Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Review: Good Behavior

Good Behavior Good Behavior by Blake Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to my friend Speedy, I got into Good Behavior last fall and soon found myself addicted. I mean, it's based on Blake Crouch's work, so of course it's addictive. But now I get to see, at last, the source material - three novellas, each one following Letty Dobesh on another heist-y misadventure, some more suspenseful than others. The first of these formed the basis for the series pilot (mostly), while the second and third, aside from some small scenes, have yet to be adapted thanks to the series really doing its own thing. As Crouch states in the notes at the end of each book, there are quite a few changes as well - among them, Javier being based more on Arnold from the first novella than the character of the same name, which is a major improvement.

Though I don't quite enjoy these stories as much as Crouch's sci-fi work - Dark Matter and the Wayward Pines trilogy - they're pretty quick and digestible and recognizably Crouch's style, and the man himself really loves Letty's character, so there's always a hope that he can write more stories with her someday.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Review: Heir of Fire

Heir of Fire Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Huh...so I thought I'd rated this one four stars the first time I read this, but turns out it was five. Well, now that I've re-read it, I'm bringing it down to four for sure. Don't get me wrong, Celaena's story - and rediscovery of her true self as Aelin - makes for some pretty fascinating reading, but it takes up a huge, huge chunk of a huge, huge book at the expense of Chaol's story. For Chaol, it's a shame that much of what we get is him angsting over Celaena being gone, and worrying about where to go from here, and where should his allegiance lie, rather than him being the man of action we know he should be. It's also connected to the introduction of Rowan in this book - I used to like him, but compared to Chaol, he's way too perfect and attractive, too devoid of flaws, and his function in the story basically amounts to being a knockoff Fae version of Four from Divergent. And it certainly doesn't help that to indicate his "animalistic" Fae nature, he's consistently referred to as "a male" rather than "a man," another Franchise Original Sin not only for this series, but for SJM in general.

But this book does have a lot of action to spare, and even better, it introduces fan favorite Manon. Despite her being another case of Maas not being able to handle such a good character later on down the line, here, where we see Manon as originally intended, she's more than a welcome presence, adding another layer of complication to the ever-expanding storyline of this series.

Two more books to go on this series re-read. At least I'll go into Queen of Shadows remembering the Valg a bit better from this book now.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review: Crystal Storm

Crystal Storm Crystal Storm by Morgan Rhodes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally, the fifth - and, unless I'm much mistaken, penultimate - book in Rhodes' Falling Kingdoms series. After the events of its predecessor, here we get some really unlikely team-ups going on, with just about all the original cast forced to clench their teeth and unite against the bigger threats the whole land of Mytica now faces. Those bigger threats, of course, being the various flavors of Kindred and also Amara.

It's great to see Jonas getting the screen time he deserves, even if it's clear that the story is much more about the likes of Lucia, Cleo, and Magnus (the latter, I'm much more invested in his character now, especially since I really couldn't stand him in the earlier books.) Even King Gaius, I feel a little more sympathy for him, for similar reasons to why I feel just a twinge of sympathy for Victoria Aveyard's Maven...but at least Gaius isn't a complete monster, you know what I mean?

And then all this builds up to a Riordan-grade cliffhanger so nasty that of course Rhodes has to apologize for it in the acknowledgments, except not really, LOL. I admit, at that point, I was thinking...

One more book in the main series to go, and at least two more in that Outlander-style spinoff. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to reread Heir of Fire.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review: Crown of Midnight

Crown of Midnight Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I remember it used to be that I preferred the even-numbered entries in the Throne of Glass series to the odd-numbered ones, because I tended to feel like (except for the first, of course), the odd-numbered ones are loaded with filler (HoF and EoS especially are guilty of this.) But after rereading Crown of Midnight for the third time - I actually sort of gave up the first time, then really enjoyed it on the second read - I realize that this book was the one loaded with filler, contributing to a case of Sophomore Slump. Not quite on the level ofHunger or, more recently, Windwitch, but still.

That problem is mostly confined to the book's first half or so, where not much happens other than the occasional look at Celaena being the King's Champion, and the reading of more Wyrdmark books (I still chuckle every time I see the title The Walking Dead, for obvious reasons.) Then the second half picks up the pace considerably, not only with a majorly controversial character death (I'm reminded of the third season of The 100 here, because here the book sacrifices one of its most diverse and interesting characters to kick the story into high gear), but also some majorly shocking (at the time) reveals that really inform the sequels. Reveals that actually come to the reader through Chaol's POV, more often than not - highlighting his importance to the story and highlighting that Maas really didn't know how to handle him properly after a certain point or so. (Not to mention he just wasn't perfect enough for her, I guess...but at least he's getting his own book soon.)

So, while Crown of Midnight boasts a few Franchise Original Sins for Throne of Glass - which I really hope the forthcoming Queen of Shadows TV series works to correct - it's still an enjoyable, easily devourable book in its own right. For the third time, I'm changing my star rating for this one. Hopefully it'll be the last time I do so for any of the remaining books - I'm anticipating sticking by my rankings of four stars for HoF and EoS, and five for Qos, which rightfully earned itself an honorable mention in the 2015 Pinecone Awards for a reason (and, to me, is still Peak Maas if only for its banana-nuts Lovecraftian nature). All of the above, of course, is still subject to change. Stay tuned.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: Windwitch

Windwitch Windwitch by Susan Dennard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've found over the last year or so that while the YA Cool Kids' Table (the likes of Schwab, Bracken, Aveyard, Maas, Silvera, etc.) all can't stop raving about Susan Dennard and her Witchlands, the average reader has a harder time buying into the hype. I enjoyed Truthwitch well enough, but unfortunately, Windwitch is a come-down, a case of Sophomore Slump.

That's not to say the book is entirely a write-off. Far from it, because like its predecessor, Windwitch benefits from a blistering pace and some high-intensity witchery action. Unfortunately, while those elemental Avatar-esque elements still run strong, Dennard here doubles down on some George R.R. Martin-esque storytelling - not so much in terms of killing your faves off the way Jay Kristoff would, but more in terms of dividing the story between several POVs that get only a few pages at a time before switching to the next one. I loved Safi and Iseult in the first book, but this book, sadly, dispenses a lot with Safi's story and compensates by focusing heavily on Merik, as well as Vivia, who I found terribly unengaging compared with the other POV characters (including Aeduan, who's becoming one of my faves now.) The worst part is, while the book doesn't move any slower for these multiple POVs, it also contributes to a general sense that the plot, like that of Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, or Mr. Robot, is going nowhere fast because the character sheet is just too bloated and un-streamlined.

I'm not done with my exploration of the Witchlands anytime soon - and Dennard promises something really cool right in the title of the upcoming threequel, Bloodwitch - but now I'm going to go forward a little more cautiously, because this is a hype train I'm not enjoying riding nearly as much as, say, Red Queen.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: Take the Key and Lock Her Up

Take the Key and Lock Her Up Take the Key and Lock Her Up by Ally Carter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For the final time, back to Malta...sorry, Adria. (No, seriously, you can't tell me Adria isn't an alternate Malta, not when the capital is a walled city named Valancia and it's been fought over by so many world powers over the years.)

I'll admit, this book started on a bit of a sour note for me because the first fifty pages or so were quite jumbled and chaotic and I was worried that perhaps Carter had taken the series a little too far from its roots. But eventually, the story reaches something of an even keel again, taking the reader on one more wild and twisted adventure across the world and through explorations of Adria's secret royal history. More than ever, this book takes the series into low-fantasy realms, feeling like an odd mashup of Indiana Jones and The Princess Diaries at times. But it works, and works pretty well.

About the only thing that keeps this one from being five stars for me is that beginning. And also the fact that, as usual, my ship doesn't sail in the end. But for this conclusion to the trilogy, Carter delivers some pretty top-notch intrigue and action.

To Embassy Row, I now say ave atque vale...or whatever the Adrian translation of that phrase may be.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Review: Wayfarer

Wayfarer Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not unlike with Bracken's Darkest Minds trilogy, I feel that her Passenger duology improves considerably going into the finale, with a lot less dead air and a lot more action. Sure, Wayfarer is quite a long book, so it's not entirely devoid of such staticky spots, but when the action and alternate history ideas come in, they come in fast, fast, fast. It's also got a certain unpredictability factor, given how many times and places in history are visited, often with certain twists to keep the reader on their toes. Like, you would think that a trip to San Francisco in 1906 would require experiencing the earthquake of that year, but not here, not when this book surfaces in the quake's aftermath several months later. Also, an alternate New York in 1939...which, at first, I thought was going to be 9/11, based on how catastrophic and horrifying the initial description was. And as for the romance, which I thought was Bracken's strongest yet, that turns out just as unpredictable as the rest of the story, never quite going where you expect it to...but at least once going where you hope it does.

To Passenger and Wayfarer, I now say ave atque vale.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review: City of Fallen Angels

City of Fallen Angels City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wouldn't have minded if Clare had initially kept her promise and stuck to writing the "new" Mortal Instruments trilogy about Simon only. But after reading this one, I am very glad she kept the stories going for the others, especially because it improved the story by making it considerably more complex than anything she'd written up to this point, even before one takes into account the number of characters introduced in this novel as well. This same complexity can be found in any of the Infernal Devices books, and in fact, Clockwork Angel served as a good preview for what came along in CoFA.

What I was worried about was the possibility that the story would feel tacked-on and rushed in the writing process. After all, the original TMI trilogy told a fairly well-finished story in itself. But where one story ends, another begins. And it begins very well, fading in smoothly from City of Glass as organically as one can possibly imagine. Then...it leads to a major cliffhanger. Not quite as major as the one that comes up later, in City of Lost Souls, but that's to be expected.

And let me tell you, with Simon now getting his own third-person POV - that was what really sealed the deal for me. Simon's always been my favorite TMI character - Clary's great too but she's no Katniss Everdeen; Jace's arrogance ticks me off even though it's hilarious. Plus, he being a geek (although he prefers Eastern work over Western), I find him easiest to relate to - and easiest to feel sorry for. This, my friends, is how you write a non-humanitarian (if you're a Troper you'll get that one) vampire, being convincingly human but not subverting the traditional mythology without a good reason to do so.

My Shadowhunters reread will continue soon with Clockwork Angel. Stay tuned.

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Review: Throne of Glass

Throne of Glass Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been an off-and-on fan of the Throne of Glass series for quite a while. I read the first two books, gave up after Crown of Midnight, then my friend convinced me to give the series another try. Which I did, and I was happy for it.

These days, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone, other than a hardcore stan, who'll admit to enjoying Throne of Glass and its sequels, because so many in the community look down on the series for its generally poor LGBT+ and PoC rep, relationships considered abusive (though not to the degree of Maas' ACOTAR series) and, in the case of another friend of mine, for doing Chaol super-duper-dirty.

Rereading this first book in the series, I actually had a lot of fun rediscovering some of my favorite characters from the old days, back when this series was cool and not loaded for bear with fae shenanigans. Not that this book doesn't have fae shenanigans - I mean, by the Wyrd, all those dreams Celaena has, I think they might have secretly influenced some scenes in the Red Rain series along with Divergent and Inception. I also managed to forget that Dorian had a Joffrey-like kid brother, for instance. And that there's definitely room to interpret Nehemia and Celaena as being bi - and, had this been written by V.E. Schwab instead, that angle would have been explored for sure. And that Chaol, who was my favorite back in the day and again now, really does deserve all the attention that my friend and other like-minded fans give him, because this book only gives a small taste of how complex he really is, and how much he deserves better. Hell, I'm not entirely unconvinced he shouldn't be the main character, because as much as Celaena doesn't fall into every single Mary Sue pitfall, there are enough of them for her (ridiculous good looks being one of the primary ones) that Chaol would have made a better protagonist, if perhaps too much for SJM to handle 5+ years ago.

Don't get me wrong, I still love SJM and her books (well, maybe not so much ACOMAF - my four-star review on that one was WAAAAAY too generous in hindsight), but honestly, it's become painfully clear to me that she cares more about stan faves - and her own faves - than fan faves who deserve more attention. (Though, at the very least, we'll be getting a book all about Chaol later this year to look forward to.)

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Review: City of Glass

City of Glass City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Good thing I'm rereading this third Mortal Instruments book now - they're already adapting elements of its story into the Freeform series. Like Alec and Magnus eventually taking their relationship public, Hodge being kept in the cells under Idris, the introduction of Aldertree (whom the TV series serves up with a heaping dose of Adaptational Attractiveness, of course), and a few other storylines I can't discuss here because spoilers.

I expect that the second half of Season 2 will really delve into the City of Glass storylines, particularly the Idris-set sections that take up the majority of the book. Though I hope they continue their trend of cherry-picking what to adapt and what to change (there's one particular ship I'm really dying to see them make canon when Clare never did, and one particular death I hope they never, ever adapt, because that character didn't deserve to die at all), I'm also really hoping to see just how beautiful the TV series' version of Idris is. Though whether or not they'll keep Idris tech-free, considering the TV series has a much more science-fantasy vibe, that's up in the air.

Until then, I'll keep on watching Shadowhunters and rereading the first two of Cassie's series - it's been way too long anyway.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review: The Immortal Rules

The Immortal Rules The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I kinda remember reading this one a few years back, when I was first getting into Julie Kagawa and gobbling up the Iron Fey books right and left, but for whatever reason I slept on this trilogy and didn't really enjoy it enough to complete it. Now, however, I'm glad I took a trip back to The Immortal Rules, because I'm realizing now, five years after its publication when The Walking Dead was in its heyday, this book captures the spirit of what really makes that show great - just with vampires. A roving band of people trying to survive in this post-apocalypse, constantly on alert from a dangerous supernatural threat, and maybe the occasional lip service to the fact that humans can be just as monstrous...but for the love of God, when I ordered this post-apocalyptic sandwich, I asked to hold the nihilistic onions and double the bloody meat, and unlike recent seasons of TWD, Kagawa does a better job of cooking that sandwich to order. Rediscovering this series, while I still think Iron Fey and Talon are better - this opening chapter to Blood of Eden runs a tad bit too long - I realize I have to finish this trilogy in earnest now, if only to redeem myself as a fan of postapocalypses, fantasy dystopians, proper paranormal fun, and Julie Kagawa.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Review: City of Ashes

City of Ashes City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

And the series continues! Out of the original TMI trilogy, this one is my favorite, for several reasons. One, Max made his debut here - they should have introduced him in Book 1, he would have made a great deal of fun for everyone. And also, this one has the most memorable humor out of all of them. My favorite being this exchange: (warning: my quotes may not be exact)

Jace: I guess it's true what they say. There are no straight men in the trenches.
Simon: That's atheists, jackass.

Two things about this quote. First, It Makes Sense In Context. Second, Simon is correct. Jace is a jackass. But he's a funny jackass.

If you enjoyed City of Bones but haven't read City of Ashes yet (and you should considering the Shadowhunters series is adapting it now, with some changes), please find a copy of this one ASAP.

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Review: RoseBlood

RoseBlood RoseBlood by A.G. Howard
My rating: 1 of 5 stars


I'm sorry, but as much as I love A.G. Howard and her beautiful books, I couldn't bring myself to finish this one. Not only did I go in with trepidation because I'd heard the book overuses the "Gypsy" slur (to make matters worse, it's the half-Romani narrator who uses it, and it's pretty clear she has no intention of reclamation), not only did I go in with next to no knowledge of The Phantom of the Opera, but I also went in with tons of spoilers and other bad buzz. And you know what? The bad buzz, from the thirty pages I could read before giving up, was warranted, between the hackneyed Mary Sue protagonist with an oddball name and the generally cloying atmosphere. Unlike Splintered, this book absolutely failed to suck me in.

Sorry, A.G. Howard, but I'm not coming back to this one. Though we'll always have Splintered and its sequels.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Review: City of Bones

City of Bones City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*editing my old review from years and years ago so I can share this on my blog just 'cause)

I don't know why I like this book series so much...oh wait, yeah I do. Cassandra Clare knows what we want to read. She knows that we the people love paranormal stuff. She knows we need generous doses of questionable-quality humor.


When I was in high school, still an insecure teenager endlessly questioning his sexuality, I almost disregarded Clare's work entirely just because of this book's cover. "AAAAAUUUUGGGGHHHH!!!!! The fanservice! The toned boy-flesh burns my EEEEEYYYYYYYEEEEEEESSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" But we all know it's what's on the inside that counts. Be warned - if you come to enjoy this book, there are, to date, eleven more (including short-story collections) in the same universe to read and attempt. Good luck.

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Review: Unhooked

Unhooked Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I went into this one on a friend's recommendation - and because I thought it looked very A.G. Howard-esque. Basically, the Peter Pan version of Splintered. In that respect, I wasn't disappointed - Unhooked proved just as creepy and fantasy-action-packed as expected. However, the story itself was a little too breakneck-paced when it didn't need to be, and the plot, mostly because it felt so surface-similar to an A.G. Howard book, was surprisingly predictable.

Maybe because I read this book on the heels of the stellar King's Cage, I didn't enjoy it as much as I should have. Though it's just oddball enough that it's worth a try.

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Review: King's Cage

King's Cage King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"You need to watch me beg and lose it all."
-The Dear Hunter, "Never Forgive Never Forget"

"Wake to see your true emancipation is a fantasy
Politics have risen up and overcome the brave
You don't have long, I am on to you
The time, it has come to destroy your supremacy!

Rise, red as the dawn.

All aboard the Aveyardian Hype Train once again, my friends, and you know I'm never getting off this one. Red Queen was a lavish dystopian with a fantasy twist, and Glass Sword was a fast-paced war story that even now, a year after I blazed through that book in one day and have now completed the long-awaited sequel, I still absolutely loathed that cliffhanger and will never stop citing it as one of the most aggravating scenes in YA history.

And now, finally, the third entry in the series - which would have been the end of a trilogy when the series was first announced, but Aveyard's promising one more book after this one. I can only imagine the heights she would take us to there, but for now, King's Cage proves to be the high-water mark, the Aveyardian platinum standard to date. And I thought Glass Sword's master-class TASM 2 blend of electricon action and nymph-powering feels couldn't be topped...

But now, Aveyard is no master. She's an expert.

The first two books were quite lacking in world-building - especially considering they both lacked a world map of Norta and further. All we got up to that point was this, printed only in Target editions of Cruel Crown as I remember:

But now, Aveyard raises the world-building stakes by including an expanded world map, extending as far as the land of Montfort in the Rockies, which I found myself frequently consulting as I read the book, as all fantasy readers should. Because for the first time, Aveyard takes readers beyond Norta and the Lakelands, into Piedmont with references to the greater Lakelands, Tiraxes, the Prairies, and Montfort. The map is still incomplete, of course - I'm hoping less for an Allegiant situation where the West Coast remains mostly untouched by society as it resettles and more for a Revolution situation where we know there's a California Commonwealth, but we're always waiting in vain to see it.

Then there's the story contained within this far-future post-apocalyptic Divided States Of America. The infamous Aveyardian cliffhanger of Glass Sword left us with Mare forced to kneel before Maven, that disgusting, manipulative piece of Backpfeifengesicht shit you would sooner scrape off the heel of your boot than kneel before. Naturally, with the book's first three chapters showing poor Mare stuck without her powers or her dignity, perpetually on parade, this riled me up into what can only be described as blistering regicidal rage.

These moments, of course were tempered by an understanding that as much as Glass Sword jumped into the series' Mockingjay phase right away, it was really more of a Mockingjay Part 1 with significantly less focus on psychological warfare. That focus comes into play here in King's Cage, which showcases on so many levels how much even Maven, having inherited a generations-long war, is manipulated by the horrors perpetuated by those who ruled before him, especially Queen Elara. Not that it makes me sympathize with him - Mare doesn't either, thank God, because she's like me, unwilling to romanticize the Darkling-esque villain even if he used to be a good guy, and/or had good in him that's been horribly weakened like Darth Vader or Kylo Ren.

In between the scenes of Mare's captivity, we get POV chapters told by Cameron, a power-cancelling newblood who appeared in the last quarter or so of Glass Sword. Thank God I picked up beautiful hardcover copies of the first two books along with this one (an exorbitant purchase setting me back fifty bucks in total - I'll just make up for it by not buying anything else for the rest of the month, at least until I sell off other books I no longer read), because I actually forgot who Cameron was until I started reading her first POV chapter - and after rediscovering her, not only did I regret forgetting her, but I very much enjoyed her POV more than Mare's, because as much as I love Mare, Cameron has more personality and is even more of a badass. I knew there would be additional POVs besides Mare's going in, and while I was sort of expecting it to be Cal, I'm actually glad Aveyard didn't go with him, because it would feel a little too much Veronica Roth-like - I'm especially thinking about Tris and Tobias splitting narration duties in Allegiant here, which, while not unwanted, did feel pretty indistinguishable on the surface in hindsight. The big surprise, however, is that Aveyard gives us not one, not two, but three different POV characters throughout this book. Mare, Cameron...and Evangeline, whose POV only appears in the latter half of the book, but is very important because it gives us some insight into the Silver mindset, which Aveyard hasn't dabbled in since Queen Song. The three different POVs all give this book pretty good diversity points as well - maybe not so much Mare (she's olive-skinned, but then again, I write my own protagonist Alex Snow as an olive-skinned Caucasian boy), but for sure Cameron, being black, and Evangeline, being a lesbian.

In between all three POVs, Aveyard weaves a complex, deadly, and oh-so-morally-grey web of President Snow's favorite game: moves and countermoves.

Maven's real goal in this book, in addition to contaminating the minds of his subjects with what old Kellyanne Conway would call "alternative facts" and obsessively trying to keep Mare collected and captured like a butterfly, is to end the long, long war between Norta and the Lakelands in order to cement an alliance against the Scarlet Guard (who are said to be backed by the democratic government of Montfort, whose location in the Rockies reminds me of the Capitol vs. District 13, but geographically in reverse). The first big step in this plan is to approach the king of the Lakelands (who, when described by Mare, made my jaw drop because he looks exactly like Alex Snow as an adult, right down to his hydrokinetic nymph power), and any further information will inevitably lead to massive spoilers.

But I can tell you this much - while George R.R. Martin takes his sweet time writing the remainder of A Song of Ice and Fire, it's Aveyard who gives us the Game of Thrones really worth watching, because with the developments in the second half of this book, as well as the surprisingly shattering epilogue (not so much an enraging cliffhanger this time, thank God), it's going to be an absolute two-tone bloodbath for the finale, and no refunds if Aveyard doesn't deliver. For sure, that one will be an auto-buy for me - I'll be marching my ass to the nearest store on its book birthday and shelling out the necessary Washingtons, Lincolns, and/or Hamiltons (and Jacksons, if I have to spend one or two of those too) to purchase it.

But still. That ending, though. Like I said, less blistering regicidal rage from me this time around, and more "Victoria Aveyard, why must you abuse my feels so?"

Seriously, remember how Shade died? That's what the ending of King's Cage will do to you.

Go into this book and feel emboldened by the Hillary Clinton quote at the beginning. Come out raw with feels, but still emboldened because the true message of this book, and the entire Red Queen series, is a resounding affirmation of American values which we all need now more than ever. As the Grounders on The 100 would say, "Ge smak daun, gyon op nodataim." As Cap would say, "You get killed, walk it off...if you step through that door, you're an Avenger."

And as the Scarlet Guard would say,

Rise, red as the dawn.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Review: The Walled City

The Walled City The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Before Wolf By Wolf, Ryan Graudin went not so much for alternate history as for an alternate world, inspired by the Kowloon Walled City slums of Hong Kong in the mid-20th century. Photos of the place (which appear at the end of this book) make it look so otherworldly, like something out of Star Wars, that of course Graudin couldn't resist penning a dystopian novel set in what is, in all but name, the Kowloon Walled City.

It's an action-packed story, if a bit marred by the quick shifts between three different, and yet very similar, POVs of young people fighting to survive in this rough world. In keeping with the cosmopolitan nature of Hong Kong, Graudin presents a fairly pan-East Asian world, with some characters being Chinese, some being Japanese, and a few Vietnamese-sounding names (like the name of the whole city, Seng Ngoi if I remember correctly.) My only real issue with the setting is that it's hard to tell the time period, even if it is an alternate universe - the real-world Walled City having been torn down in the mid-90s, but a lot of Graudin's characters wearing hoodies and other clothes more associated with the 2000s and 2010s in my mind. Asian readers might also take issue with the use of the phrase "almond eyes" at least once in the narrative, so be aware of that going in.

All in all, a wild ride from Graudin, but I still prefer her later novel, Wolf By Wolf.

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Two Years Of Blogging, Etc.

Two years ago, I started blogging because Andrew Garfield was getting replaced as Spider-Man, and my poor little fanboy heart couldn't take it. Since then, of course, I've accepted Tom Holland as a more than suitable replacement, though I've kept on working on Amazing Spider-Man-centric fanfics because I cannot, will not, ever let go of my top fandom. I'm still nowhere near finished with Deadpool Syndrome: Marvel's Folly.

In my second year on this blog, I've expanded my social media presence a bit. I'm on Instagram now, and Snapchat, and I've also uploaded Red Rain to SwoonReads, where I'm still hoping to try and get it published even if I can't get a literary agent to bite on my queries (from which I've still been taking a long break - four months of six in my SR exclusivity period so far!) And as for the series, I've expanded my plans from four Red Rain books to seven.

Perhaps most importantly, in the wake of America shooting itself in the foot (I'm still waiting for it to rise from the grave, undead but better than ever), I finally did something I still haven't been able to do IRL. That's right - Ricky Pine is now openly bisexual.

I only hope that by the time I present my "Three Years Of Blogging" post in 2018, that not only will there still be an internet to post on, but I'll be a step or two closer to publication on Red Rain - and to being open about myself under my real name as well as my online alias.

I only wish I had as much to say about this particular anniversary. Not only am I swamped with homework and other commitments - I could be getting a position on the editing team for my school's literary review - but I also have to put up with all the bullshit from the rump government that stole our election crossing my Twitter timeline. And also my ongoing search for a girlfriend, which may likely never end because I've coincidentally never been interested in a single single girl, if you know what I mean. Doesn't help that I just got shot down again, because God's determined that I must die a frustrated virgin.

But oh well. Gotta stay a little positive.

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review: Wolf by Wolf

Wolf by Wolf Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I've been hearing the name of Ryan Graudin for a while, but it took me just as much of a while to pick up one of her books - specifically, the first in this alternate-history series about an international motorcycle race in a 1956 where the Axis powers won World War II. (The implication, pretty significant to our time as well, is that this particular historical tide shifted because the US never broke its policy of isolationism, and thus was never able to become the power the Allies needed to win.)

While a bunch of Nazi German and Japanese guys race their motorbikes to Tokyo, joining them appears to be last year's surprise Victor, Adele Wolfe...except she's really not. Instead, her name is Yael, and she has the ability to skinshift and take on the appearance of anyone, including a perfect Aryan specimen like Adele - which, as Graudin states in the notes at the end of the book, is her way of skewering not only Nazi sexism but also racism.

I've seen a few readers - including a German mutual of mine - express troubled feelings about the idea of a world where Hitler won the war. I can also imagine a lot of Asian readers being similarly troubled about Japan controlling that continent as far west as India, if not further - particularly given how a lot of Asian readers have cited that as a reason why they dislike The Lunar Chronicles. That said, World War II and the Nazis are a disturbing subject any way you slice it, and considering how modern-day Nazis and other assorted fascist elements are making terrifying strides in chipping away at democracy in America and Europe as we speak, Wolf By Wolf proves a relevant and engaging read.

As soon as possible, I'll be reading the sequel, Blood for Blood. After this book's cliffhanger, I kinda have to.

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Review: Rules of the Game

Rules of the Game Rules of the Game by James J. Frey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

And thus endeth the Endgame series, on a surprisingly short but no less all-out action-packed note. Maybe a little too short - not unlike Marie Lu's Midnight Star, the barely-over-300-page length really doesn't do this could-have-been-a-touch-more-epic apocalyptic finale justice. Unlike Frey's previous 2016 series finale in Pittacus Lore's United As One, this book, while not at all slouching or slacking in its pace, is pretty jumbled in its mad dash to the finish line. But for what it's worth, it's still every bit as Matthew Reilly-esque as ever, even with the bizarro prose and paragraph layouts forcing you to really get used to it all over again.

While I know I'm bound to enjoy what Frey gives us next - Pittacus Lore isn't done yet, not with Lorien Legacies Reborn: Generation One on tap for summer 2017 - I'm happy to now say ave atque vale to Endgame.

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Lorien Legacies Reborn: Generation One by Pittacus Lore


They're doing a Lorien Legacies sequel series.

Forget all others - THIS is the 2017 release I'm looking forward to the most now.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Review: History Is All You Left Me

History Is All You Left Me History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"A warning sign
I missed the good part, then I realized
I started looking and the bubble burst
I started looking for excuses...

Alternate universes. As a reader and writer frequently looking for worlds other than the real one, and dabbling in sci-fi and fantasy, I need them. And I often need to find them. Like, I need to find the alternate universe where The Amazing Spider-Man, with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone both, was incorporated into the MCU like nature intended. I need to find the alternate universe where I've already found my first love, and had butterfly, caveman, Eskimo, and zombie kisses with them (and more than just kissing, of course.) I need to find the alternate universe where America didn't fall into the Darkest Timeline in November 2016 and still hasn't come back to life.

And I need to find the alternate universe where Adam Silvera's books were around five years earlier. Sure, there wouldn't have been that one Amazing Spider-Man reference in More Happy Than Not, but even so, it might have helped me come to terms with my sexuality a lot sooner, when it wasn't making me laugh out loud and cry like a baby, that is.

Alternate universes are bread-and-butter for Silvera's new protagonist, Griffin, who's having a lot of trouble moving on from his own first love. Not only because they left each other with unresolved feelings, but because Theo's now dead, and all Griffin can do is talk to Theo in the present day as if he's watching him from Heaven (which, let's face it, he probably is, because Theo, like all Silvera protags and deutags as well as the man himself, is a saint.)

Well, actually, that's not all Griffin does, but to explain further would mean spoilers. Let's just say that Griffin makes a string of bad choices that make you want to hug him forever and ever.

While I still think More Happy is the better of Silvera's first two books, History is still recognizably his style, being loaded with glorious geekgasm moments, sweetly funny scenes of boys in love, and of course weapons-grade feels - most of which come in the second half, when details the protagonist has concealed come to light over the course of the book's nonlinear narrative. Like when that Coldplay song I quoted above played on my iPod, I was reading around page 170 or so, and that was the first real moment when, as I'm sure will be standard for any and all Silvera books, I found myself crying.

It's a fast read, until those feels moments when you have to slow down and beg Griffin to wake up and stop destroying himself. Because as much as he can't - and shouldn't - give up his feelings for Theo entirely, he has to move on, if only to spare not only his own feels, but those of the reader as well.

As always, I recommend Silvera's latest for everyone and anyone who can get their hands on a copy.

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Review: Life in a Fishbowl

Life in a Fishbowl Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The third Aimal Farooq rec in a row, the one I was actually looking forward to the most because of its promises of a highly offbeat nature...and I just couldn't finish it. The multiple POVs were too much to handle, and the story itself felt so detached from Jackie, ostensibly the protagonist struggling to understand why her father would sell his life on eBay (which I'm pretty sure isn't even legal, if I remember Unwind correctly), that I couldn't get into it at all. Even the POV of her father's brain tumor, "Glio," wasn't the darkly funny stuff I expected - it was just weird and depressing.

Sorry to say I'm DNFing this one.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Review: Not If I See You First

Not If I See You First Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My second Aimal Farooq rec in a row, unfortunately, didn't pan out for me the way If I Was Your Girl did. Sure, Not If I See You First boasts some funny moments (a couple of which came from me noticing that main character Parker's cousin is named Petey - gotta love any and all secret Spidey references, right?), the shipping goes in a few unexpected directions, and it's got an always-needed diversity factor going for it, being about a blind girl. Unfortunately, this book falls into a lot of the same pitfalls common to YA contemporary which make me tend to shy away from that genre in general. There isn't much in the way of plot, the characters (supporting cast, anyway) are really nothing new, and I'm particularly unhappy about the opening, being a prologue in which Parker wakes up and starts her day. I've been told so many times that prologues and waking up are writing no-nos that to see books getting published with those features has become quite the pet peeve for me.

Oh well. One more Aimal rec to go, and by all accounts, Life In A Fishbowl looks like it'll be quite the weird, genre-busting dramedy romp.

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