Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review: Shadowshaper

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

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

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

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: Waking Gods

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

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

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

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Review: High Heat

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

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

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

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Review: Unplugged

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

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

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

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: City of Heavenly Fire

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

*pants, takes a breath*

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

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: Abaddon's Gate

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

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

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

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review: Mars One

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

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

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

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy: Collect Them All

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

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

There are no easy answers.

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

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Review: Star Wars: Rebel Rising

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

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

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

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: Replica

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

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

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

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review: Legion

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

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

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

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Best And Worst Of The 2016-17 TV Season

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

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

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

5. Powerless

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

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

4. Taken

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

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

3. No Tomorrow

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

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

2. Conviction

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

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

1. The Walking Dead

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

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

And now for my Five Best!

5. The Good Place

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

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

4. Timeless

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

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

3. Lucifer

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

You saucy boy, Luci.

2. Supergirl

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

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

1. Agents of SHIELD

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

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

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A court of wings... and ruin pic.twitter.com/tkUmIrkmYU
— westfall aimal ❄️ (@aimalfarooq) December 5, 2016

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Review: Alone

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

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

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

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review: The Thousandth Floor

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

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

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

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: Ring of Fire

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

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

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

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Review: Ghosts of War

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

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

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

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Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: Magic for Nothing

Magic for Nothing Magic for Nothing by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first in a new, punnily-titled InCryptid two-parter (watch me forever chair-dancing to a certain famous Dire Straits song, featuring Sting, while reading Magic for Nothing now and Tricks for Free next year) gives us a new POV - Antimony, the third Price sib, finally getting to tell a story on her own the way Alex and Verity have done before her. And let me tell you, I freaking LOVE Annie's POV. She's stronger and sassier and taking of even fewer prisoners than Verity, and also far geekier, which is only for the better. Especially when one of her favorite things to geek out about is Marvel Comics, and especially-especially Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy and Spider-Gwen. Annie Price is a girl after my own heart...though I'm not surprised she gravitates instead towards a guy like Sam.

Read this latest Seanan McGuire masterpiece like your life depends on it, because it really, really does. Because magic, because circuses, because BLOODY ADORABLE AESLIN MICE, diminished though their presence in this book might be. And especially because Annie. If you don't love her, shame on you.

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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Review: Nemesis

Nemesis Nemesis by Brendan Reichs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brendan Reichs is back and better than ever, my friends. This book, so beloved by pretty much the entire YA Cool Kids' Table (Aveyard, Riggs, Garcia, and so many more), is the start of a new action-packed sci-fi/supernatural series, outdoing Reichs' previous work on the Virals series by a long shot. Sure, this book does have its flaws - it takes a while to get the story started, and the characters make surprisingly frequent use of such current slang that the book will already look pretty dated by 2020 - but those flaws are more than made up for by a blistering pace, apocalyptic and cinematic set pieces, and twists and turns all over the place.

My only real issue with Nemesis is that it has just enough surface similarities to my own Red Rain books - namely, the isolated small town setting (Fire Lake, Idaho, as opposed to my Coldfire Creek, California) and Reichs' book and mine both being named for a secret military operation - but hey, the similarities between my book and Reichs' are more like the similarities between, say, Twin Peaks and Wayward Pines. Enough genre differences that it really shouldn't matter...though I might find myself changing a few details in Red Rain eventually.

But I can tell you this much - Nemesis reads like someone threw all my books into a blender, sprinkled in pages of Michael Grant's Gone series for texture, and hit "chop." But trust me when I say that it's better than it sounds. With apologies to all but King's Cage, Nemesis has successfully muscled its way into my Top 5 books of 2017 thus far, and I would be very surprised if it doesn't win a Pinecone Award by the end of the year. (Especially given that Obsidio isn't being released this year, so it stands a better chance that way.)

Really, read this if it bloody kills you.

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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: You're Welcome. Obviously.


"And if you don't love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You will never break
Never break the chain!"
-Fleetwood Mac

Of all the pieces of all the Awesome Mix soundtracks to any Guardians of the Galaxy movie that ever has been or will ever be, none is better than my favorite Fleetwood Mac song. Hearing it in the Super Bowl spot for Vol. 2 was all the proof I needed that this movie would be undeniably awesome and terrifically top-notch, and barring a misstep or two, I was not at all disappointed in James Gunn's latest masterpiece.

Dysfunctional like Fleetwood Mac too, but I'll be damned if they don't serve some fine entertainment.

Like Vol. 1, this sequel is part of the MCU and yet detached enough from the overall narrative (especially since this one takes place only a couple of months after its predecessor, and thus predates all the other MCU movies of the last two years) that it's perfectly suited for outsider viewing. Outsiders to the rest of the MCU, and maybe to the first movie as well, but what the hell would you be doing watching these movies out of order?

If you saw the first movie (in which case, sweet!), you'll have an idea what to expect the second time around, especially now that James Gunn is not only director, but sole credited screenwriter. Tons of 70s music, eye-popping colors, alien mayhem all around, and anti-heroes you can't help but love (unlike, say, some of those that Zack Snyder and David Ayer keep shoving at us in their shockingly abysmal DCEU films) because they're so emotionally and mentally screwed up it's not even funny. Not that the movie isn't funny, of course. If you're not laughing your ass off at some Rocket Raccoon zinger or background event involving Baby Groot (and while we're on the subject...OH MY GOD BABY GROOT HE'S SUCH A CUTE LITTLE SHIT!), you're watching the movie wrong. But you know what? Funny isn't the only thing this movie has going for it. While the first one had a tear-jerker moment or two (I've especially got the prologue in mind), Vol. 2, in its quest to outdo its predecessor in every way, doesn't neglect to outdo Vol. 1 in the feels department. And let me tell you, this movie gets into Amazing Spider-Man 2 territory with its bittersweet ending where one of your faves dies. You will cry ugly tears, no doubt about it.

Pictured: everyone watching the ending, before the disco and five post-credits scenes came along to rebalance our feels.

But in addition to the laughs aplenty and those tears to feed James Gunn's suddenly-hungry muse, there's the visuals. Oh my God, the visuals. They're up to Amazing Spider-Man 2 levels as well, beautifully blending CGI and reality in unique and unforgettable ways, especially when we get to Ego the Living Planet, said to be Marvel's biggest VFX yet. (Bigger even than the climax of either Avengers movie? Yes, absolutely.) If you can spare some extra cash to spring for a 3D viewing (and you don't have a problem with an occasional headache), do it.

Sorry, Doctor Strange, you just fell to #2 on my list of biggest MCU visual treats.

Really, the only thing I can think of that's a point against Vol. 2 is that Gunn bloats the character sheet a bit too much. Sure, almost everyone's got a story to tell (though, for whatever reason, Rocket and Groot's story remains largely untold - dammit, Marvel, green-light their solo movie already!) But there are those whose stories don't add much to the big picture. There's the Sovereign, a race of golden-skinned aliens who contract the Guardians to protect one of their precious resources, and turn into the Guardians' enemies when Rocket steals some batteries from them, and go after them with remote-controlled ships that they play with like competitive gamers, or perhaps the cast of Ender's Game. Good for a few bits of fun combat (there's an especially fun scene where they chase the Guardians into a quantum asteroid field - the asteroids like to teleport around, making navigation of the field exceedingly unpredictable), but overall they wind up being surprisingly forgettable. Same goes for Nebula, who (other than being invaluable in the movie's incredibly high-stakes final act) doesn't do much other than angst over her long-standing rivalry with Gamora and her need to kill Thanos, which tends to drag the movie down at times. Funny, some people thought Nebula was underused in Vol. 1 and Gunn compensated for that here? I think the opposite.

But even Nebula has her purpose - being part of a seriously dysfunctional, and yet seriously loving, family. That's this movie's primary theme - family, as well as love and loneliness, the last of which afflicts most of the main cast to some degree. Star-Lord wants to date Gamora, but he's a guy who dances and she's a lady who doesn't. Rocket repels everyone he comes into contact with, but he's a smol cinnamon roll inside - and Yondu, that surprisingly charming rogue (Michael Rooker, when is he not?), identifies strongly with him for that reason. Mantis has been all alone with only Ego for company, and Ego is himself cripplingly lonely because, well, being an immortal god ("lowercase g, son") sucks elephant balls sometimes.

I related to just about all those guys and gals too much at some point while watching this.

So, to sum up, Guardians Vol. 2 is a killer cool sequel that, while not quite as good as its predecessor, still has no trouble throwing A-grade awesome at us, and needs to be watched by everyone immediately. If nothing else, you'll get more of Yondu's notorious whistle-powered arrow, the best movie weapon you'll ever see and frickin' fight me on this.

("Only he didn't use 'frickin'.'")

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Review: The Lost Order

The Lost Order The Lost Order by Steve Berry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Steve Berry's spent the last few years really going on an increasingly hot streak with US history-inspired thrillers, and while this one doesn't quite hit a new peak (largely due to its surprisingly slow first half), it still manages to deliver quite a punch of action and current relevance. Let's just say that if Paul Ryan ever reads this book and gets, um, "inspired," God help us all. (So, um, God forbid Paul Ryan ever read this book, seriously.) What really makes this book shine is the complexity of its story, especially since its titular Lost Order, the Knights of the Golden Circle, are historically associated with Southern treason and racism, but these modern-day Knights are more concerned with actual reform than with unenlightened antebellum causes.

It's only too bad there are those in government - in real life, too, not just in this story - who make us realize that we seriously need all the reforms. (And also all the ways to keep Russia from interfering, but that's not quite so germane to this discussion.)

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Friday, May 5, 2017

Review: The Fix

The Fix The Fix by David Baldacci
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amos Decker, he's one of Baldacci's most interesting character creations to date (and I sincerely hope they try turning his stories into a movie or TV series next, especially after the unfortunate failure of King & Maxwell a few years back and Unforgettable, with Poppy Montgomery's character Carrie Wells having the same condition as Decker, fading into slow oblivion.) Unfortunately, compared to Decker's first two outings, The Fix feels, ironically, pretty forgettable. The story, while it opens strongly, soon devolves into a confusing mess of Russian spycraft that really ought to have been better framed to be relevant to today's world where the Russians really got us screwed in the last election.

At least there's Decker and his team to liven up the story with their distinctive presences - especially Melvin Mars, whom I'm very happy to see getting his life back on track after Decker helped him out so terrifically in The Last Mile.

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Review: The Hero of Ages

The Hero of Ages The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So this is the end of the original Mistborn trilogy, but like with a lot of other epic fantasy stories, it's not the end of the saga by a long shot. I'll keep on reading more of these books, and hope that they pick up in quality from the original trilogy - which, while not bad, wasn't the best, and this book didn't do much to improve on its predecessors. Though it was pretty heavy on the action and magic, I'll give it that much. It's Sanderson - it wouldn't be him if it wasn't, am I right?

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Review: Caliban's War

Caliban's War Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I might've been spoiled for a thing or two about this book because of commercials for recent episodes of The Expanse, which I'm behind on still...but at least now I know where they'd be going whenever I finally watch Season 2. After they finish covering the events of Leviathan Wakes, they'll finally start incorporating some of Caliban's War - except now I know they sort of already have. As far as I remember, Avarasala wasn't in the first book, and yet the series included her from the very start. And I'm glad they did, because in addition to the super-soldiers and ongoing protomolecule threats, Avarasala helped make this book very memorable. Not only could I not unhear Shohreh Aghdashloo's very distinctive voice, but she was one of the most pop-off-the-page personalities even in this book that's full of them already.

It'll be a while before I read Book 3, but it'll be worth the wait, I bet.

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