Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: The Flash: Hocus Pocus

The Flash: Hocus Pocus The Flash: Hocus Pocus by Barry Lyga
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I'm not mistaken, this is to be the first of a potential series of Flash adventures from Barry Lyga, based on the CW TV series - and while I know Lyga best for his often very dark YA books, this more MG-oriented book marks a much-needed return to his geeky roots.

Hocus Pocus could be a lost episode of the third season of the TV series, but with a few small changes courtesy of Lyga that make the story even better. Sadly for me, one of those changes is not a removal of WestAllen - heck, a lot of my friends in the fandom might run screaming from this book just for the prologue alone, and frankly I think the book could've done without the prologue, unless it was meant to imply that this is on an Earth identical to Earth-1 in every way except that the Flashpoint twist never happened. Just like on the show, the WestAllen scenes feel forced and corny (though at least Barry and Iris draw attention to that fact.) Also, Julian is conspicuous by his absence, with his function in the story largely given to Captain Singh instead, at least in terms of being Barry's superior and constantly wondering why the heck Barry's bailing on everything.

That said, though, I love how Lyga's takes on certain characters - namely, Wally and Caitlin - improve on their TV show counterparts, with Wally even more putting the "Kid" in Kid Flash and cutting loose in a way Keiynan Lonsdale really hasn't gotten the chance to do yet (and why can't he? The man's made of more sunshine than Supergirl, and that's saying something!), while Cait not only gets to show off her intelligence, but also doesn't have her Killer Frost powers bringing her down like the TV writers keep insisting on doing because they can't give her a Grey Jedi-like sense of balance for whatever reason. Lyga also gets Joe, Cisco, H.R. (thank God for H.R. Wells!), and especially Barry quite on point. And while Hocus Pocus isn't the darkest villain Lyga's created yet (not when we've got his books like I Hunt Killers and sequels, or Boy Toy, for that matter), his mind-controlling powers, written scarily similarly to Kilgrave, made me want to do like Reverse-Flash Wells and vibrate my hand through his chest. Especially when he turned my DC fave into his top puppet - though Bar being Bar, he's too smart to entirely lose his faculties.

While I'm extra-psyched for this book's Supergirl counterpart Age of Atlantis next month, I'm also looking forward to the promise of another Barry Lyga Flash novelette to follow up from this one. With that cliffhanger, a perfectly tantalizing teaser just like on the show, there better be one!

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review: Origin

Origin Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've always been a fan of Dan Brown's books, even though by now I know full well they're actually pretty poorly researched in addition to just plain poorly written sometimes. But therein lies the fun, because as inaccurate as a lot of Brown's stories are (even though he'll insist otherwise), it's still as engrossing as ever because he makes you believe it, even for a moment. This fifth Robert Langdon book is no exception, and is certainly something of a return to form for Brown, as well as a retrospective look at elements of several of his earliest stories. Returning to Spain for the first time since Digital Fortress - and portraying the country in a far more positive light, even if he implies that it being the last of the great Catholic monarchies makes it a very backwards place - and giving us some ultraconservative Catholic villains to rival those of Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, Origin feels like a more worthy follow-up to The Lost Symbol as well, certainly more in line with the scientific wonders of that book than the dark, deadly Inferno (the infamous twist ending of which is hardly alluded to at all in here - maybe Brown regrets that, and I'm certainly glad the 2016 movie version removed it.)

It's a little amusing for me too with the aforementioned demonization of the religious right - from not only Christianity either, but especially a disturbing sedevacantist sect that literally canonizes Hitler and Franco - but also very timely considering the disturbing rise of the far right these days. The reference to a "forgetting pact" in Spain, trying to whitewash its own history like Franco never happened, makes me think of how the same is so often done in America, trying to sweep our sins under the rug (like they won't just fester and attract flies.) As for the science of this book, well, I won't pretend to understand it all, but it still makes a fair amount of sense - especially with the biggest twist of all, the only one I couldn't entirely see coming. And hey, I'm going to have a few thoughts in my head about humanity pretty much for the rest of my life thanks to this novel, so naturally, Brown's done his job and then some, as always.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Framed!

Framed! Framed! by Malcolm Rose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As my first read for my book group at work, I have to say this one was a fun one, if a little difficult to figure out what exactly it wanted to be. The murder-mystery part was there, sure, and it had a nice little sci-fi twist with Malc the robot sidekickj, as well as our teen-prodigy YA protagonist. (I might also want to recommend this book to middle-grade readers, though the violence level is just high enough that perhaps not.) But then there were some strange little nuggets of world-building, implying a sort of dystopian setting (after all, where else would the government be so invested in making sure artists reproduced more artists, architects reproduced more architects, etc.?), and because of how short the book is, these more unsettling elements are all but left to take a backseat to the murder mystery. I suppose maybe the sequels will expand on this somewhat - hopefully so if I'm to continue the rest of this series.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review: Murder of Crows

Murder of Crows Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book 2 of Anne Bishop's The Others series doesn't really bring too much new to the table, but it does continue in the first book's strangely addictive style blending paranormal romance with urban and contemporary fantasy. Though the world-building underpinnings are still a bit uncomfortable because of the parallels between human-terra indigene relations and ongoing real-world colonialism issues (even if the indigenous-coded shifters are dominant), they're nothing compared to the highly disturbing main plot involving what basically amounts to the trafficking of cassandra sangue. Not only are they sold for sex (it seems there's a pretty widespread underground CS fetish community in-universe), but for drugs made from their magic blood. In between all of this, Bishop fills the story with tons of small character moments, usually involving Meg getting to know Simon and all the Wolf pups a little better (the cookie scenes, in particular, are pretty funny, as are, to an extent, the scenes highlighting Simon and Meg's unresolved sexual tension), and all contributing to my need to keep on reading the rest of the book. So, while it's not really my favorite series by a long shot, I'm still invested enough to keep on reading. Pretty soon I'll be picking up the third book!

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Review: Into the Black

Into the Black Into the Black by Ava Jae
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was lucky enough to win a signed ARC in a Twitter giveaway from Ava Jae themself, and holy Christ I'm so in love with this book! Though I loved Beyond the Red when I first read it, about a year or so ago, Into the Black, the continuation of Jae's trilogious masterpiece of Star Thrones-slash-Game of Star Wars blows its predecessor out of the water, one of the most six-star-worthy books I've read this year - and bear in mind this has been a banner year for YA as it is, but publishing is really saving one of its best and brightest new books for the eleventh month (I almost said "hour," haha) with Into the Black, and it'll be my mission (which of course I choose to accept) to ensure you're not sleeping on it when the book comes out!

(Sorry, Cassie Clare, but I think you've fallen out of contention for one of the top prizes at the Pinecone Awards.)

The royal intrigue in which Kora and Eros find themselves entangled forms most of the story's backbone, but its real appeal lies in a lot of smaller moments and character developments. Eros' endless affection for Mal, for instance. Also the spot-on incorporation of themes of prejudice and marginalization, even more so than in Beyond the Red, particularly since Eros now provides good intersectional rep. He's bi, and pretty well in the closet throughout most of the book because he's spent his life in environments that aren't at all queer-inclusive, and then he meets the right guy who helps him start coming out of his shell in all the ways. Though I loved the Kora/Eros ship in Book 1, I'm so much more here for Eros and Deimos and their dynamic, easily comparable to Mateo and Rufus from They Both Die At The End. I see way too much of myself in Eros, especially how he feels unsafe coming out (and yet watch me, hiding behind my online alias, being a lot more open about it like Simon chatting with Blue), and for that reason, this #ownvoices bi reader gives Ava Jae all the thumbs up.

As for the main story, getting Eros to really stake his claim to the throne...well, I can't really go into that because spoilers. But what I can tell you is that Jae, using their gift for action when they're not weaponizing their gift for romance, throws down an intense climax combining elements of Beyond Thunderdome, Insurgent, and Taran Matharu's The Novice. You'll read it gasping for breath the whole time, then be sorely disappointed that you'll have to wait at least another year for the trilogy's finale in The Rising Gold.

(And speaking of that book, I'm kinda hoping for the cover to have blue as its dominant color, to complete the bi-pride color scheme we have with the pinkish Beyond the Red and purplish Into the Black covers.)

Ava Jae, you awe and some genius, I salute ye.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: They Both Die at the End

They Both Die at the End They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


"Alone and scared
I sit here and I stare into the emptiness
Feeling emptiness
I am waiting for my eyes to open wide
I am waiting for my heart to feel alive
'Cause I've been dead...


"I said I'm gonna buy a gun and start a war
If you can tell me something worth fighting for
Oh, and I'm gonna buy this place, that's what I said
Blame it upon a rush of blood to the head...

I think by now, for the third Adam Silvera book, I should know to expect to give him five stars for feels alone, and yet I'm never quite prepared for the Amazing Spider-Man 2-level weapons-grade feels he serves up. They Both Die At The End, spoileriffic title and all, is absolutely no exception, and as with both of Silvera's previous books, it left my feels more than a little bruised and battered.

Of course, there were also more than a few sweet moments too. Moments where we see just how much having a Last Friend can help your deathday. Moments where we port over to people elsewhere in town in this alternate world that's so scarily obsessed with death it can't possibly be real...oh wait, it pretty much is. Such is the magical-realist touch Silvera graces us with here, more than in any of his previous books - heck, I found myself thinking of Exit West time and again when the story went on one of these tangents. Moments where you start to wonder about the metaphysics of it all, which go pretty much unexplained in the midst of Silvera's genius world-building, but that's okay, because the theories Mateo and Rufus discuss at one point (like the "two afterlives" theory) are so much more tantalizing when unproven. Moments of glorious geekboyishness - the real reason, for me, why I can't and won't ever stop reading this man's bibliography, because even I don't reference Harry Potter (sorry, Scorpius Hawthorne - I mean, of course this takes place in the same 'verse as More Happy Than Not, amirite?) and Spider-Man to quite this degree, I don't think. Moments of quiet queer affirmation, the other real reason why I'm so into Silvera's work, and why I wish they were around when I was a little younger. (Insert me still searching for an alternate universe, like Griffin would, where that's the case.) And of course, moments of love and sweet awkwardness in which the boys Silvera gifts us with today really channel their inner Andrew Garfields.

Let me tell you, when I first heard this book was a thing, my mind immediately jumped to a sort of Red Band Society scenario in which They Both were going to die because they were both terminally ill. Silvera throws my expectations out the window, burns them to the ground, and dances on the ashes like there's no tomorrow in this book, in which every chapter brings up a few more surprises, and maybe a few more laughs, but always the threat of tears prickling my eyes, especially with less than twenty pages to go when they really burst forth, and then, even right at the very, very end, a surprise in store. (No spoilers.)

But those feels will gut-punch you and that's a promise. Even as I type this, I'm still looking a little like this guy, whom my most loyal Pinecones will recognize as my standard response to all Adam Silvera books for always and eternity:

Okay, now I have to go to bed because I gotta get up in less than seven hours for another day selling books, and my store STILL doesn't have a single copy of this book on the shelves at all. But you'll be damn right I'll be hand-selling the shit out of They Both Die At The End first chance I get.

And as I go to bed wondering who my Last Friend would be if I ever needed one - except not really, because I totally know who it'd be, and wouldn't you know it, we probably would wind up being Deckers on the same day - I leave you with one more awe and some GIF to perhaps brighten your heart and strengthen it before reading this book like I attempted to do with an overload of chocolate ice cream and chocolate-creme Oreos before starting my final push through the book tonight.

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review: Every Deadly Kiss

Every Deadly Kiss Every Deadly Kiss by Steven James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another story with Patrick Bowers, though this one, the tenth overall, challenges expectations with its unusual blend of two major story arcs - one involving a former child star turned FBI agent (and her horrifying backstory - you'll probably never look at any child star the same way again after reading this book!), the other, a fairly reluctant jihadist, one who doesn't 100% subscribe to the same warped ideology as do his comrades, and armed with a very deadly, and very unique, weapon indeed. Set between Every Crooked Path and The Pawn - and with an ending implying at least one more good story in that in between - Every Deadly Kiss, like its immediate predecessor, benefits from James' use of a floating timeline. You'd expect this book to take place sometime in the late 90s to early 2000s (that is, if the original Bowers Files series takes place roughly around the times the books came out), but James adorns this story with the high-tech nature you expect in a story of this decade, heavy on social media apps (clearly modeled on the likes of Tinder and Snapchat in particular) and even tinges of biopunk with the big terror plot. And as with all of the other novels to date in the Bowers Files, James gives us such a blazing fast plot that well over 500 pages read all too quickly. Seriously, why aren't more people reading these books? They're some of the most underrated crime stories out there. Dark but not excessively so, and adrenaline-pumping like nobody's business.

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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've seen Patrick Rothfuss' name floating around the internet and book blurbs for quite a while, and it's only now, after his books came highly recommended by one of my Stanford Bookstore managers, that I've finally picked up The Name of the Wind. This book, it starts out pretty slowly, but when we finally get into Kvothe's POV and he starts really telling his own story, that's when the book really begins to shine. Kvothe's story is long, but richly detailed, packed with surprises, and laced with tons of the sort of humor so often lacking in fantasy novels because they tend to be either too self-serious, too much of an homage to Tolkien, or both. It's pretty good for fans of Jay Kristoff, or of Jim Butcher, particularly the Cinder Spires series. I can't wait to read the sequel! Though, to paraphrase my manager, we'll likely all be retired by the time Rothfuss finally releases the end of the trilogy.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Review: Never Never

Never Never Never Never by Brianna Shrum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second Peter Pan retelling I've read in the last year or so, I think this one, I enjoyed a lot more because of how uniquely it centered James Hook and his rise from a Lost Boy to a feared pirate captain. Though I've spent months, if not years (well, I've only been on Twitter for two anyway) being mutuals with Brianna Shrum, it wasn't until very recently that I found out my library happened to have this book of hers, and I'm very glad I stumbled across it after all this time.

Here, Hook's story is beautifully tragic as he gets suckered into the charm of Neverland and then, after it becomes clear that he's not the perfect fit for this place, pigeonholed into the role of villain and forced to live there for the rest of his days. And he's not the only one - all the rest of the pirates and the Lost Boys, and of course Hook's love interest Tiger Lily, are mere pawns moving around the board at the whim of the Pan, pretty much. Though this version of Pan isn't quite so outright villainous as, say, the infamously iconic Once Upon A Time version, Shrum's Pan feels all the more sinister for how understated he is.

I rather wish there was a sequel to Never Never. Or, failing that, that it could've been the first in an anthology series where Shrum reimagines famous fairytale villains as tragic anti-villains instead.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review: The Final Spark

The Final Spark The Final Spark by Richard Paul Evans
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As its title implies, The Final Spark is the conclusion of the Michael Vey series, and yet after the epic cliffhanger of its predecessor, it's really not much of a Michael Vey book at all. Michael himself is missing, presumed dead (I mean, nobody could've survived that big-ass lightning strike, right? Right?) And so this book, over its 300 or so pages, is mostly devoted to a ton of jumping between a variety of smaller-scale POVs, with more one-chapter "parts" so that you get, like, ten parts before you even hit the 100-page mark. I mean, cliffhanger aside, the fact that Evans could only manage to squeak out one little book, and a jumpy and thinly-plotted book at that, to wrap everything up speaks volumes about how ultimately disappointing this series is.

I mean, if you're looking for an all-ages kind of adventure with globetrotting action and scientific nastiness, the series overall doesn't disappoint. It's just that the individual books wear so thin sometimes, and this one's no exception, sadly.

If nothing else, the final 15-20 pages or so are actually fun to read, because at least we're done with the series now and it feels like something of a throwback to the early days in those moments. But only for those moments.

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Review: Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Wonder Woman: Warbringer Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

DC's answer to Marvel's loose string of original YA novels (like Corinne Duyvis' Guardians book, Jason Reynolds' Miles Morales, and Margaret Stohl's underappreciated Black Widow series) begins here with the first of the DC Icons, and thank all the gods they started with Leigh Bardugo's terrific take on a slightly younger Wonder Woman in the modern day.

On the one hand, it's a little strange, knowing that Bardugo's giving us a book set in modern times rather than an approximation of the 19th century or so like we've come to expect from everything of hers in the first five years of her career. But Warbringer feels no less like classic Bardugo than her Grishaverse, with strong young ladies doing the narrating and a beautifully diverse cast. Hell, I would LOVE to see a future Wonder Woman movie where Bardugo's version of the character, and all her friends, meet Gal Gadot's version and team up with her. Not Spider-Verse, but Wonder-Verse, you know what I mean?

(Ehh, a guy can dream.)

Bottom line, this first installment of DC Icons is a pitch-perfect blend of action and heart, every bit the awesome story that Wonder Woman deserves, and I can't wait for the rest of the books! Even if most of them can't hold up to this standard (though I bet Marie Lu's Batman: Nightcrawler will be more than up to the task, because of course Marie Lu never fails.)

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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Review: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've seen a fair few people on Book Twitter raving about this here book, and now that I've read it, I can totally see why. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is a relatively short story, but no less action-packed and richly written for it, not to mention steeped in Chinese legends (especially that of the Monkey King) with modern twists. Every character from our heroes on down pops off the page, and the Bay Area setting, though cleverly disguised with fake place names (Santa Firenza, the name of which of course reminds me of San Incendio from Gene Luen Yang's The Shadow Hero, could be pretty much any near East Bay suburb, though of course as a Fremont resident I'm inclined to believe it's based on my hometown), feels very accurate and well-detailed. And my favorite part? Everyone talks nerdy. No, seriously, there's so much work that goes into providing plausible scientific explanations for how the magic system works, and it shows.

Thank God there's going to be a sequel to this one - we readers deserve nothing less.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Review: Leia, Princess of Alderaan

Leia, Princess of Alderaan Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yeah, I think it's official - Claudia Gray writes the best Star Wars novels of them all. I loved her take on a pre-Force Awakens Leia in Bloodline, and now, her return to YA with a teenage Leia proves to be a wonderful, and very thought-provoking, prequel to A New Hope, while also featuring some clues about The Last Jedi - most prominently the world of Crait, which I'm pretty sure is the land of salt and red sand featured in at least one shot of the Last Jedi trailer.

As for Leia's life as a princess and diplomat, that's covered very well too. Not only does she make some really memorable friends - and even a first love in fellow Alderaanian Keir - but she also starts to discover her parents' involvement in the Rebellion, the extent of the Empire's tyranny and fearmongering, and (despite her being raised in a fairly egalitarian society on Alderaan) coming to terms with her royal privilege (particularly apparent in the scene where she conducts negotiations with representatives of an alien species that's distrustful of humans, calling them "dry ones," and has such a complex gender system that C-3PO advises her to use they/them pronouns because theirs don't really translate into Basic) and how her best intentions may still pave a road to hell for others as well as herself. Just like Bloodline, this latest work from Claudia Gray proves very significant in the current political climate, with the Empire being such champion peddlers of fake news and the Rebels still looking like terrorists, especially when Saw Gerrera is basically the Star Wars embodiment of a violent Antifa type. Of course, we know the situation gets a hell of a lot better eventually, but for now, what Leia has to deal with in life makes for some gripping reading. Gray really ratchets up the suspense to make you believe that maybe, just maybe, this story's resolution will somehow defy canon and be a lot more tragic than expected.

Seriously, give Gray all the Leia books. All of them for always and eternity.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Review: Tower of Dawn

Tower of Dawn Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These days, it's hard to find anyone who genuinely enjoys Sarah J. Maas' books anymore - she's kinda done a lot of her readers dirty with her recent forays into erotica and general lack of diversity, but more recently, she's been working to correct some of the flaws that have turned so many readers against her. Tower of Dawn, I have to say, is her best effort in that department yet, not only because it helps make up for Chaol's total absence in Empire of Storms by giving him his own much-deserved book, but also because it includes more diversity among its cast - by necessity, since it takes place on the Southern Continent. So we get a lot more PoC rep, and more queer rep (not in any main characters, but I feel like she does a better job working it into this book than any of her previous ones.)

The real controversy with this one, of course, surrounds disabled rep, since Chaol's whole arc seemingly revolves around him traveling south in a last-ditch attempt to heal the nigh-unfixable injury that cost him his ability to walk in Queen of Shadows. Of course, to reduce Chaol's story to that slick one-sentence peg does it, and him, a great disservice. While I'm not physically disabled and can't really comment on the rep, I can tell you, without spoilers, there are tons of surprises in store. And for all the talk I've seen about Chaol having to put up with microaggressions - like the fact that he's actually asked, to his face, if his dick still works - said microaggressions are challenged pretty quickly, as the one responsible, healer Yrene Towers, expresses regret for her unprofessional behavior the next time she gets a POV chapter. Yrene, in fact, is one of my favorite characters in this book, because she's so conflicted for most of the story - caught between her duty as a healer and her resentment towards Adarlan and its army because they killed her family, and was Chaol responsible for any of that death by virtue of being part of that army? Hell, while we're at it, Chaol has to confront his own Adarlanian (read: white) privilege quite often as he and Yrene grow closer and closer.

Relationships, of course, are a pretty big part of this story - and yes, there's some sex involved. Thank God it's nowhere near as explicit as the infamous "velvet-wrapped steel" type scenes we've had to put up with in every SJM novel since ACOMAF, but for those who long for the series' early days when all love scenes were fade-to-black at best, I think those days are still pretty much over.

And you know what else is a big part of the story? The ongoing war that Aelin's been fighting back home. Though she's nowhere to be found in this story (and thank God for that - I've soured on her too much lately, to be honest), she and Rowan and their war still weigh on Chaol's mind. Not only because he's here to heal his injuries sustained in that war, but because even though Queen of Shadows could have easily been the end of the series...nope. The Valg return with a bloody vengeance here, and even if you're not arachnophobic, you'll want to run for the bloody hills.

Oh wait, that's where they hide...

While I think this book could've been a little shorter - because isn't it true that SJM's been pretty ill lately too? Jeez, the woman's liable to burn herself out! - at least it didn't feel as long and draggy and/or full of filler as the other 600-700 page bricks she's put out in the last 18 months. (Though I'm still annoyed with those stupid Bible-thin pages that are so difficult to not tear when I turn them!) That said, though, I feel that Tower of Dawn is a more mature novel than we've come to expect from SJM lately, in a good way, because though it's not free of her usual problematic nature, it's all the more thought-provoking for it. It's something of a return to form, to what SJM does best - characters who are flawed but lovable, and truly horrifying Lovecraftian threats for them to deal with all day and night.

I'm actually dreading the seventh (and supposedly final) Throne of Glass novel now, because Tower of Dawn, the Chaol novel we all deserved, is, for me, the final proof that he should've been the hero all along, not Aelin. If every novel in this up-and-down series were like this one, I'd have less trouble recommending it to anyone and everyone.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Review: My Best Friend's Exorcism

My Best Friend's Exorcism My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seeing the paperback of this book on the shelves at the Stanford bookstore - a lovely design meant to evoke 80s VHS tapes - I had no choice but to order this one ASAP. It being virtually unavailable at any Bay Area library, I had to order it special from Sacramento instead. Now that I've read the whole thing - mostly during my break times at work, one of those accompanied with a Dark Mocha Frappuccino - I've found My Best Friend's Exorcism a peculiar first taste of Grady Hendrix's style and talent. Of course, now I have to read his first book, and any and all others, based on what I saw in this one. It was a little slow-moving at times, though it was easy to savor the immersion in 80s culture - not only the music and movies, but also the politics and Moral Majority nightmare-fueling that, let's face it, explains why this decade saw such a resurgence in horror movies. And then comes the actual horror show that Abby and Gretchen have to deal with, a real slow burn of terror and psychological damage that you really think could be simply real-world devils, not the supernatural kind, for the longest time.

But of course this ain't that kind of book. This book boasts a damn good soundtrack in all the chapter titles - even a lot of my personal faves like "Tonight She Comes" that nobody seems to know about. This book boasts a truckload of supporting characters with all sorts of issues to deal with, and it's hard not to sympathize with most of them to some level - though none anywhere near as much as Abby or Gretchen. This book even boasts a most unconventional exorcist, one who actually winds up being one of the story's flaws because he's simply not included enough until near the end of the book.

My Best Friend's Exorcism ain't perfect, but it delivers on the scare front, and I'm gonna keep on attempting to hand-sell this one as long as there are copies left at the store - and as long as the Halloween season is upon us.

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Review: Written in Red

Written in Red Written in Red by Anne Bishop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had to pick up this book after seeing some of its sequels on the shelves at work (though the store only carries the two most recent books) and finding it peculiarly interesting. Reading it, I've found that it's not quite what I expected. I think I expected a contemporary fantasy, but this book blends that with urban fantasy, alternate history, and paranormal romance. Think True Blood meets The Dresden Files meets Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

In practice, the book's genre mashup left a little to be desired, and some of the characters fell rather flat for me. I also found it more than a bit unsettling that the various terra indigene shapeshifters are coded rather like the indigenous peoples of non-European continents - though at least they proved more dominant over the Euro-coded humans than the indigenous people of our world's history - and that in the present day, they live in a tense approximation of harmony with humans, though with not-insignificant bad blood between them.

That said, though, Simon Wolfhard was the saving grace of this book for me. He was a bit of a dick sometimes, but then again, so are a lot of my faves, especially in urban fantasy. I almost wish Bishop could've made him the star of the show - at least then I'd feel a bit more of a Lost Girl vibe that would've pushed this book into four-star territory for me.

Well, even though I wasn't as impressed with this one as I could've been, I'll still keep on going till I catch up and can recommend the rest of the series to bookstore customers.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you know anything about N.K. Jemisin from following her on Twitter or anywhere else, you know she's a whip-smart lady, and that she's got quite a few award-winning books out there. So for my first Jemisin book, I figured I'd try the beginning of her Broken Earth Trilogy and see how it played out. Well, I can see for sure why she's an award winner, even though the book wasn't quite 100% to my taste. The book's narrative styles, while each were delightfully snarky in a genre that so often takes itself way too seriously, were so unconventional (particularly the use of second-person POV for about half the book in total, usually a major turn off for me) that reading the book proved to be almost more of a struggle than it was worth.

That said, though, as difficult as the story was to follow at times, I still very much appreciate what Jemisin's giving us in the subtext here. Not only does she beautifully blend sci-fi and fantasy, but she also blends these genres with blistering social commentary, criticizing humanity not only for bigotry - rather X-Men-like, if one parallels the orogenes with the mutants, and Jemisin also includes story threads about in-universe slurs and reclamations thereof - but also for our damage to the environment. Not unlike the Once Upon a Time Arc Words "All magic comes with a price," orogenes' power, because it draws from the earth itself, tends to cause some serious damage when used, and it's no wonder the earth fights back with such constant and deadly seismic activity. Considering the recent rise in devastating earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes the world over, it's a theme that's all too timely right now.

(On a lighter note, though, the earth's seismic self-destructive nature lends itself, in-universe, to some surprisingly amusing volcanic-themed swears in the ironically-named Stillness.)

I'm happy to report that I've already got the remaining books in the trilogy on order at the library, and that yesterday I managed to sell the only available copy of The Fifth Season to a bookstore customer. Given how thought-provoking and yet darkly funny this book is (its opening lines are some that I'll surely be quoting to other customers as soon as we restock on this book), I expect nothing less than more greatness from not only the sequels, but all the rest of Jemisin's acclaimed bibliography, which I'll surely read in due time.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall 2017 TBR

Having seen Joey @ thoughtsandafterthoughts tweet this latest installment of Top Ten Tuesday, I couldn't resist taking part again, especially since it's the Fall 2017 TBR edition and I did the Fall TBR last year as well. Now it's my turn, and you'll find that I've got a few titles in common with Joey, starting with the one on the very top of the list.

10. Patrick Ness, Release

I've heard some good things about this book. I've also heard that, tonally, it's perhaps closest to The Rest of Us Just Live Here, my least favorite Ness book of all. But maybe I'll like this one more because it feels less likely to be a satire that, for me, would fall flat on its face. And also, Ness needs all the love he can get given that his BBC baby Class went and got unceremoniously cancelled.

Sharing the UK cover 'cause I like that one a lot more than the US cover.

9. Sarah J. Maas, Tower of Dawn

Yeah, yeah, I know, SJM's problematic in all the ways and should be avoided like the plague, but I'm still a fan of hers and I'll read her books - I especially can't ignore this one about Chaol, because thanks to Aimal, he's become my favorite character again after I briefly fell for the Rowan spell. If nothing else, read this review of ToD from my friend. Spoilery, but if you're like me, you've got plenty of mutuals who've spread most of the same spoilers online anyway.

We still got robbed not having Chaol on this cover, though.

8. Jay Kristoff, Godsgrave

Also an author (and series) many of my Twitter mutuals recommend everyone avoids because he's got a history of being problematic as hell, but me, I'm too loyal a Hufflepuff droog. I named one of my own villains after Mister Kristoff for a reason! And while I'm far more psyched for Obsidio, this middle entry of the Nevernight Chronicle promises a pretty kickass magical Olympics in the vein of The Mime Order or A Gathering of Shadows. Also, this bi boy is happy to hear that the whisperings of a bi Mia Corvere I was hearing from Mister Kristoff for a while appear to have become canon.

The bookstore has no less than two signed copies of this one!

7. James Rollins, The Demon Crown

Technically not coming out till the tail end of the fall season - early December, to be precise - so I probably won't get to read this one until sometime in 2018. But James Rollins never fails with his Sigma Force series, and for this we're looking at yet another high-stakes, high-intensity dose of apocalyptic action. So apocalyptic, in fact, Sigma's gonna have to temporarily align with the Guild to stop it, five books after we thought the Guild was defeated.

Why does this cover remind me so much of Fireblood, though? Or, even better, Talon.

6. Tahereh Mafi, Whichwood

I've been waiting for this one way too long. And it's a companion to Furthermore? Like, set in the same universe? I'm so down!

#OwnVoices MG fantasy FTW!

5. Rick Riordan, The Ship of the Dead

Magnus Chase, meet Percy Jackson. You're welcome. Obviously.

This'll pair perfectly with Thor: Ragnarok, am I right?

4. Barry Lyga, The Flash: Hocus Pocus

An official kidlit Flash novel? Sounds a lot less dark than we Lyga fans can expect, but I'll be damned if he doesn't do my favorite guardian angel Scarlet Speedster justice. (I mean, he's a Barry writing about another Barry, setting up for some Barry-ception at some point, am I right?) And, being middle-grade, I'm hoping that this book shies away from some shipping routes I'd rather avoid, the main reason why I've got such a love-hate relationship with what used to be my favorite show.


3. Jo Whittemore, Supergirl: Age of Atlantis

A month after Lyga's Flash novel will come this official kidlit Supergirl novel, for which I can wait even less because Supergirl, the Angel from Krypton, has become my favorite Arrowverse character of them all. This book, I have all the faith it'll be perfectly awe...and some.

Again: winn-schott-i-love-you.gif

2. Zac Brewer, Madness

If there's one thing you need to know about me, it's that Z is one of the best in the biz and you're all sleeping on him. Remedy that immediately with all his books in order, building up to this one, which I'm thinking will be his most Silvera-esque yet. Dark, but with just enough of a nugget of hope at the end.

Make this one his next big bestseller, I beg you.

1. Adam Silvera, They Both Die At The End

*cries in bisexual because the bookstore STILL doesn't carry this one despite it being officially an NYT bestseller*

crying-garfield-spidey.gif - that one's getting attached to EVERY Silvera review I write, you know.

There you have it, my loyal Pinecones. The fall 2017 books I wanna read the most. Believe it or not, Tower of Dawn will be the first one I read, I'm thinking. Unless extra copies of TBDATE pop up at the library the way they did for ToD...hmm.

Till next time...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Ruin and Rising

Ruin and Rising Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third and final entry of the Grisha Trilogy - though not the entire Grishaverse - is dark and full of terrors, and also full of tons of twists building up to an ending you'll probably see coming, but that won't make it hurt any less, I don't think. Those tons of twists, they pile up like mad as the story goes on, and you'll have wondered why you won't have predicted a few of them earlier - and then you'll also hope to the Saints that Alina and company find some way to subvert them, for everyone's sake. (Except that of the Darkling, of course.)

On the other hand, at least my ship sails, though not without some seriously rough seas.

To the Grisha Trilogy, I now get to say, once again after three years, ave atque vale.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: Twelfth Grade Kills

Twelfth Grade Kills Twelfth Grade Kills by Heather Brewer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod conclude (for now, though I hope Uncle Z returns to this world someday, whether it be a prequel centered on Otis or a sequel about Vlad's college years and beyond) with blood, gore, guts, and delights everywhere. Not to mention what is, by far, the twistiest plot this author has ever come up with - even from the very beginning, when a major villain is unceremoniously killed off in the prologue, followed by the first steps towards the resolution of the many cliffhangers of Eleventh Grade Burns. Resolution which you think you'll be able to see coming, but then holy God, the ways Brewer subverts all the expectations...I am cry, still, just a little from thinking about it.

I seriously wish Vlad Tod and Z Brewer got more love from the YA world at large. These books and their author are shining stars that not nearly enough people know about and appreciate.

But for now, Vlad Tod, I hereby wish you ave atque vale.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: Siege and Storm

Siege and Storm Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second book of the Grishaverse takes us really up and down the world that Bardugo wrought, giving us a good expansion beyond the continent shown on the map in the first book and taking us far and wide, especially to Novyi Zem, where the book begins. It's a strange contrast, Novyi Zem being basically the Wild West against the Eurasian influences of the rest of the world, and the presence of the jurda crops makes good foreshadowing for the pernicious influence of jurda parem in Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.

In terms of story, this middle book is a bit of a sophomore slump, being longer and slower than its predecessor, and feeling a hell of a lot more padded. There's a lot less Darkling, but that amount of him we get, it reminds me of why I've despised him so much for years. As much as I used to ship Mal and Alina, I see in this book just how suitable for her Nikolai truly is, despite my long-standing support for childhood best friend shipping, Climon-style. And now I can see the presence of some important and subtle creatures featured on the original covers - though the new style, more in line with the sequel series and The Language of Thorns, makes the creatures more obvious, I think the original covers are better not only for subtle creatures, but also for showcasing more of the faux-Russian aesthetic of Ravka.

Soon, I'll be re-reading the third book as well. Can't wait to finish this trilogy off once again!

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Review: Black Moon

Black Moon Black Moon by Romina Russell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a little bummed that this third book of the Zodiac series takes another slight dip in quality - four stars for the first book, three and a half (rounded up to four) for the second, and now a straight up three stars here. It's nothing to do with the characters, really - Rho and Hysan, in particular, are some of the most shippable leads I've seen in YA, easily. But the storyline feels a little repetitive at this point, with Ochus being always in the shadows with inscrutable motives even after three books, and with each book being only 300 pages, they don't contain nearly as much as I hope they would. But at least there's a different threat each time, though - just Ochus in Book 1, the Marad in Book 2, and now a sinister group that makes a little more sense now that I've recently re-read Shadow and Bone, and also feels oddly prescient considering the book came out in 2016 but was no doubt written long before the rise of a certain leftist political subset in this country that makes idealistic promises to hide its intentions of breaking the wheel at the cost of progress.

But I digress.

I certainly can't give up now, though, not with that cliffhanger, Russell's most diabolical yet...and now I need to either order Thirteen Rising at the library or sneakily read it while hand-selling it at the bookstore. (Except how silly would that be, me hand-selling the fourth book only?)

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review: Warcross

Warcross Warcross by Marie Lu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

PINECONE GENERAL'S WARNING: This book is not to be read, listened to, or otherwise consumed if you have a heart condition, are pregnant, or have recently downed a cup of espresso con panna with two sugars. Literary cardiac arrest may ensue.

No, seriously, this book is just that Agents of SHIELD-grade intense. Especially given its author, Marie Lu, is one of the few whom I've consistently given five stars for each and every single book I've ever read of hers. Even the much-vaunted J.K. Rowling and Veronica Roth, my two biggest idols, don't share that honor with her. And on this, Lu's seventh novel overall, she outdoes herself magnificently. Here, we get her strongest heroine in the tatted, rainbow-haired Emika Chen - and more than ever, I'm fancasting Chloe Bennet for a Lu lead. And thank God Emika gets to narrate the entire book, unlike, say, June (necessary though the dual POVs were for Legend) or Adelina. The entire story hinges on us being in Emika's head all the time, because it builds up to an ending that completely turns the whole damn thing upside down and needs to be seen coming as little as possible, without any hint of an outside POV, for maximum effect.

World-building has always been one of Lu's best strengths, and this is no exception, particularly now that she's gone back to her video-game-industry roots to create a world that remains colorful and immersive even on black and white paper and text. Think Ready Player One, but a little further into the future and reliant on pop culture references beyond the 80s (Harry Potter is mentioned very frequently, to my delight, of course.) The colorful-ness even extends to the cover, controversial though it's been - I still love it because of the rainbow colors everywhere shining against a white background, but the title is laid out in such a way that it's very difficult to read. Something I really couldn't help but notice in practice today as I hand-sold this book all day long at the Stanford bookstore - many, many, many customers legit thought "Player, Hunter, Hacker, Pawn" was the real title because they couldn't read Warcross - but hey, again, I love the colors, and the sorta Rubik's Cube-like design that just begs to be animated into an official logo for an official film trailer.

But putting the cover jumble aside, hand-selling this book (after I spent my first couple of hours on shift sneakily reading the book while carrying it around on the floor, espresso-powered as I was in violation of my own Pinecone General's Warning!) proved shockingly easy. Hand-selling YA is a big challenge for me because even though it's my area of expertise, there aren't nearly as many customers in the Stanford bookstore who are into it. But this book, with its combination of virtual reality, a hyper-diverse cast, blazing fast action, bounty hunting, Dark Web deadliness, and hints to the dangers of an AI Singularity not unlike Person of Interest, has appealed to a great many customers, even those who aren't normally into YA or sci-fi books. Today alone, I sold two copies of this book and enticed several more customers to consider it. I literally even pitched it to one guy in the elevator, if you can believe that. And having freshly read and absorbed the whole damn thing in two hours, I could certify just how good Warcross truly was.

With apologies to Jason Reynolds and Miles Morales, the top slot in the potential rankings for this year's Pinecone Awards has, once again, gone to a Marie Lu book, the start of what promises to be her most incredible series yet.

Oh, and one more thing: yes, this book is part of the Legend 'verse, as proven with the VR tech behind the titular game (a later version of which appears in the Antarctica scenes in Champion if I remember correctly), and also with the character of Asher "Ash" Wing, an ancestor of Day's, right down to a strong family resemblance. In which case, I have a few ideas where this series could go next in Darkcross (that's my guess for the title for Book 2, anyway), but given how much the ending of this book alone subverted and double-subverted my expectations (and gut-punched my poor feels besides), I'm probably very, completely, terribly wrong.

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Review: Artemis

Artemis Artemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ARC for Andy Weir's follow-up to The Martian is in pretty high demand behind the scenes at the Stanford University bookstore, as you can imagine, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on that ARC and call it mine for a moment before returning it to its friends in the storeroom. And I was able to read all of it, surprisingly short and digestible as it was, during my breaks on an eight-hour shift, a total of an hour of reading time.

Not unlike The Martian, here we get a Twenty Minutes Into The Future sci-fi story set on a world not ours - specifically, the Moon, and the first human colony on our natural nighttime satellite. Here, young and confident and humorous as hell smuggler Jazz Bashara gets involved in a heist that eventually gets her linked to a pretty staggering conspiracy involving new technology, questionable industrial practices, and the potential to turn life on this lunar colony upside down for pretty much, well, ever.

Also not unlike The Martian, we have a First Person Smartass narrator par excellence. Jazz snarks her way through every chapter with every bit the aplomb of Mark Watney, and even better, her narrative's not interrupted by long stretches of third-person narration taking place elsewhere as happens frequently in The Martian. My one issue with the narration is that Jazz sometimes throws out translations and/or definitions for common Arab-world garments (like niqab, for instance), which I hope is cleared up in the final print because it suggests that readers are either unaware of what they mean and can't be arsed to Google them, or can't figure them out from the context. At least there are these cultural elements to be had, though, especially given that Jazz is Saudi and was raised Muslim. I can imagine there are a few people in some of my circles who might take issue with a white guy like Weir writing a narrator like Jazz, especially since she acts pretty Westernized (liberal sexual mores, shying away from religion, etc.), and that brings to mind some of the recent controversy re: 27 Hours and characters' ethnicities being heavily highlighted but not so much their ancestors' cultures.

If nothing else, though, I'm glad to be able to point to a strong, memorable, lovable WoC main character.

It's a fast-paced story, perhaps a little too fast at times, with a lot of moments of padding - especially noticeable given the relatively short length. But it builds up masterfully to a bittersweet ending - bitter, but with that sweet spot of hope. Hope for a sequel, which I hope Weir graces us with sooner rather than later. Jazz is, if anything, even more iconic than Mark Watney ever was or will be, and she deserves to headline her own multimedia franchise, gorrammit!

Now I pass this ARC back to my manager and share the wealth behind the scenes for the next couple of months until the book comes out and I can start hand-selling it like a boss.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review: Eleventh Grade Burns

Eleventh Grade Burns Eleventh Grade Burns by Heather Brewer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh the wonders of the Vlad Tod world...absolute perfection, every last one, and this fourth book takes things up to new heights. While Tenth Grade Bleeds upped the emotional game considerably, Eleventh Grade Burns delivers a masterful blend of teen dramedy and suspenseful paranormal thrills, particularly in the interactions between Vlad and Joss (nice to see him back in action in this one!) And also Dorian, that enigmatic creature of the night who makes his most prominent appearance of all in this book, and really justifies my friend August's fan love for him.

As the penultimate entry in the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, expect this book to serve up a lot of twists and turns and cliffhangers setting the stage for its high-promise grand finale in Twelfth Grade Kills, the culmination of the Vlad Tod 'verse to date, though I still hope Z's got more stories up his sleeve for this one. But this book and its many, many cliffhangers, they come pretty much one after the other and get nastier and more diabolical each time - until the very last word.

Z Brewer at his finest, that's this series for you. Sincerely.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

IT: A King-Size Collection Of Shocks, Terrors, And Triggers


"You'll float too, when it happens to you..."

...which puts me in mind of a recent tweet from the master himself.

In the trades of horror and wit, he ain't no jack.

While I at first interpreted that last line as a reference to The 100, which King's a fan of (and that's a reason why you need to get into that show immediately if you haven't already!), I didn't realize there was another secret meaning - the catchphrase for this movie, the sinister slogan of the dreaded IT himself, Pennywise. That's mostly because I'm very new to the world of IT, having not yet read the book or seen the 1990 miniseries. This 2017 movie is my first time seeing any of IT in any way, shape, or form, and for my first time, it's a damn good one, bolstered by terrific child actors playing the members of the Losers' Club, beautifully terrifying work from Mama director Andy Muschietti (fun fact: IT takes on the form of Mama herself to scare one of the kids, implying a possible shared universe?), and Bill Skarsgård at Heath Ledger's Joker or Beetlejuice levels of unrecognizable behind tons of makeup and some CGI (though he was apparently able to work a lazy eye into his performance.)
"Welcome to the Losers' Club, asshole!"

For those of you who, like me, haven't seen the old miniseries or read King's novel (but maybe absorbed some of the details through osmosis), I'll endeavor to keep this spoiler-free. What I can tell you, however, is that Muschietti's second movie, his highest-profile yet, manages to be an even more effective love letter to the horror genre. IT combines the off-kilter cinematographic influence of Guillermo del Toro (who executive produced Mama for Muschietti) and references to just about every horror story that came between the original novel and today and can claim any level of influence from IT. On that list, I can name a lot. Namely, my own Red Rain novels, but especially the first one. Though I claim Supernatural and Buffy and The Amazing Spider-Man as my primary inspirations, this one was for sure a secret inspiration I never even knew about, with its heavy use of aquatic imagery and a killer who proves virtually impossible to stop because he's got secret ways of sneaking into your life at the worst possible times.

For more established works referenced here, I've got tons as well. The Alien franchise (maybe not so much the original since it predates even the novel, but Aliens for sure), Signs, some other King-based works (like the movie Stand By Me, especially since the original "Body" novella, like IT, takes place in Derry, Maine), The Dark Tower (the secret origin of the Deadlights which get put to terrifying use in one key scene), Super 8, a bit of The Goonies, a trip outside the horror genre with Everything, Everything, back into horror and surrealism with Twin Peaks and its own many derivatives, and of course Stranger Things, that great big homage to all things 80s, Spielberg, and King (which I still haven't seen yet, yeah yeah, I know, blasphemy!) Appropriately, this adaptation sets the beginning of the big old story, the kids' first encounter with Pennywise, in 1989, setting the stage for a second film (coming in a couple of years' time or so) which will likely take place in 2016 because IT likes to run on a 27-year cycle of death and destruction.

Why IT does that, though, isn't quite explained. I mean, sure, a lot of the best horror movies don't explain everything - Alien comes strongly to mind, and I say this as one of the few who loved Prometheus for its philosophical implications and how it planted seeds for explanations of how the Xenomorphs came to be. But I still feel like we could do with some concrete explanations behind IT's existence. Not so much the symbolism, though - that's pretty obvious, the personification of fear and being basically a vampire and turning all the people of Derry inexplicably evil. But giving us some backstory as to why IT is even a thing, à la The Secret History of Twin Peaks, would be welcome.

In addition, the characters could have done with a bit more work. Nothing against the actors giving it their all as the Losers' Club, but in some cases, they had very little to work with. I'm especially looking at Stan, the most underwritten of the bunch - most of his characterization revolves around him being the one Jewish kid, worried about bungling his upcoming bar mitzvah. Marginalized people in general don't get the best deal in this movie as far as character depth goes - Mike, the one black kid, doesn't get to do much either (owing to him not joining the Losers' Club till about halfway through the story), and Beverly's character arc heavily involves her having to deal with her creepy, pedophilic dad. Meanwhile, there's Pennywise, who's just a little too hard to take seriously at times because of the fluid rules behind his power set (I mean, his floating and constant presence in the water are one thing, but the scene where he gets into a series of photos on a slide projector, and then literally jumps out of the screen, was just too over the top) and because as creepy as Bill Skarsgård's performance is, it's also ruined at times by his line delivery, which can range from ungodly screeching to strange, nigh-incomprehensible slurring. Unpredictable he may have been, but I think a more unified performance style would have made him easier to fear.

Though, to be fair, he had no problem scaring the child actors for real on set.

As King adaptations go, this version of IT is truly one of the best out there, and with it comes a significant scare factor. Though very reliant on jump scares, this movie is also very scarily psychological in nature, dealing heavily with some troubling topics - including bullying, gay-bashing (not that there are any explicitly queer characters, though "faggot" is used very often by the bullies), slut-shaming, the aforementioned pedophilic dad, and of course coulrophobia. All of those trigger warnings apply for anyone going into this movie.

I'll give this movie a B+, and I'll only go into the sequel with trepidation because I'm pretty sure the adult-focused segment of the adaptation will lose a lot of the charm of this film's 80s nostalgia and relatable early-adolescent moments.

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Review: Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This Russian-inspired Leviathan-esque steampunk-fantasy is a fast read all the way. Although it's not until the last hundred pages that the pacing dials up into the stratosphere - I mean, wow. What a way to end it! - the earlier parts are loaded for bear (pun not intended) with plenty of world-class world-building on Bardugo's part.

Though I still prefer the Six of Crows duology because I feel like that series has better characters (and more diversity too), it's here, the first installment of Bardugo's Grishaverse, where the world-building and establishment of the Grisha magic system truly shines brightest. I'm pretty sure if I were to find a "which type of Grisha are you?" quiz online, I'd get a Corporalki result. Hopefully not a Darkling result - and while I came to utterly despise the Darkling the first time I read the trilogy, now I get a better sense of why he's so popular with the fans. (Though I still don't like him because reasons, reasons which are much more relevant now than five years ago.)

Soon I'll be reading the remaining two books of this series and better able to recommend them to customers at the Stanford Bookstore! :D

(Oh, and according to the official Grishaverse website personality quiz, yes, I'm a Corporalnik. I thought so.)

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: Dividing Eden

Dividing Eden Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Normally, I love me a good Joelle Charbonneau book, but this one - her first stab at the fantasy genre, as far as I know - left me a little wanting. The concept's a pretty good one - royal siblings forced to fight for the right to rule their land, reminding me of Three Dark Crowns even though I haven't read it yet - but the execution kinda fell flat for me. A major issue, of course, was the third-person POVs used - similarly to Throne of Glass or And I Darken, and especially the latter only because it's split between the brother and sister. But at least Carys and Andreus aren't quite as unlikable as Lada - though neither of them really make a strong impression. They feel oddly bland as YA leads go, though I'll call Carys the true hero of this story because I feel a little more connected to her - and the ending to this book makes it clear she's the one we want to root for the most.

As far as genre goes, this one's predominantly fantasy, but with a few sci-fi twists - like the use of electric lights - that give me a strong sci-fi postapocalyptic impression as well, hence the blurb comparing this book to Red Queen. It's actually a little more in line with Prince of Thorns, with less emphasis on people with powers than RQ has - or, perhaps even better, with Game of Thrones, with the main threat to Eden being the Xhelozi, which are basically the werewolf version of White Walkers.

For my usual Charbonneau standard, Dividing Eden is a bit of a disappointment, but I'm reasonably interested enough to stick around for the sequel and hope it builds in quality from there.

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Review: Tenth Grade Bleeds

Tenth Grade Bleeds Tenth Grade Bleeds by Heather Brewer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Appropriately adorned with Pravus purple in its series title, series number, author name, and iconic fanged smiley, Tenth Grade Bleeds, the midpoint of The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, proves to be one of the series' darkest, most emotionally damaging entries. Damaging not only for poor Vlad, but for we the readers as well, especially when we get firsthand glimpses of Vlad's tortured psyche. It gets to the point where he even commits self-harm as all his life stresses - Otis not being there for him, his friendship with Henry on the rocks due to the inherent inequality of their vamp-drudge power balance, missing Joss despite his betrayal, balancing his burgeoning romance with Meredith and his budding friendships with the goths, Eddie Poe being, well, Eddie Poe, and D'Ablo lurking around and sending another adversary after Vlad...

...oh, and the sheer indignity of high-school health class. Why my library puts this book in the middle-grade section instead of YA, I couldn't tell you.

Z Brewer here, once again, gives us a work of surprising genius. The novel is a collection of small moments, and some big action set pieces too, but all strung along on a connection worthy of the webs woven by a certain wall-crawler played by the likes of Maguire, Holland, and Garfield. Seriously, if you don't pick this series up and give it a shot...why not?

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Review: Masquerade

Masquerade Masquerade by Laura Lam
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Luckily, having discovered the first two books of Micah Grey's trilogy pretty late, I only wound up having to wait about a year and a half before finally getting around to the long-awaited conclusion - and thank the Lord and Lady that Laura Lam got to see the whole series through in the end, because I, for one, would've been extremely devastated if Micah and Drystan didn't get their shot at a happy ending. That said, though...haha, I almost said "that sad," because while this book does devote a good amount of time to wrapping up the story's loose threads and constantly twisting and subverting expectations and just being full of beautiful imagery that begs for a movie adaptation yesterday, there were also tons of feels-making moments with Micah and Drystan's ongoing romance - imperfect, but lovely and sweet and Styx, I'm jealous of them for each having someone to love!

I have no idea what Lam's giving us next. Maybe a new Pacifica book (I'm still counting on her taking us to the Pacific Northwest for the next one), maybe another YA book of some stripe. I don't know.

But for now, I bid Micah, Drystan, and all their beautiful coterie ave atque vale.

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Review: Hunting Prince Dracula

Hunting Prince Dracula Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now that I work at the Stanford University bookstore, they say I've now got access to any of quite a number of ARCs that the bookstore manages to get ahold of...and for my first ARC pick, could I have possibly done better than this unique blend of forensic science, the late Victorian era, and the Gothic?

I read Stalking Jack the Ripper not long after its initial release last year, and wasn't so impressed with it at the time, but after hearing of the sequel and its title, I had no choice but to re-read the first book. I liked it better the second time around, but still didn't think it quite validated the hype.

Hunting Prince Dracula, while a little harmed by overlength and the occasional slow, padded scene, is a major improvement over its predecessor. It not only brings our favorite characters into the Carpathian mountains, which boasts a stronger, more haunting atmosphere than Victorian London, but also gives us some more engaging new characters (including some nice f/f rep on the side, with Audrey Rose and Thomas, in particular, showing modern-like sensibilities towards it in strange contrast with their own dancing-on-eggshells-around-each-other-and-their-own-mutual attraction), some nasty professors at the prestigious Romanian forensic science academy where the book takes place, and a really engaging case of a murderer who wants us to think Dracula's back and worse than ever, but we know there'll be a more natural (though far from mundane) explanation for it all.

Best of all, this isn't going to be the end of the series - the end of the book implies another shift in setting in store, this time to America.

Hunting Prince Dracula proves to be the point where, as a writer, Maniscalco really starts Growing the Beard (if you'll forgive me this Star Trek reference.) Thank God I was able to read this ARC - it's validated this series for me and truly hooked me into the chronicles of Audrey Rose and Thomas and all their compatriots.

Here's hoping I can also get an ARC for Book 3, especially if I'm still working the bookstore job next year!

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