Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: The Ship Beyond Time

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

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

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

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: Wintersong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Review: The Hate U Give

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review: The Burial Hour

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

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

As usual, Deaver delivers.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: Goodbye Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: The End of Oz

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

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

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

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

But I must.

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

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Review: Dorothy Must Die: Stories Vol. 3

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

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

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

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Infinite

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

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

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

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Review: City of Lost Souls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Asunder

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

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

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

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Review: American Street

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

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

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

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

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Review: Conjuror

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

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

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

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Review: Heart of the Storm

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

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

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

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: Empress of a Thousand Skies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ma'tan sarili.

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Review: Aftermath: Empire's End

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

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

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

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Review: The Well of Ascension

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

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

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: Yellow Brick War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Review: Incarnate

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

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

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

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Review: Clockwork Princess

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Review: The Song Rising

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

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

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

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: The Wicked Will Rise

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Review: The Mirror King

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

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

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

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Review: Dorothy Must Die

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

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

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

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

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Review: Storm of Lightning

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review: Aftermath: Life Debt

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

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

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

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