empire's End does improve on its predecessors. Thanks to this book, not only do we get a good sense of how the Empire could keep on enduring, even for a hot minute, after Palpatine died, but also more involvement from Han and Leia (even as the latter comes close to delivering little baby Ben, the future Kylo Ren), and more insight into what exactly happened on Jakku (seriously, why does everyone wanna go back there?)

Sure, this trilogy's pretty divisive, but I'd say it's well worth the read, especially once you reach this final novel.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Review: The Well of Ascension

The Well of Ascension The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This second novel of the original Mistborn trilogy, while compelling, was nevertheless so very long that it proved a real hassle to read. Especially because, for whatever reason, I found myself unable to set aside much time to do so. Even though it's not as long as any of George R.R. Martin's books, it took me just about as long to read, if not longer, and that was because as much as I enjoyed the characters, the storyline didn't seem to be progressing at any pace other than snail's. That said, though, characters are Sanderson's saving grace here, and I'm ready and willing to read and enjoy the third book in this series as soon as possible.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: Yellow Brick War

Yellow Brick War Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank the Lord we didn't have to wait till 2017 for this one...

Back in 2015, I thought we were awaiting the end of a trilogy with Yellow Brick War. No longer is that the case - there's one more book after this one, The End of Oz. So yes, Paige does end this threequel on a cliffhanger.

It's a short book - even shorter than The Wicked Will Rise, I think. The first half or so of this book takes a different route than I expected - putting Amy back in her old school to search for answers to the mysteries of Dorothy's life after her legendary first visit to Oz, and having her meet her old nemesis. Remember Madison, the pregnant girl from the first book? In Amy's absence, she's given birth, and she's had a surprising amount of character development. She's finally grown out of her old self somewhat - sure, her wardrobe hasn't changed, but she's more acutely aware of what really matters in life, and of the value of doing good in this world. Amy mistrusts her at first, of course, but soon Madison becomes an integral part of the adventure - which really ramps up in the second half of the book as another ancient threat to Oz makes itself known.

The limited length of Yellow Brick War is a bit of a point against it for me. However, the addictive prose certainly helps, as does the decision to front-load the mystery (which wouldn't feel out of place on Teen Wolf, I'm thinking) while back-loading the action.

Now I'm all caught up before my library gets Stories Vol. 3 and The End of Oz, both of which I'm expecting to pick up this Friday. I'll be reading and reviewing those very soon, I hope. Can't wait to wrap up this series...oh wait, I can, because it really shouldn't end. Ever.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Review: Incarnate

Incarnate Incarnate by Jodi Meadows
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I've finally begun this first series of Jodi Meadows', and while I can't say I enjoy it more than The Orphan Queen - hell, I think the three-year gap between this book and that one shows how much her craft improved - I still have to give it points for not only blending genres a bit better (being a blend of fantasy and implied post-apocalyptic dystopian), but also for being equally as addictive a piece of prose as The Orphan Queen. However, while Meadows' later series lacked a little in world-building, this book seems to lack even more, because it presents so many unusual concepts - reincarnation, nosouls, dragons, sylph (which, for some reason, are referred to as "sylph" even in the plural, which confused me to no end), and more - and fails to properly develop most of them beyond the surface of "this is a fantasy world, just go with it."

I'll say this much, though - while the book is mind-boggling in some of the most unsatisfying ways, it's still an interesting enough story that I'm going to read the sequels, if only to see if Meadows improves over time.

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Review: Clockwork Princess

Clockwork Princess Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The cliffhanger from Clockwork Prince was pretty low-key compared to what the fourth and fifth Mortal Instruments books served our way, but that didn't stop it from landing in my lap with an earth-shattering, ball-bruising KABOOM. That, plus the cover art, made me unable to wait for this book when it first came out. That cover art,'s the best one of any Clare book yet IMHO. I love the way they show Tessa. She reminds me a lot of Emma Stone (whom I pretty much developed a killer crush on from watching Zombieland). I really love that lusciously elegant Victorian dress, she really does look like a princess. But not the clockwork kind. Not at all.

As for the book itself, it's very well-done, and a most wonderful conclusion to The Infernal Devices. Chapters 2, 9, and 24 are undoubtedly the most memorable. As for some certain spoiler-y plot points, there were a lot of blindsides and emotional highs and lows to spare, up to and including the Deathly Hallows-style epilogue, which was, of course, positively beautiful and if you don't read that without crying, you're officially soulless.

Ave atque vale, Infernal Devices! You will be missed.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Review: The Song Rising

The Song Rising The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's been plenty long enough since we've had a new book from Samantha Shannon, and as always, it's been pretty well worth the wait. While The Song Rising is a little shorter than the two previous books, it's no less jam-packed with futuristic alternate-historical paranormal thrills as it follows Paige, our new Underqueen, on a journey all across Scion-controlled England and Scotland where the goal is to stop Scion from rolling out the dangerous new Senshield technology that can sniff out certain people with powers (shades of X-Men here, now more than ever). Any further information would dip into spoiler territory, but let's just say I'm pretty sure Shannon was strongly inspired by the events of Brexit...and more recent debacles in the British government, eerily enough, echo some of this book's plot developments in ways that I'm pretty sure Shannon will explore further whenever the fourth book comes out. As for this book, yes, it's shorter than I expected, but the action's still there, heavy as always, and Paige is showing herself as real tough cookie of an Underqueen at every turn.

I only hope that we don't have to wait another two long years for the fourth book.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: The Wicked Will Rise

The Wicked Will Rise The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The sequel to Dorothy Must Die, while served in a smaller package, doesn't lose any of the creepy, disturbing darkness of the original. In fact, The Wicked Will Rise actually adds more disturbingness to the mix. Cases in point: the body horror of Pete and Ozma sharing a meat suit, the creepy Fantasms in the fog, burning of rainbows (apparently that's possible in Oz, and, probably inspired by Panic! At The Disco's Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! album cover, so is smoking rainbows), and then the ending.

Let me tell you, that was a twist I didn't see coming, but in hindsight, I should have. Maybe because I'm not as knowledgable about the Oz mythology as I maybe should be, but now that they've mentioned it, it seems so glaringly obvious. And the confirmation that there's an even Bigger Bad out there than Dorothy or Glinda...well, crap. Oz and Earth are totally screwed now...or are they?

Thank God we didn't have to wait two years for the follow-up to this book...although we did still wind up waiting two years for the series' conclusion, but that's okay. After this book's ending, a two-year wait would have been too unbearable for words.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Review: The Mirror King

The Mirror King The Mirror King by Jodi Meadows
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The sequel to The Orphan Queen ups the stakes considerably, with more wraith shenanigans and more royal intrigue, but also suffers from a bit of an overlength problem, owing, I think, to Jodi Meadows' decision to end the series with this book rather than go for a trilogy. (Though, to be honest, a trilogy would have probably led to there being three drawn-out books as opposed to two.) Really, The Orphan Queen and The Mirror King aren't the best YA fantasy books out there, not when they feel so derivative of so many others, but they're not outright bad either, and Meadows sure has a way of keeping the prose unusually addicting so we can't stop reading even if we want to.

Maybe this series wasn't the best first impression of Meadows, but there's the Incarnate trilogy to really surprise me...and of course I'm seriously dying to read Before She Ignites because DRAGONS, man.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Review: Dorothy Must Die

Dorothy Must Die Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first time I read this book, it was around the time of my 21st birthday. Three years later, in preparation for the day my library finally gets The End of Oz, I've started rereading the series - the main series, that is, because my library has a harder time getting ahold of, and keeping, the Stories collections.

I remembered nothing but the best about this book, and on this reread, I still absolutely love it. It's the longest book in the series by far - all the others are a shade under 300 pages, while this book is over 400, but that's because it has to take a little more time at the start to introduce our pink-haired heroine Amy Gumm, build the world to colorful order, and show just how monumentally Dorothy (once a sweet girl from Kansas, now a seriously spoiled brat of a princess who reminds me strongly of Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen) has screwed up this Fractured-Fairytale version of Oz. Dorothy Must Die is a dark, cinematic piece of dystopian fantasy-horror, one that, make no mistake, absolutely begs for a spare-no-expense movie or TV adaptation ASAP.

And remember, just as James Dashner once said, and is referenced in this book: in this bass-ackwards Land of Oz, "Wicked is good."

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Review: Storm of Lightning

Storm of Lightning Storm of Lightning by Richard Paul Evans
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Once again, I find myself reading a Michael Vey book and find it wanting. Don't get me wrong, the plot keeps moving at a pretty breakneck speed, but it gets annoying when Evans keeps throwing in POV switches and calling each one a new "part" of the book, and in less than 300 pages there are 14 or 15 "parts." Not to mention, while the plot does keep moving quickly, it's mostly unmemorable, except for a scene or two with Hatch, who by now is level with Umbridge or Negan or the Joker in terms of obvious - and obviously cartoonish - villainy. It's extremely hard to take him seriously at this point, especially with his title of "Admiral-General," reminding me of Sacha Baron Cohen as Aladeen in The Dictator.

Despite this book being officially considered young-adult (at least, at my library, and according to GR), it really does feel more like middle-grade sometimes, and I'm not just talking about the aggressively clean content for a story revolving around teenagers. It feels like Evans doesn't have enough ideas to write more than 300 pages of material for a new Michael Vey book each year, and he stretches the story out so thin because of it that it becomes really, really annoying to read when each successive entry feels like more of the same. At this point, I'm not at all sure it was wise to retry the first book, as much as I loved it much more on the second read, because the sequels have really lost that magic.

I'll still take a look at the sixth book, and maybe the seventh as well...but I really hope there's some improvement over this book, the nadir of the series thus far for me. (It doesn't help, of course, that it has a redundantly-worded title to go along with its redundant plot.)

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review: Aftermath: Life Debt

Aftermath: Life Debt Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I'm not really the biggest fan of the Aftermath trilogy thus far, but Life Debt does improve considerably on its predecessor. Not only do we get more involvement from some well-established Star Wars mainstays like Leia, Han, Chewie, and even Wedge Antilles and Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar, but the new characters Wendig created, such as Norra and Rae Sloane and Sinjir (thumbs up, too, for Sinjir being one of several Wendig originals who bring LGBTQ+ rep to the table here), they're more appealing now that I've spent some time getting to know and understand them all in their own unique ways. Also, with the introduction of Hux's father (and the reveal that Hux is illegitimate), and the depiction of Leia's pregnancy with Ben, the future Kylo Ren, we get a little more connection between this book and The Force Awakens compared to its predecessor. And also, the increased use of flashbacks to a younger Emperor, those are a plus. (Though I still can't help but snicker at how silly his first name, Sheev, sounds.)

Already I have Empire's End in my TBR pile, but it'll be a while before I get around to reading it.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Review: Battle Royale

Battle Royale Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a huge fan of The Hunger Games, books and movies both - especially the movies. But for this very similar piece of dystopian, I spent years sleeping on it, until a Twitter mutual of mine convinced me I should try all the Battle Royale media there was - book, manga, movie. So I started with the book and, while I still enjoy The Hunger Games more, Battle Royale presents a very chilling alternate world, a dystopian Japan of the late 90s where teenagers are selected to go to an island and fight to the death, all in the name of a government program designed for national security or something. While the book itself is very long, and often protracted with white noise, it's still an addictive, fast-paced read that you think represents a world removed from ours, except maybe not. Maybe, especially now that fascism (the very evil this book's government delivers better than any other, and very insidiously too) lurks at virtually every corner in today's society.

My only real complaint about the book is that it has an open ending, promising a continuation that would've nicely paralleled the likes of Catching Fire and Mockingjay, but so far, nearly twenty years down the line, Koushun Takami hasn't announced any sequels. Though at least there's the manga, which, as I understand it, further fleshes out the world beyond the confines of this one book. I've got the manga ready to read very soon - at least, the first two volumes of it. Hopefully it'll live up to that promise.

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review: Stalking Jack the Ripper

Stalking Jack the Ripper Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first time I read this book, I have to say, I didn't really enjoy it. It felt like it didn't live up to its potential, not even close, not for a story inspired by Jack the Ripper. And it certainly didn't help that there was that "I was the girl who loved the Ripper" back-cover blurb, which actually kinda put me off. I picked up the book again, though, because now I know that its follow-up will be an even more interesting-sounding book - Hunting Prince Dracula. The second read was an improvement, though I still think the book suffers from not enough emphasis on the grossgusting stuff and a generally slow pace throughout, except right at the beginning and then again near the end when this world's version of the Ripper is unmasked and killed.

In hindsight, from the looks of things, this book was also pretty standalone, so hopefully the Dracula book will not only be better, but I'd also be able to recommend skipping Stalking Jack The Ripper, possibly, if you can handle missing just a tad bit of the continuity in this series. (Though I'm sure HPD won't be quite so standalone.)

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: Empire Decayed

Empire Decayed Empire Decayed by Daniel Kraus
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, I liked the first volume of The Death And Life of Zebulon Finch well enough, but I found that this one followed a path similar to Kraus' Rotters in that it began wonderfully, only to end as a mere shadow of its former self. It certainly doesn't help that, even more so than its predecessor, Empire Decayed is a giant brick of paper and ink, a collection of smaller stories that build up to the promise of the prologue of At The Edge Of Empire, but don't really meet that premise.

I mean, there's a ton of material to cover - World War II (in both Germany and Japan), creepy fifties suburbia (almost Burtonian in style with its constant repression and dark secretive undercurrents), the sixties with hippies and Black Panthers (some of whom are quick to take Zebulon to task for attempting to appropriate their style and customs, namely calling himself "Zebulon X," to which they respond by calling him "Obnoxious White Motherfucker"), the seventies with a cult who calls themselves "Savages" (don't ask) and the onset of the AIDS crisis, and some shenanigans in a retirement home in the eighties and early nineties, all leading up to the incident that began the first book at the World Trade Center.

Kraus tells the second half of Zebulon Finch's story in the same virtually-sociopathic, perpetually-misanthropic, always-politically-incorrect style, which, while not terribly conducive to a reader's enjoyment, nevertheless highlights that this book really isn't meant for enjoyment. As does the ending, which is an absolute mind-screw of epic proportions that, like much of the rest of the book, feels like a whole bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing. How I managed to finish the whole thing, I still have no idea. But finish it I did, and once again, I'm probably going to go forward with reluctance to read another Daniel Kraus book.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review: Blood of Wonderland

Blood of Wonderland Blood of Wonderland by Colleen Oakes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read Queen of Hearts last summer and was really enamored with it, being that it was basically Alice in Wonderland meets Game of Thrones, but in a smaller form. While I very eagerly awaited Blood of Wonderland - and with a title like that, how could I not? - I think maybe this book got a little too GRRM-like for its own good in a way. Not because it was long - it wasn't. Not because it killed my faves off - it didn't. But more because it felt less like this was about Dinah and more like it was about Daenerys Targaryen, winding up outside her home kingdom and allying with a distant tribe of dark-skinned warrior-type people who have a certain...uncivilized reputation back home. To be fair, though, Dinah's very quick to learn that the bad stereotypes about the Yurkei (who, to me and others, read like Native Americans) are wrong, and that their society is pretty harmonious and prosperous. But she wants to rise up and take down her evil father, and to do that, she's going to need the Yurkei. Thus she forms a very tenuous alliance.

I imagine there would be those who find this book problematic because of the aforementioned Yurkei storyline, which does take up most of the book - which means that it has surprisingly little to do with Wonderland, and also the "blood" in the title is surprisingly absent as well. (Though, in truth, the title refers to a big twist that isn't entirely impossible to foresee. No spoilers, however.)

I didn't enjoy this book nearly as much as its predecessor, but I suspect it's merely a lower-quality bridge book between Queen of Hearts and the forthcoming finale, War of the Cards, for which Oakes promises more bloody awesomeness (though at this point I think I've learned to take her promises with a grain of salt.) I was, however, able to speed through the whole thing in less than an hour, so Oakes, for all the faults she put into this book, hasn't lost her addictive streak, not by a long shot.

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Review: Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've only seen six episodes so far of the Syfy TV series based on these books, but based on that, I wasn't really expecting quite what came up in Leviathan Wakes. It's a massive, expansive (of course) piece of space-opera, a little like Red Rising in its depiction of the future of our solar system a couple hundred years from now (but not progressed to the point where it becomes an enormous space Roman Empire), and also reminding me a lot of the new movie Life, which I'm dying to see still, because of its depiction of a vomitously disgusting alien...something that sure seems to have a taste for human flesh.

Though it's not my favorite book ever, this one's motivated me to finish the first season of The Expanse that much sooner.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Review: The Forever Song

The Forever Song The Forever Song by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally, three years after this book comes out, I've read and enjoyed it and, for now, I'm all caught up on the complete bibliography of Julie Kagawa. I'm sure if I look back at some of her earlier Iron Fey books, I'd see her remark on how her readers' tears feed her muse, but now this is the earliest I've seen her acknowledge this fact that I remember. And while those tears may be a powerful energy source, they mostly go towards powering up some wild and crazy plot twists. One of which I was predicting all along, only because I didn't want this series to end without a little hope - and because I was pretty sure we never saw a certain body.

It actually gives me a little hope for some of Kagawa's future work, namely the Talon Saga.

And while The Forever Song ends a tad bit openly, knowing how Kagawa also suggested she might return to The Iron Fey someday, I bet she could just as easily return to Blood of Eden someday too.

In which case, I'll now wish this series vas ir...anoshe.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Review: Clockwork Prince

Clockwork Prince Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, well, well. Ms. Clare is truly in fine form now! As notorious as she is for her Draco Trilogy fanfic (which is basically the Grindelwald to My Immortal's Voldemort), Clare is one of my favorite authors, and it is all because of this ever-expanding universe of wildly awesome fantasy novels.

Why do I like these books so much? These characters are a most wonderful Victorian set of equivalents to the TMI (haha) character set. I love the Victorian setting too, because it's darkly beautiful and beautifully dark and feels just like the world of Sweeney Todd. And, they're guilty pleasures in every way.

What really boosts this novel for me is the romance that Tessa has. Rather than just go with Will (who, as the more prominently depicted boy compared to Jem, I expected to end up having a relationship with Tessa), she gravitates towards Jem. This makes me happy because so far the ship I'm a passenger on is canon - for once. Many of the ships I have boarded in my time - Xander/Willow, Clary/Simon, Whit/Janine, SnowBarry, etc. - have been unfortunately sunk, sometimes with extreme prejudice.

Not to mention, the fact that Clare's writing is so intensely visual. That's not something any writer can do right. Clare really strokes the imagination, especially with her outrageously beautiful descriptions of people and places. And yet, sometimes it's a little too hard to visualize properly. I was very happy to see the cover art on this one for the first time, because until that time I had had lots of trouble trying to sketch a mental picture of Jem. The overall silverness was what really got stuck in my craw as I attempted to imagine what he would look like. Tessa, Will, etc. were a lot easier.

As always, I highly recommend Clare's work for everyone. Sure the romance gets cloying at times, but the action, fantasy, off-color humor (yes, even in Victorian times there's off-color humor aplenty), and sheer imagination really make up for it every time.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review: The Darkest Magic

The Darkest Magic The Darkest Magic by Morgan Rhodes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've enjoyed all the Morgan Rhodes books I've read to date, but this one, the middle entry in the Spirits and Thieves trilogy, suffers from a bit of Sophomore Slump. It's a surprisingly slow read, with a lot of POV switches that are sometimes hard to keep track of unless you go back to the headings at the start of each chapter, and a pretty convoluted story that leaves me scratching my head quite often. But the cast of characters in this book remains as compelling and complex as ever - well, maybe not so much Maddox, of whom I'm not terribly enamored, but Crys, Becca, and Farrell for sure. In addition, this book makes the timeline relative to the main series a little more clear - the Mytica scenes act as a prequel, with this book following the establishment of the three kingdoms, and the origins of their names being made clear.

At least now I know there's only one book left in each series, and I'll be waiting for both of them pretty impatiently.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: The Eternity Cure

The Eternity Cure The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My reread of Blood of Eden continues, and I'll be reading the third book very soon, because this time, not only did I finish The Eternity Cure, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I did the first time around. Sure, the book did have a bit of a disjointed, slapdash feel at times, but it keeps Allison Sekemoto's story going into some really weird and messed-up territory as a new, and of course, deadlier plague (the source of the book's title) arises and threatens to upend this apocalyptic world all over again.

Oh, and the ending. Without going into spoilers, let's just say that now, the ending of one of the Talon sequels makes a little more sense, and I should've seen it coming based on what happened here.

Coming soon: my first-time read and review of The Forever Song, and at last I'll be finished reading all of Kagawa's books to date.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Review: Clockwork Angel

Clockwork Angel Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

*finally posting my old review to my blog, with some minor edits*

And so it begins, the prequel to Cassandra Clare's (deservingly) glorified fanfic story.

Tessa Gray (who thankfully has no relatives - that we know of! - named Christian), teenage American in the Victorian days, travels to London to see her brother - and ends up imprisoned by a pair of creepy old ladies. You know things are not what they seem when the globe in their house shows a completely nonexistent country in Europe between France and Germany (those who have read Clare's other books, especially City of Glass, will know that said country is Idris, home of the Shadowhunters.) Or when they insist that Tessa change into different people and creatures.

Clare has never shown a single shape-shifting Downworlder, Nephilim, or mundane before. So now you know, something is really up.

I enjoyed The Mortal Instruments immensely, but I think that this is when Clare started to improve to real auteur status. Despite the setting changing to the repressive Victorian age, there's still delightful comedy of the kind we remember from TMI to spare. And this is when Clare started setting the stage for her considerably more complicated multi-plots of City of Fallen Angels and beyond.

And, best of all, no ridiculous "incest" storylines! That was the one thing I hated about the original TMI trilogy. I mean really, what was Clare thinking?

To those readers who think Clare just wrote the expanded TMI universe for $$$, read this: Clare knows what the readers want, and she's more than able to deliver. As long as she puts out satisfactory literary creations, I will continue to count her among my favorite authors ever.

Also, after rereading, I've figured out that after seven years, I've been quoting the two sentences of "Bloodthirsty little beasts. Never trust a duck." backwards all this time. THE HORROR. XD

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Review: Silver Stars

Silver Stars Silver Stars by Michael Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I speak a lot of how I sometimes have trouble finding good YA historical fiction, mostly because last year, I read a couple of examples - Razorhurst and Salt To The Sea - that just didn't cut it for me. I keep forgetting, however, that Front Lines exists - and now, so does Silver Stars.

Michael Grant's series continues in its exploration of an alternate history where women got to fight in World War II...and make no mistake, this brick of a book gives readers a visceral blend of warfare both physical and psychological. Mostly psychological, because as I've said before (especially when I read Front Lines last year), that's Grant's specialty. And Grant really shows the darkness of the war, not only in the considerable toll taken in the fight to preserve Western civilization from the creeping evils of fascism, but also in the tension and strife within the Allied camps - which, given the presence of women in the military, only gets worse because there are those men who engage in frequent sexual harassment because they think this should be a boys' club. Not only that, but with Grant also including soldiers of color (such as Frangie), racial tension also flies thick and fast. Even outside the military settings - such as in Rainy's home in New York, or in the homes of Mafia dons in Sicily - you'll see people slinging every racial and/or ethnic slur you can think of, casually as you please (and the author's note at the end suggests that for those who think it's too much, the reality was even worse.) In-universe and out, just about everyone's uncomfortable with it. And then the three POV characters have their own personal issues to deal with - such as Frangie being the only one in her family talking to her Communist brother, Rainy's involvement with the Mafia, and Rio's worries after she sleeps with a guy she knows from back home, and how does that change their tenuous relationship, especially given the dreadful sexual politics of this time? (Not that any of the politics are any good, really.) Let's face it, Silver Stars brings up some armor-piercing questions that, naturally, don't have easy answers.

It's a tough, tough fight for Rio, Rainy, Frangie, Jenou, and all their comrades in arms. From Tunisia to Sicily to mainland Italy (and being half-Maltese, I'm just a little miffed that Malta doesn't appear at all, not when that island was quite the battleground in World War II), and the war's not over yet, not for these fine ladies with everything to prove even as they fight for a country that doesn't give them the respect they deserve. Grant's got one more book lined up - which I believe will be called Purple Hearts, a title which makes me scared for these Soldier Girls. But I'm most certainly up for reading it - I have to see this series through to its conclusion now.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Review: Aftermath

Aftermath Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I went into this first Aftermath book having read Chuck Wendig book before, and having not really liked it. That said, this book, as Star Wars novels go, isn't half-bad, but I can see why it gets a lot of bad reviews. Wendig goes for a somewhat George R.R. Martin-esque storytelling approach - not in terms of killing your faves off, but in terms of short, choppy chapters that jump around between multiple POVs, many of which are brand-new characters you don't really know anything about, and don't really know if you should care about. But then, this book takes place in the immediate galactic aftermath of the Battle of Endor, so of course there's going to be a lot of confusion as the Rebellion really starts chasing out the last vestiges of the Empire. Vestiges that aren't going to go away without a fight.

It's not the best book ever written, but for what it's worth, it's a pretty decent read, and I'm pretty ready to read the two remaining Aftermath books soon.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: A Conjuring of Light

A Conjuring of Light A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one was a little low on my current library-haul TBR pile, which has ballooned to a pretty massive size since I'm currently done with school, but thanks to Aimal Farooq's urging, I bumped it up and decided to read it before tackling Star Wars: Aftermath.

I think I made the right choice.

The first two books in this trilogy, I liked them but didn't love them. Compared to The Archived, The Unbound, and Vicious, I thought they were good Schwab books, but not her best. Hell, based on the first parts of this book, I thought A Conjuring of Light would be too long and slow and damaged by hype to properly appreciate.

I was wrong.

600 pages? No problem when you have a book as fast-paced and twisted as this one, with the stakes at their absolute highest. Our five core characters get their shares of time in the spotlight - and that includes Holland, whom I didn't really like before, but now I feel a lot of sympathy for him, especially given what happens in his flashback scenes. There are, in fact, a lot of flashbacks, not just for Holland, but also for Rhy as well, with more information about the development of his and Kell's brotherhood, and his always-tense relationship with Alucard. Only Lila, I feel, gets a less attention than she deserves, which is a shame, but then she's so integral to the story that she really doesn't need any flashbacks anyway.

But while the story does take its time building up to an explosive climax (reminiscent in many ways of Teen Wolf, actually) that's really only in terms of page count. The book flies through its short chapters, allowing it to be devoured in a surprisingly short amount of time. And while it's not perfect, A Conjuring of Light finally, for me, validates me as a passenger on this hype train.

Normally, when I come to the end of a series, I say ave atque vale. But for Schwab's unique four Londons, I'll instead have to say this.

Vas ir...


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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: Mistborn

Mistborn Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been wanting to explore this section of Sanderson's Cosmere for a while, but it's been hard to get ahold of the books because my library has a way of losing them. After getting reminded by my friend Aimal (though she wasn't so impressed with the book herself), I finally ordered it from another library, and now I've read this first book and judged that maybe Aimal was right - the book's a little bit overrated, though not bad at all. The story's pretty hard to follow sometimes, even with what should be a fairly easy to keep track of story of rebellion and revolution, but at least there's a cool magic system (comprised of variously powered metals) to keep the reader engaged.

Hopefully, the remaining books in this series won't be so hard to find at the library, not like this book.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Logan: My Feels Are NOT OKAY!


Two movies, two days, two movie reviews. Yesterday was an explosive funfest with Kong: Skull Island, and now I'm here to review Logan, the latest extension of the often quite tangled threads of the X-Men movie 'verse. Like last year's Deadpool, Logan is pretty damn different from all the other X-Men movies, to its benefit, and is not only among the best in the entire franchise, but also one of the best superhero movies of all. (Though you know it won't top either of the two Amazing Spider-Man movies for me, not those supremely underrated gems.) However, while Deadpool is a breath of fresh air and breezy summer sunshine in between all the gore and carpet cluster F-bombage and other adult content (not for nothing is Ryan Reynolds God's perfect idiot!), Logan is the moon to DP's sun, the night to its day. It's gritty, violent, and will make you cry buckets - and that's a promise.

For the final time, Hugh Jackman as the clawed wonder.

Every art form has its heyday, and that heyday has to eventually come to an end. Superhero movies, for instance, are all the rage now, much more so than they were ten years ago (though the real revolutionary game-changers like The Dark Knight and Iron Man had yet to come along in 2007.) One day, superhero movies will fade away, and some other filmmaking style will come into vogue. Logan proves that even in an increasingly grimdark world, this is not that day, even though this movie does get very, very dark and deadly as it explores themes of mortality, extinction, and uncertainty that the next generation will have anything worth inheriting.

Logan is set in a near-future (2029, to be precise) where mutants are starting to slowly die off, as it's said none have been born in 25 years, and those who are left are succumbing to the ravages of time. Professor Xavier, in his nineties, is afflicted with dementia, and suffers from seizures that cause devastating psychic explosions in a large radius around him. And as for our title character, played in one of Hugh Jackman's best performances ever, he's dying in spite of his virtual immortality from his healing factor - dying of adamantium poisoning, calling to mind shades of Iron Man 2 where the very thing that helped make Tony Stark a superhero was killing him. Unlike in IM2, however, there's no easy solution to Logan's illness - it's not a simple matter of upgrading his machinery, especially because those who have the expertise to do so most certainly cannot be trusted.

Such as those responsible for the creation of a new mutant, using Logan's DNA. (Ironically, the scenes in X-Men: Apocalypse focusing on Logan's imprisonment in Alkali Lake, which are most important for setting this movie up, were the most forgettable for me - completely unlike this movie.) Laura looks like a sweet, innocent little girl, but is really very dangerous, with top-notch martial arts skills and double claws, as well as spikes in her feet - all covered with adamantium too, so try not to think about how she'll eventually get poisoned to death by that metal unless she figures out a way to get her claws and spikes reinforced by some less harmful material.

Logan doesn't want to help her - he just wants to take himself and Xavier away from the world and live on a boat, which he's been wanting to buy from some guy down in Mexico. But because Laura is his daughter (even if she was basically test-tubed without his knowledge or consent), he reluctantly agrees to follow the suggestion of Gabriela, the nurse who set Laura free from a Transigen facility in Mexico (the descendant of Alkali Lake), and take Laura to a rumored safe haven for mutants in Canada, called Eden. Clues to Eden's location and existence are, unbelievably, hidden in vintage X-Men comics which Laura likes to read - a plot device that I'm frankly astonished the MCU didn't do first, and now if they so much as attempt to do so, they'll look like they're copycatting this movie instead.

As for copycatting (or, more accurately, homaging), Logan is pretty full of it too. Plot details in this movie borrow liberally from Real Steel (grim near-future featuring somewhat decayed tech from today, and of course Hugh Jackman's presence) and Mad Max (pretty much all the movies in this series, except perhaps The Road Warrior, but especially Fury Road with its extended mashup of road-movie and chase-movie story elements). I also noted some similarities to the early parts of Transformers: Age of Extinction (private army in big black gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs pursuing our heroes), the Divergent movies (particularly Insurgent with the scene where our heroes have to get past an oncoming train - and Logan, unbelievably, manages to weaponize that train beautifully), Maximum Ride (the lab full of genetically-engineered kids - and also Dark Angel with the near-future setting) and even 2012 (Logan's vehicle of choice in the early parts of the movie being a limo - which, incidentally, is a "'24 Chrysler" that looks like a bizarre mashup of a current 300 and a customized 70s sedan.)

There's a ton of action to go around, and also some flashes of humor (although most of this is saved for a Deadpool 2 teaser that plays right before the movie proper - get ready for Ryan Reynolds' bare ass plastered against a phone booth door!), but definitely a metric shit-ton of feels as well. That's because family is such an important part of this movie, and you're going to feel so much for the unconventional family of grandpa Xavier, daddy Logan, and daughter Laura. On some level, you'll relate to them all, or you'll have a family member of whom you'll be reminded by one of the above. Like Amazing Spider-Man, The Flash, or Big Hero 6, Logan is now my platinum standard for fictional feels - especially because the movie doesn't leave any breathing room in its conclusion. The ending is absolute devastation, with only the barest hint of a ray of sunlight at the end of the tunnel. You'll want to grasp that ray with all your might, and keep hold of all the tissues - you'll need them.

But don't worry - while the movie is powerfully sad and grim, remember that hope. Remember it when you think about how there's so much other grimdarkness in recent comic-book adaptations (think BvS, or The Walking Dead Season 7), but what sets Logan apart from those is its broad-spectrum emotional experience, rather than going for a bunch of nihilistic sound and fury signifying nothing.

And for me, I really loved this movie because of how much it must have influenced the Red Rain series even before I began writing those books. Looking back, I realize that Alex and Gabe, being produced from Elijah's stolen DNA, were made in a way not unlike Laura. And as for the future of the series...well, I've recently started work on Peppermint, the fifth novel, and thanks to this movie, I've managed to add a lot to my world-building for that book. For further details, stay tuned...but suffice it to say, the next chapter of Peppermint will include some of these Logan references, presented to my heroes - and my readers - in the mouth of a Hugh Jackman lookalike villain named Kristoff Scoville.

(Yes, I came up with the idea to name my villain after author Jay Kristoff while watching this movie. Judge me.)

Logan deservedly earns an A+ from me, and even against the more lighthearted likes of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, it's locked in as a shoo-in for this year's Pinecone Award film winners. It's that good, and that deserving of the $400+ million it's earned at the worldwide box office - so far.

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Review: Frostblood

Frostblood Frostblood by Elly Blake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It seems like this first Elly Blake book is pretty love-it-or-hate-it because, as YA fantasy stories go, Frostblood takes a lot of inspiration from previous YA fantasies, to the point where, more than most of its contemporaries, it feels like it's copycatting at times. Especially given that its premise centers on a girl of a different type of blood, looked down on for it, and drafted into the rebellion to use her secret powers against the oppressive royalty. Hell, even the cover apes Red Queen a bit, with its dripping blood and plain silvery-white background.

I'm going to take a third option and say I neither loved nor hated this book. Sure, the copycatting is there, and very obvious, but there are a few unique touches which Blake weaves into her worldbuilding - like the powers in this 'verse explicitly associated with specific gods, specifically, the gods of the four winds. Which means there are two additional powers, not just fire and frost - and you'd be very surprised what some of them are (though not if you're a Sherlock fan, let's just say that.) So this book has a pretty even balance of overdone and new elements, enough to keep me interested and awaiting the sequel, Fireblood, with interest.

View all my reviews

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Kong: Skull Island - A Well-Oiled Chaos Machine


Kong. He's been a staple of American cinema for 84 years now, from his first groundbreaking movie to the campy af '70s remake to Peter Jackson's love letter and three-hour tour from 2005. Now, in 2017, he's back on the big screen, rebooted into the Legendary Pictures MonsterVerse which secretly began with 2014's Godzilla reboot, and headlining an inspired, propulsive film that's probably the best genre Vietnam War movie since James Cameron's Aliens.

Try not to love the smell of napalm in the morning too much. Kong might shove a palm tree into your face for that.

Though this movie's set in 1973, and was filmed quite a few months back, releasing it now, in the spring of 2017, makes the movie's themes resonate surprisingly well. Just look at the early scene where John Goodman's Bill Randa, an agent of the secret Monarch team featured in Godzilla, comes to DC and comments on the unprecedented corruption of the Nixon administration, which he's pretty sure will never repeat itself again. (Fast-forward 44 years and see how wrong you are, Randa, when the corruption reaches new highs in the absence of a legitimate administration.) Together with his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins - now we know the other reason, in addition to 24: Legacy, why Heath's been MIA for a while on The Walking Dead), Randa seeks funding for a Monarch expedition to find the mysterious Skull Island, traditional home of Kong and other assorted MUTOs. To get said funding, he takes advantage of the rampant confusion in the system as the book closes on one particularly troubling chapter of American history - the Vietnam War. For additional support for his Monarch team (which also includes San Lin (Jing Tian), a biologist with whom Brooks bonds), he picks up some military-types who are looking to come home from the war at last - a US Army squadron led by Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), and Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston looking unusually rugged and ragged), late of the British Special Air Services, who brings hunting and tracking skills to the team. Assisting in visual documentation (it wouldn't be a proper Kong movie without someone to film it all!) is Mason Weaver (Brie Larson, our forthcoming Captain Marvel), a professional photographer and peace activist hoping to use her art to make a difference.

They go to Skull Island (here said to be in the Pacific, not in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean southwest of Sumatra like in previous versions) daunted to various degrees by the storm system that perpetually encircles the place, but the helicopters soar through the rain and lightning and soon start flying over the island, dropping seismic charges to map the island's underlying geology. The mission soon falls to pieces, however, when Kong himself looms out of the jungle and starts throwing palm trees at the choppers, which fall spectacularly and explosively all over the place. Who knew Skull Island was so huge? Conrad, for what it's worth, indicates that the wreckage of all the choppers and the crew are scattered over a roughly 45-square-mile area once Kong's done with them. (And take note - because he's not distracted trying to hold on to the Beauty to his Beast on top of a huge NYC skyscraper, he's got no trouble making mincemeat of these choppers even as they attempt to shoot him down. At one point in this first extended fight, he even jumps into the air and successfully tricks two choppers into shooting each other down.)

The plan, from this point forward, is to rendezvous at an exfil point on the north end of the island, but to get there, everyone has to trawl through the jungle like it's Vietnam all over again. And, just like Vietnam, our fighters are horribly outmatched - not so much by human inhabitants, though. In fact, unlike previous Kong movies whose depictions of the Skull Island natives have aged badly due to overuse of harmful "savage" stereotypes, here we see the local human population as a small, peaceful society living in relative harmony with Kong, their god and protector. They also count among them a fallen World War II pilot, Hank Marlow, played terrifically by John C. Reilly. (Don't worry, if you think the movie's gonna portray the tribe as a cargo cult, they don't.) Marlow actually first appears in the movie's prologue, wherein he and a Japanese pilot, Gunpei Ikari, crash-land on Skull Island's shores in 1945, fight each other for a while, and then witness Kong himself rising out of the jungle. When we meet Marlow again in 1973, he reveals that, having found a place where the war no longer mattered, he and Gunpei wound up becoming friends, and both came to live in the tribe's village (although Gunpei has since died.)

Marlow's function in the story is to represent the perfect antithesis to the movie's more warlike characters, particularly Sam Jackson's Col. Packard, who pretty much forgets the Vietnam War is over the second Kong starts acting up. From there, another parallel to the present day is drawn - not only does the movie take place at a time when corruption and cynicism were infecting the government at the highest levels (just like today), but also, like today, the movie's time period is coming down off a war that, in hindsight, has proven totally unnecessary, a waste of precious resources, money, and manpower fought only because those in charge were hawks who just wanted any excuse they could get to rattle their sabers. (And, as Packard says to try and justify his ways, "We didn't lose the war. We just abandoned it.")

They may have abandoned it, but they've sure as hell found their way into another one, this time on a scale far greater than human. As per tradition, Skull Island is populated with a wide variety of Pokémon - sorry, MUTOs, to use the official MonsterVerse acronym. Some of these, like a massive water buffalo, are pretty harmless. One is Kong, not the nicest guy around, but he's easily counted on to keep you safe from the worst of them, unless you piss him off. But then there's a bunch of other nasty monsters, such as giant spiders and ants and even the deadly, dinosaur-like Skullcrawlers (whose design, according to director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, took inspiration from Neon Genesis Evangelion, No-Face from Spirited Away, and the Pokémon Cubone - a surprisingly terrifying mashup in practice). These monsters have a way of lurking in wait, camouflaging themselves and only striking when it's too late. They're monsters, but their ecosystem perfectly represents a foreign land in which American military might really has no place - again, just like Vietnam. And again, just try telling that to Packard, who by the end of the movie basically wants to blow it all to hell as revenge for the team's first encounter with Kong, with no regard for the terrible impact this will have on the rest of the island. Including the villagers.

While the producers' approach owes a lot to the Marvel Cinematic Universe - #ItsAllConnected in the tangled story threads, some of which wait until a post-credits scene to make themselves known; and they've also hired a little-known director with more than a strong flair for filmmaking, very clearly standing on the shoulders of the giants Abrams, Spielberg, Whedon, Gunn, etc. - Kong: Skull Island manages to be even more of a thinker's movie than some MCU films. It's brutal and blistering, to be sure, but its themes and messages resonate shockingly well in the wake of America's fall to fascism.

Go and watch this grade-A movie if you can. You're welcome. Obviously.

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.