Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review: In The Afterlight

In The Afterlight In The Afterlight by Alexandra Bracken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's been almost three years since this trilogy ended, three years since I read this book...and while I really loved it the first time, looking back, I see that In The Afterlight still suffers from the big classic Alexandra Bracken flaw of excessive overlength. Like any of the previous entries in The Darkest Minds trilogy, I could really see a lot of times where, let's face it, Bracken could've striven to cut the whole thing down and remove a lot of redundancies. I mean, if you like your dystopians with a lot of road-movie elements, and precious little politicking, maybe this one's totally for you...but I really do think this whole trilogy could've done with more action, less travel, and more characters who were either A) easy to care about, B) easy to visualize as people (even Ruby, it's hard to really picture her sometimes, even knowing Amandla Stenberg's playing her in the movie), or C) both of the above.

But don't take my heavy criticism as a sign that this book sucks. Really, Bracken has a knack for rewarding readers who battle through the long slog with just the right amount of world-building in a cascade - especially here, in this final book of the series, where the biggest questions of all are answered.

Maybe reducing this whole trilogy to a duology or a standalone would've helped...but then again, I should know better. I'm still in the process of condensing a trilogy to a standalone, which is extremely difficult because as slow-moving as the plot gets sometimes (maybe Bracken possessed me while writing my original Dark Ice trilogy?), there are just too many darlings to kill sometimes. Maybe Bracken should've killed a few more darlings and then this series would be five-star worthy for me.

But oh well.

To The Darkest Minds Never Fade In The Afterlight (hee hee, I couldn't resist), I once again say vas ir...anoshe.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Review: Wandering Star

Wandering Star Wandering Star by Romina Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first time I reread this second book of Romina Russell's Zodiac, I guess my brain wasn't really so engaged, and I didn't really get into it as well as I should have. This time, though, I was prepared to understand Wandering Star far better, I think. I had an easier time making sense of it, and really wrapping my head around a few of the twists in this book - namely, the new threat of someone other than the constantly lurking Ophiuchus (who still lurks, and is kind of annoying as he does so, but at least he's not completely gone - and there's hints he might not be as evil as we've been led to believe.) These Risers, and especially the Marad terrorists, are an interesting bunch, making me think of equal parts anarchists and Soviet sleepers. Real chaoticians, they are. And in between the intrigue and politicking (with more than a few parallels to real-world LGBT+ rights issues in particular), we get a terrific forbidden romance between Rho and Hysan - it's some palpable stuff. Not to worry - Black Moon is already in my current library haul, and I'm looking to order Thirteen Rising as soon as my library gets it. I'm really glad I rediscovered this series - it really does get better the second time around!

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For this book, you can picture it as kind of The Hunger Games in a setting that's closer in appearance, military, and technology to the ancient Roman Empire on which Panem was loosely based. This book has just about everything you can expect in a dystopian - an oppressed young woman, a young man who's stuck in the system, evil overlords, an evil Commandant (ugh, the Commandant.) And yet, for all it does that's familiar, Sabaa Tahir's debut slips in a few additional elements under the radar - most notably the fact that the two main characters, Laia and Elias, provide some excellent PoC rep and complex characterizations. I see a lot of people thinking Laia, especially, would make a great Gryffindor, and they're not exactly wrong...but as a Gryffinpuff, I recognize a sort of kindred spirit in Laia, perhaps more so than any YA heroine since Tris Prior. And certainly even more than Tris, too!

I first read this book about two years ago, shortly after its publication, but now I'm rereading it and its sequel in anticipation of Book 3. And let me tell you, An Ember in the Ashes absolutely measures up better on the second read. I initially rated this book four stars, but I'm now bringing it up to five because I'm realizing just how intricate Tahir's writing really is, loaded with details that are all too easy to miss the first time around, but on the second read make much more sense. Especially if you've been learning more and more about the sort of mythology Tahir weaves into the background of this world - not just Roman either, but Middle Eastern and South Asian too!

Bottom line, if you haven't picked up this book yet, I highly, highly recommend it for its unique blend of cultures past and present and its gripping, unputdownable tale of spycraft and revenge and love. And for its subtle nature as a potential YA/NA crossover. And for the glorious new paperback cover, which really should've been the official one from the get-go. Behold!

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Review: Eighth Grade Bites

Eighth Grade Bites Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To start your journey with one of the best authors to ever live, begin here, with this magnificent debut novel. Vladimir Tod, thirteen-year-old vampire, is without a doubt one of the best kidlit heroes you've probably never heard of, and now, ten years after he was first introduced (and six years after I first read all his Chronicles all in a row), I'm happy to return to his world and rediscover, in bite-sized form, this first piece of literary wonder with with Z Brewer blessed us. Sure, it's a tiny book, not even 200 pages, but that comes with the territory because this starts the series in middle-grade territory (it's more clearly YA by the end, though). And it's just a taste of the promise to come as Vlad grows up and comes of age in a world that proves ever more deadly and dangerous for him.

Re-reading this, I've also rediscovered how, even more so than any other Z Brewer books, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod have proven particularly strong secret influences on my own work. Mostly in terms of style, and also in terms of how much I relate to Vlad because, like me, he's a perennial misfit and one of the awkwardest turtles to ever awkward. And back to style for a moment - those covers. Breaking the rules by putting the book's title on the back instead of the front (and very tiny on the spine too), bearing the iconic fanged-smiley-face symbol (I need a T-shirt of that one, especially if they start making one in bi-pride colors), and helping showcase Vlad growing from boy to man over the course of the series. Judge a book by its cover? From the covers alone, I'd judge this entire series six stars out of five.

Soon, I'll be rereading the rest of the series as well - and while this book was fast-paced and fun, all the sequels raise the game a little more each time, and I can't wait to rediscover those next four bloodthirsty rides. :)

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Review: Never Fade

Never Fade Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It feels pretty normal for me to read an Alexandra Bracken book and find it to be rather longer than it should be, because while it's not lacking in the action, it's also padded with tons of narrative dead air and static that pushes it to a brick-like 500-page length. Normally, I'm the one person who thinks duologies are for no, but maybe in the case of The Darkest Minds and sequels, there should've been only one sequel. Hell, the last 50-100 pages or so of this book could be combined with a good chunk of In the Afterlight to make a single epic novel.

That said, though, as long and slow as this book tends to be, it's also scarily topical, especially today. Even four years after this book first hit shelves, it's so much more relevant when we can fully expect that the current creeper sitting in the White House (you know I refuse to call him by the title he claims to command) will try to ape President Gray, particularly in those final stretches of this book. Though at least Gray actually puts on an air of decorum in the process - which makes him, scarily enough, a little more like a certain creeper claiming to be #2 in the executive branch.

It's those last stretches of the book, when there's too many cliffhangers to count, that are the reason why I give this book a four-star rating. That relatively tiny portion of the book alone. That's how terrific it is.

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Review: Third Strike

Third Strike Third Strike by Heather Brewer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The final novel of The Slayer Chronicles is a short one, perhaps the shortest Brewer has given us yet, but that doesn't make it any less punchy and powerful and cool. Though I still think The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod is Z's magnum opus for always and eternity, this entry in the series, continuing the secret behind-the-scenes saga of Joss McMillan before the events of the final two Vlad Tod books, proves to be an action-packed one, as well as filled with family drama, the ongoing threat of Kat's presence (right down to a surprisingly suspenseful scene in a movie theater - even the obvious presence of Beautiful Creatures and Soulbound trailers in that scene couldn't take me out completely!), the return of a presumably dead former favorite, and of course the clarification of Dorian's involvement with Joss.

Man, Brewer is good.

To The Slayer Chronicles, I say, again, ave atque vale.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review: The Silence

The Silence The Silence by Mark Alpert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm really bummed that this is going to be the final book in this trilogy - especially since The Silence, in addition to a title that evokes certain Doctor Who memories, really gets into Doctor Who territory with its terrifying implications for not only humanity's future, but humanity's present as well. Not for nothing did this book, according to Alpert, begin as a ghost story - and it's a pretty damn scary one, with some serious twists that borrow liberally from a certain famous sci-fi film franchise, but I can't tell you which one without spoilers. But those twists, borrowed though they may be, are so unexpected that they really help conspire to cement this trilogy's reputation as some of the smartest YA sci-fi you're not reading, and why the hell is that?

To The Six, The Siege, and The Silence, I now say ave atque vale, though I still wish there could be more. At least I can read some of Alpert's other work, which I've totally been neglecting in the months since I discovered The Six.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review: Second Chance

Second Chance Second Chance by Heather Brewer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this middle installment of The Slayer Chronicles - it wasn't going to be the very middle, but then Brewer shortened the series from five books to three - we pick up Joss McMillan's story once again about a year after First Kill, in the heart of another summer of slayage. This time around, though, Joss has a ton of baggage to take with him, and not the actual luggage kind - I'm talking emotional. The events of Ninth Grade Slays have come and gone, his friendship with Vlad and even his cousin Henry is over (for now), and the Slayers have him under what is basically the Doom of Damocles - hence this book's title - because of his having accepted an unofficial job from D'Ablo, which kick-started his presence in Bathory in Slays.

So what's a fourteen-year-old vaguely Johnny Depp-looking Slayer dude to do? Why, help the Slayer Society take on an apparent vampiric serial killer in New York. Along the way, he solidifies some friendships among the Slayers (though it's clear that they're all substitutes for the loving family ties he no longer really has), plays tourist while searching for Em (and visits Obscura, which always gives me a chuckle because I used to watch Oddities on the Science Channel from time to time), visits V Bar (and does NOT partake of the house red - and holy Lord, I forgot how much the V Bar secretly influenced some of my own work on a vampire-themed Gravity Falls fanfic), and occasionally sees the mysterious Dorian (a favorite of mine and August Graves' for a reason.)

Still, though, Joss is that most complex of Z Brewer creations, and even when he makes bad and/or boneheaded decisions, you still can't help but wish you could hug some sense into him.

One more Slayer Chronicles book left...these books are really short, it's true, but they're pretty rich for it. And size ain't everything. Look at the book I read before this one - 500 pages, and I didn't enjoy most of them. This one? 275 pages or so, and they were damn good ones. (Because they're Z's pages, of course.)

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Review: Now I Rise

Now I Rise Now I Rise by Kiersten White
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm pretty much suckered in by the pretty covers and the promise of some kind of fantasy shenanigans for this series...but the trouble is, it's such a grimdark slog where nothing seems to happen that it's very, very hard to enjoy what I'm reading.

As I suspected after finishing And I Darken a month or so ago, Now I Rise doubles down on Lada being supremely unlikable while adding next to nothing to her storyline. She's got some kind of mission in mind, using the Hungarian royals to try and usurp Mehmed - again - but whenever we're in her POV, virtually nothing happens, save for a few random scenes of her remembering her past, railing against religion (and using Christians against Muslims just because she can), and even sleeping with Mehmed at one point. As for Radu, his story takes on a few more interesting twists as he becomes a sort of spy for Mehmed, sneaking around Constantinople as that city all but burns down in the face of Mehmed's imminent takeover, and continuing to angst about the fact that he can never be with the one he truly loves.

Radu's story adds more to the ongoing saga, much more, while Lada's story grinds the progress of this book to a halt every time it resumes. Honestly, I'd enjoy this so much more if White were to have focused entirely on Radu - even though his characterization is just stereotypical enough that it makes it hard for him to carry the story for me. As it is, Radu is the only reason I'm going to keep going with this series - that, and those twin letters that make the enticing ending of this book, which still epically fails to live up to the promise of its elevator pitch about a female version of Vlad the Impaler.

I only hope that White manages to wrap everything up in Book 3 - and preferably with tons of heads rolling and being spiked up every-bloody-where.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Cover Reveal: The Glitch Mob

Happy Solar Eclipse Day, Pinecones! Now to give you some book-related news from the desk of the Pinecone General...

As many of you may know from my Twitter updates, I've decided that The Dark Ice Chronicles will no longer be a trilogy of novels, nor will they have that title. Instead, I've decided to condense the trilogy, already fairly overblown and stretched out in hindsight, into a single novel which will form a sort of bridge between the new versions of Red Rain books 3 and 4, White Shadows and Black Mirror. In essence, this new manuscript, The Glitch Mob, will be Red Rain 3.5, basically.

The challenge, though, is getting The Glitch Mob off the ground. I started re-editing that manuscript in June for Pride Month, especially appropriate since I decided to make it so Harris McCallum would be the primary POV character, and his coming-out story arc from The Scalers would now be a moot point because in this new version of the story, he's already out and proud - and so are most in his circle of friends. (It's a new character, Kai Shelby, who combines Harris' old coming-out arc with the original Jason Cross' Dark Ice self-discovery and oddly cute chemistry with Harris.)

I love Harris McCallum. I really, really do. But perhaps because he's a different, more self-realized version of myself - a ball of sunshine and Fire as opposed to my moonlight and Ice, kinda like Tom Holland and Andrew Garfield's respective screen Spideys (and, appropriately, Holland is now Harris' face claim) - he's proven surprisingly hard to write for me. Another sad factor about my Glitch Mob work is that as overlong as the original trilogy is, I find myself having to kill a ton of darling scenes and lines to make the whole single-book thing work. So while my original plan was to finish The Glitch Mob by the end of June to cap off my Pride Month celebrations, that didn't come anywhere close to fruition. Hell, it's been three months and (especially since I've also been working on re-edits for the first three Red Rain books, including having Harris make his Red Rain debut in White Shadows instead of Black Mirror, as well as the first draft of Peppermint) I haven't even finished condensing the events of The Magi yet.

I think it might help now, though, that I've got a sweet cover art design to help motivate me. Sam Ayers, the awesome artist behind the covers for the Red Rain series, returns with a beautifully colorful cover for The Glitch Mob!

To explain the symbolism involved in this cover: the orange flames on one side of the planet represent Harris and his Dark Fire powers. The blue light is for his girlfriend and first love Evan Michaelsen (another major change from the original trilogy - Harris and Evan are the main canon couple now!), a Light Ice - exactly his opposite power-wise. Replacing the Red Rain wing overlays under the title are a couple of flaming swords, Harris' signature weapon, reflecting his origins as a modern-AU version of Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon. (I swear, it's coincidence that yesterday we got to see a Game of Thrones episode with a flaming sword making a prominent guest appearance.) And because Harris is the living embodiment of where I hope to have my bi-pride levels someday, the splashes of color on the title come in bi-pride colors - with a hint of blood in there too, because let's face it, it's no book of mine if it doesn't involve some kind of blood. (Not to sound too much like Z Brewer, lol.)

I'm still not 100% certain The Glitch Mob will get to appear on Wattpad, but I'm not ruling it out. In the meantime, to give you an idea of my plans for this saga, here are all the covers (once again, many thanks to Sam Ayers!) in what will be my suggested reading order for these books.

This is absolutely going to be a wild ride for me to write, and for you to read, my friends.

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review: First Kill

First Kill First Kill by Heather Brewer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Coming after the high that was Twelfth Grade Kills would be difficult to top, but as the start of darkness for Joss McMillan, the leader of the great Minion Horde delivers quite the ride in the first book of The Slayer Chronicles. It's been quite some time since I read any of the books in the Vlad Tod 'verse, and I'm starting off kind of in reverse order, reading the Slayer books first - which, incidentally, is not what I recommend if you happen to be a newcomer to the Minion Horde. Relatively standalone First Kill may be, but there are still plenty of original-series Easter eggs, especially towards the end of this book, that might leave you scratching your head if you haven't already read Eighth Grade Bites - and then, if you jump to Second Chance after reading this book, you'll wonder why the heck the narrative jumps ahead a year if you haven't already read Ninth Grade Slays.

But I digress. Long story short, if you're new to the work of Z Brewer, read The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod before tackling The Slayer Chronicles.

As for this book, though, it well and truly is the start of darkness for Joss, perhaps the most morally complex character Z ever blessed us with, and we're so lucky to have received this trilogy further delving into his psyche. Every piece of Z's bibliography gives us some powerful themes, and here, in the first Slayer book, we get a strong critique of masculinity. Especially the toxic kind that many of the Slayers espouse, and that, sadly, infects Joss's mind as the book goes on despite the tempering influence of Sirus - how could I forget Sirus? He was a fave character of mine the first time I read this book, but then again it was six years ago...

Luckily, I already have the remaining Slayer books sitting in my TBR, as is the one where it all began: Eighth Grade Bites. For the next few weeks or so, at the suggestion of my friend August, I'll be re-exploring Z's masterworks and rediscovering their secret influences on my own work.

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Review: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Silly me, I thought this was Mackenzi Lee's debut novel. Actually, no, it's not...but now I want to read her first book, and all her others after The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue dazzled me.

I've been waiting a while to read this one, and in that time, I've seen a fairly polarized string of reactions from my Goodreads and Twitter mutuals. Depending on who you ask, this book is either a fun romp or brought down by an annoying protagonist. After reading it, as expected, I've found myself falling somewhere in the middle of that spread of opinions...but definitely leaning more towards positive. Not 100% glowing, but it's a pretty good book all the same.

I think the two biggest points against Gentleman's Guide, for me, are its length - almost 500 pages, with a lot of slow-paced stretches throughout, punctuated by bursts of action for texture - and, hell, Monty himself. Though I love that he gives us some much-needed bi rep (whoo hoo!), his personality actually takes a hell of a lot of getting used to. Not so much his frequent giving in to his vices (gambling, though that's more of an informed attribute than anything else, and of course drinking and sex), but his way of treating those he loves selfishly. He even makes a few microaggressions towards his best friend and crush, Percy - and it's hard to say whether or not they're bigger slaps to poor Percy's face than the rampant racism he faces on the course of this Grand Tour.

Then again, though, that was probably the point: Monty realizing just how privileged he is (his bisexuality notwithstanding), and coming to terms with it. It's one of many heavy themes this book boasts.

In between the character interactions (most of which are surprisingly sweet even as they tend to highlight Monty's flaws), this book takes on a surprising bit of light adventure and historical fantasy, which I really didn't see coming as well as I should have. Certainly not the presence of a sorta proto-steampunk-clockpunk-biopunk MacGuffin that actually makes me wonder if Lee ever watched Alias, because it sounds like it could've easily been another lost Rambaldi device. As for the Grand Tour itself, that device quickly causes a few detours - so, even after the first third or so of the book goes through France, we then get to go to Barcelona (and I'm happy to see the Catalan language get some time in the spotlight when it so rarely does), across the sea to Venice, and finally to Santorini...all in the map at the start of the book, with those funny notes Monty adds in, though I was a bit disappointed that the narrative spends less time in each location as the story goes on.

Overall, Gentleman's Guide is a wonderfully diverse piece of historical fiction, one of the few in YA I've read and really enjoyed. I can't wait to read the next Guide book - centered on Felicity, if I'm not mistaken. Which will be quite the sight to see, given that Felicity is the smartest - if not the smart-assest - character Lee's graced us with thus far.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: Ash and Quill

Ash and Quill Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Originally meant as the end of the Great Library series, I think, Ash and Quill is now the very middle entry, the third of a planned five books. And it kinda shows in that the plot of this book feels a little bit spread thin and repetitive, especially compared to the first two books. That said, though, this third book adds a little to the world-building by really introducing us to an alternate America run by Burners, who are basically all the worst aspects of the far left rolled into one - anarchic, militantly anti-religious (though they idolize Ben Franklin), and fixated on ideological purity, to the point where, as potential allies, they prove pretty damn unreliable.

In any case, the Library isn't about to be cowed by Burners, or royalty, or anyone else who dares oppose them on any level. Which is why Jess and company can't stay in Philadelphia, and have to keep on moving around the world all over again. And again. And again.

I really have no idea how Caine can keep the story going for two more books, but I would really love to see how well she pulls it off. Book 4, hopefully, will hit shelves next year so we can start getting an idea of when and where the next phase of the war on the Library really starts.

(And, of course, we'll finally be able to resolve this book's nasty little cliffhanger.)

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: The Love Interest

The Love Interest The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the months since this book hit shelves (months in which my library took its sweet time getting ahold of copies and distributing them), my hype for this book took a few hits when I saw a surprisingly high number of bad reviews and a relatively low GR average. A lot of these reviews complained about the book having a paper-thin backstory - which, admittedly, it kinda does, but then again it's also one of those "please park your brain at the door, don't worry, we'll validate it for you" kind of stories. Other reviews said the book had bimisia and/or erasure - to which I say, as a bi human being, I see none in this book.

Really, The Love Interest is, as I said, a "park your brain at the door" book, but that's just part of the fun. It's a damn good satire of YA books and their associated tropes, taken to some logical genre-fusing extremes with its suggestion that there exists a facility that raises teenage spies - and not the dark, gritty CHERUB kind, either, but deliberately manufactured product (now here is a story where I could probably debate for hours whether or not Caden and Dylan and the other Love Interests are humans or cyborgs or what) designed to act out a YA love triangle, and with the spies being pretty much all self-aware of their meta-fictional nature all the time.

It's a satire, like The Rest of Us Just Live Here, but I enjoyed this book so much more because it boasts some very sincerely strong and engaging characters. As a "Nice," Caden is seriously conflicted by the fact that his very job is to be a convincing liar. Dylan, the "Bad," projects an aura of dark self-confidence but, when he can be himself (meaning, when he's around Caden), he cries because he's scared of the lethal stakes of his assignment. And there's Juliet, who doesn't seem to have impressed most of my fellow readers - to which I say, why not? She's a STEM girl, super-smart, and taking inspiration from Black Widow for her dream project. (Another point in this book's favor for me - numerous pop-culture references, especially to Marvel. Also note that Caden at one point dresses as Spider-Man for a costume party, and Juliet is said to have plenty of "Spidey-butt" in her search history.) The first two thirds or so of this book use these characterizations as part of the initial setup of a YA contemporary with a sci-fi twist, and then comes the final third when all the secrets come out and we get into some pretty ass-kicking action, worthy of the Marvel heroes to whom Caden and Juliet, especially, look up.

My two biggest reasons for loving this book, though, are some very relatable themes. One, of course, being Caden struggling to understand his sexuality. Been there, especially when I was his age. Though I'm a lot more certain of mine by now, I don't think I'm done questioning by a long shot. Not to mention the sub-theme to that overarching theme, that coming out is different levels of difficult for everyone - I think, for me, it's about as difficult as it is for Dylan, especially since I'm pretty much only out online. The other major theme that resonated with me was the emphasis on the artificiality of perfect "Love Interest" bodies. The fact that all Love Interests, when activated, have to undergo certain surgeries and watch their diets carefully to get to the degree of physicality their superiors want them to have for maximum attractiveness, really stands out. Also, Caden noticing (especially in early scenes, before his activation) that he's naturally pale and surprisingly hairy - that was probably the first time I saw a YA protagonist super-reflecting me physically. (Though I only wish I was well-built enough to rock a Spider-Man suit, but I'm getting there, a little closer every day to being more easily mistaken for Andrew Garfield's secret twin, I hope.) I feel really bad for him having to constantly get rid of his body hair, too - not because he wants to, but because for some reason, Nices are supposed to have no hair anywhere that isn't their heads. Not even their armpits, which, to me, smacked of the LIC superiors just wanting to troll their charges with excessive control. Which also made me think a lot about male body-shaming, how so many guys feel the pressure to look as muscular as, say, Stephen Amell (and then there's me, whose bod goals are more in line with Grant Gustin.) Hell, just recently I went onto Facebook, a place I haven't really been in years, and saw a picture of one of my old high school friends showing off how super friggin' ripped he was now. But that picture's meant for encouragement, to show that even if you're dissatisfied with your body, it's up to you to shape it into whatever you want it to be. A sort of self-control, agency, and autonomy that Caden and Dylan both have to fight for before this novel is through.

tl;dr: sexual self-discovery and satire of beauty standards.

Bottom line, for a story that too many of my friends in the community find thinly plotted, I found Cale Dietrich's debut both thought-provoking and funny - and, above all, downright fun to read. Good thing I savored it for a while - if I tried to rush through it, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much, nor would I have had nearly as much to say on it.

Now I seriously can't wait for Dietrich's next book, The Tower. Fingers crossed it'll be just as good as this one, if not better!

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Review: Our Dark Duet

Our Dark Duet Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmm. Strange. I just read a Victoria Schwab book and I didn't love it like everyone else. I wasn't super-duper-hella-overwhelmed with feels. Did I read it wrong? Perhaps. Maybe in a year or so I'll read Our Dark Duet again and appreciate it more. But for now, I have to consider this one seriously hype-damaged.

Don't get me wrong, I did like the book. I just feel that there were a few certain things lacking in it. Like the world map I was really hoping for after one of my chief complaints about This Savage Song was that it didn't have one - and there still isn't one, which is a shame considering this is to be the end of the series. (More than ever, I have to lament the current trend towards YA duologies - it often feels like they should either be one book, or they should continue the story into at least a third book, but two always feels a me for some reason.) Though there's no doubt that TSS and ODD are most certainly not one book stretched out to two, this book itself felt like quite the stretch - 500+ pages, comparable to King's Cage, but only in terms of page count. In terms of content, not so much. Especially not when we were in Kate's POV, where there were quite a few interludes of poetry in this sort of staccato style with maybe two or three words per line. Nothing wrong with poetry, but the way it's laid out creates a TON of negative space, which I think may have increased the page count more than it should have.

That negative space being part of Kate's POV made me dread it even more than I did in the first book. I know, Schwab's said that Kate was one of those characters who was a study in How To Write An Engaging But Unlikable Protagonist, not unlike the leads from Vicious, but it doesn't make it any easier for me to read Kate's POV. And as for August, well, as much as I love him (especially with the interpretation of him being a metaphor for autistic people in mind, because he mirrors me too much, especially with his constant watching of other people's interactions, for it to be a coincidence), his POV ain't a walk in the park either this time around, not when he's decided to grit his teeth and embrace his darkness rather than be the smol cinnamon roll human we all know he truly is. (Though there's a few wonderful moments where Kate, of all people, calls him out on this and tries to remind him of his old goals.)

Overall, this book actually doesn't do as much as it should with building on its predecessor's fantasy-dystopian style. The world gets bigger and more complicated, especially with the addition of a new species of monster, and there's a ton of action to go around, of course. Though that action has a way of ratcheting up to such a point that it turns into Zack Snyder-esque hellfire and white noise at times, and that doesn't balance too well with the aforementioned negative space. It makes reading this book, for me, oddly toxic, like I'm a little too much in August's mindset when he's having an...episode. But the story builds to its conclusion pretty beautifully all the same, especially in the feels department (even managing to introduce some romance after the first book held off on it.) And that ending could've been worse. Let's just say if Schwab had gone to a certain other extreme, I'd be inconsolable.

Though I'm not as on board with this book as I hoped I would be, I'm at least happy that Schwab wrote it for us, and that hopefully now that she's done with this series and with the Shades of Magic trilogy, she can really concentrate her efforts on those Vicious and The Archived sequels I really, desperately need.

But to This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet and all the monsters of Verity (and of course Kate and August), vas ir...anoshe.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Review: Shattered Minds: A Pacifica Novel

Shattered Minds: A Pacifica Novel Shattered Minds: A Pacifica Novel by Laura Lam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like Laura Lam's books - those that I've read, anyway, because I'm still waiting for my library to get Masquerade. It's been too long. They didn't take nearly as long to get ahold of Shattered Minds, though, for which I'm grateful. It's just...strange, because this is the first time I've read a Laura Lam book and not been totally enamored with it. I mean, don't get me wrong, Lam weaves a deadly dangerous futuristic story like just about nobody else, a super-strong hybrid of Inception and Continuum (maybe not so much Orphan Black, though, not like False Hearts.) But reading this book, I felt it was a lot harder for me to connect to the characters, particularly our heroine, Carina. Though I suppose that was intentional, an exercise in protagonist unlikability worthy of Victoria Schwab. Another point against the book for me was its use of third-person POVs - I've always found it difficult to connect with those, especially when the author has a history of writing seriously engaging and engrossing first-person POVs in their past work as Lam does (and as do examples like Rick Riordan, Maggie Stiefvater, and more.) But there was one character I felt most connected to - Dax, whose backstory, to me, was the most fleshed out. I actually think, perhaps with a little more out-of-lane research (he being trans and Native American), he should've been the protagonist, or at least had more POV chapters so he could feel less like a deuteragonist and more like an equal part of the ensemble alongside Carina. And overall, the book is extremely fast-paced, even more so than False Hearts, which kinda demanded a bit of slow savoring. I had no problem finishing it in a single day.

Since this whole Pacifica universe is an anthology, it's a shame we'll probably never see some of these characters again. (Though I'm still holding out hope that Dax, for one, and also Taema and Tila, make return appearances somewhere down the line.) In the meantime, I'm counting on there being another Pacifica story somewhere down the line, hopefully set in the Pacific Northwest this time - especially Vancouver, which would really enhance the Continuum-esque vibe.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: Zodiac

Zodiac Zodiac by Romina Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really more of a 3.5, but I'll be cool and round this one up to a 4. The idea of this series - a science-fantasy with an astrological bent - was too cool to pass up when I first discovered this series a couple of years ago, but at the time, I felt like its execution left a lot to be desired, and the second book didn't really cut it for me, so I kinda passed on it for a while. But now, I'm thinking maybe a sort of slow binge might be to this series' benefit, especially since, as far as I know, the final book is about to hit shelves very soon.

Even though this first book is pretty short and suffers from a villain who literally hides in the shadows and whose motivations are known only through the (possibly slanted?) accounts of in-universe folklore, the rest of the cast of characters are engaging and lovable and you really need them all to survive...except of course they don't.

As of today, I've ordered Wandering Star at the library, and hopefully I'll love that one a hell of a lot more - didn't I give that one only one star and a DNF at first?

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Review: Reckoning

Reckoning Reckoning by Kerry Wilkinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I went into this one seeing that it was a British-themed YA dystopian, and reading it, I was able to see that I wasn't wrong. (Funny thing - I actually picked up the second book in the series by accident at first, and then I had to take it back and wait for this first one to come in after ordering it.) Basically, it's exactly what I expected - a YA dystopian that mashes up elements of all the biggest hits of the genre (Hunger Games, Divergent, The Testing, Legend, etc.) in a post-apocalyptic UK setting. So this book, story-wise, doesn't really tread any new ground, but it's at least an interesting storyline with compelling heroes, even if they have to deal with a villain who just comes across as a one-dimensional royal psychopath.

At the very least, I'll have no problem picking up the remaining books in the trilogy and reading them in pretty quick succession - and hey, maybe they'll improve on this book too!

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review: The Retribution of Mara Dyer

The Retribution of Mara Dyer The Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holy crap balls. This story did not let up, let me tell you. The things that Mara found out about herself and Noah and everyone else were nasty, terrifying, shocking, whatever you wanna call it.

A few standout points:

* I was really happy to see Jamie back in the game after he was so criminally underused in The Evolution. Man, did I miss him or what? And he has a new Official Most Awesome T-shirt: the word "trope" upside down, as in "subverted trope" (or "inverted" depending on who you ask.) Though the "Fictional Character" T-shirt I got from a professor kinda challenges him and his at cake-taking.
* The vast majority of the story is devoted to untangling the mystery, at the expense of the epic romance between Noah and Mara, because Noah wasn't there to romance Mara.
* We learn why Noah engages in such self-destructive behavior all the time. As awesome and cool as he is, I still think he desperately needs some of these:

* And the ending. A very experimental one that finally clarifies the exact nature of the bond between Noah and Mara, and also features a few plot points that I eerily echo in my own Red Rain books - especially Blue Monday, which I was writing at the time I first read this one.

Well, that's it. A magnificent end to a magnificent trilogy - though now, of course, there's the forthcoming spinoff, The Becoming of Noah Shaw, to look forward to. Until then, ave atque vale to Mara Dyer and all her friends.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Review: Paper and Fire

Paper and Fire Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was warned that this second book of The Great Library was a bit of a come-down from Ink and Bone, but thankfully, Paper and Fire is only a slight case of Sophomore Slump, unlike, say, Michael Grant's Hunger or Susan Dennard's Windwitch. More like the Scorch Trials book compared to The Maze Runner (not the movie, though - the movie was a vast improvement.) The main issues I had with this book were its somewhat erratic pacing - mostly faster in the beginning, and really slowing down in the middle or so - and also the fact that it felt rather like filler and relied on a few too-predictable twists. Nevertheless, for its flaws, this book sets up its sequel very effectively, especially with a cliffhanger ending that finally brings to the forefront a facet of this world that's been largely neglected thus far, and will make things really interesting in Book 3, of that I'm sure. Seriously, this series needs to be made into a movie yesterday - and I mean a movie, not a low-budget Netflix series.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Review: The Evolution of Mara Dyer

The Evolution of Mara Dyer The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm mostly gonna focus on the ending and my reactions to it.

My main reactions are as follows:

Even now, after reading this beast of a book all over again, I'm reliving all the old Ballpit of Denial killer feels. Literally. Even after we finally get somewhere with the secret origins of everyone's powers, it's still set up for a devastating ending, the most intense Hodkin's given us yet.

At least this time, though, I don't have to wait too long to read Retribution, not when it's sitting in my TBR pile and I don't have months to go until it's released.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book three years ago, I loved it. Reading it again, even with my attention having been brought to some underlying problems re: representation (Mara being biracial but very ambiguous about it, and not terribly connected to the Indian side of her family, not to mention some sadly rampant whitewashing), I still love it, because even though I really shouldn't, it's downright addictive and irresistible. Especially for some of the supporting cast. Daniel. Noah (I got into this book largely because I was in a GR group with a few Noah Shaw stans, and they weren't wrong - he's surprisingly deep.) And of course Jamie Roth. I freaking LOVE Jamie.

The general vibe of this series is Miss Peregrine meets The Archived, with a bit of Shatter Me and Dexter thrown in for good measure. Based on that alone, it's enough of a mashup of everything that it's one of the most unique, and uniquely awesome, books you'll ever read. It may not be for everyone - some people find themselves defeated by the book's sheer peculiarity, Noah being a serpentine smooth-operating asscrown (how did I forget that particular zinger of Mara's? "The zenith of the hierarchy of asses," indeed.), and especially the fact that it's a long one with next to no explanation of the underlying paranormal-ness of it all. But that comes later, in the increasingly kick-ass sequels, which I'll be re-reading and re-reviewing very soon.

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