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Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027


Huntress - Malinda Lo I’m kinda snobbish when it comes to certain labels in fiction. For example, prequels. I consider a prequel story to be one that directly affects the main/previously told story, be it explaining backstory or showing the events that laid to the plot of the ‘present’ tale. If it’s a story that happens to be set in the same universe, only at an earlier time and has no direct influence on the previous story, I really hesitate to refer to it as prequel story. (Same goes with stories set AFTER the main plot and have really no ties aside from the same world.)Such is my case with Malinda Lo’s Huntress, set centuries before the events of Ash. Yes, I’m nit-picking over an arbitrary label, but in the case here, I do think that slapping a prequel label may be a turn-off to people who may share my mindset. Which is a shame, because you can just start here or with Ash and be completely fine. The only thing that Huntress sets up here is explaining how the position of the King’s Huntress came to be, and the Kingdom’s earlier relationship with the Fae. I’d even say that this a better introduction to Lo’s work over Ash. (Not that I didn’t like the first book, but I think that this makes a much stronger impact.)First things first: Asian-inspired high fantasy. *grabby hands* (And represented on the cover too!) I really love how Lo takes the European ideal of the Fae and juxtaposes it with the world here, and makes the Fae even more alien. The Asian setting of the normal world is so well-done and so subtle that if you’re not familiar with the elements, it’s not so “Look look look ASIAN STUFF ITS SOOO DIFFERENT” but rather worked in quite naturally. (Two things, I’m not familiar with the I Ching, which Lo drew a lot of the elements from, and I think that really helps; secondly, I’m very curious as to how this culture mutated from the heavily Asian-inspired to the standard European-fantasy setting of Ash. I really want to read that story too.) This has a much different feel from Ash—the language and the writing style are very similar, but the characters and their motivations are very different. And that’s really exemplified with Taisin and Kaede. I really liked that even though both girls has some defined goal/desire in their lives, they’re unsure about how they’re going to achieve that or what the future exactly holds. Taisin wants to be a sage, but she’s uncertain about what that will entail and is scared of her own power. And even though she wants to give into her own desires, but is afraid of letting go of her main dream in the process. Kaede feels a little more rote—the rich girl who doesn’t quite fit in anywhere and doesn’t want the life that’s been laid out for her, but even then she’s not sure what that’s going to entail. One of the things that I really loved about Kaede’s character arc is that even though it’s set up that she will be the first King’s Huntress, it’s not because she’s a skilled hunter but more of what she had accomplished during their journey to the North and what she learns on the way. (And the connections. It’s never really outright stated that Con is the one to instate Kaede, but I liked that it’s implied.) And why I really like Taisin and Kaede is their relationship., particularly how they can’t help falling for each other. Seeing as how Taisin’s vision is the first thing that we see, I did think that this was going to fall into “Because destiny says so” territory. And what really helps is that we see the majority of Taisin’s feelings through Kaede’s eyes. It’s not until very late into the story when Taisin reveals what she felt during the vision, and by that point, Kaede has already began falling in love with her. It made it more believable because that we don’t really see Taisin internally freaking out over her dilemma, and seeing as how we see her actions through Kaede’s interpretation, it feels like they’re really falling in love. I don’t think that their feelings for each other are as strong as the beginning implies, but where they stand with each by the end of the book is very believable.(Hats off to Lo for pulling off a MacGuffin vision beautifully. The revelation and build-up to how that moment played out eventually was really well done and played with my expectations. And also, I really like how Taisin uses her knowledge of the future to the group’s advantage; it’s very well-handled and never resorts to “Well, the vision looked like this so that’s exactly what has to happens.”) The rest of the group that travels to the Faerie Lands isn’t as strong as the two main leads, mainly because the half of the group is taken out before there’s any major character development. I wanted to get more of Tali and Pol and they don’t really make any huge impact before they’re taken out. Shae’s a little better, but then she’s even taken out fairly quickly. I really like how she kind of takes both girls under her wing, and I love her own not-so-secrets feelings towards Con. Con is the only one that we get any major development, but only because they’ve established his relationship with Kaede very early on. I do like their relationship—I liked that Con’s a surrogate older brother to Kaede and he’s extremely supportive and willing to protect her, and yet there’s never a hint that the two would be expected marry.If there’s any one issue I have with the book, it’s the revelation behind why the world is so messed-up as it is. I really loved the creepy forest scenes, the creatures that Kaede and Taisin encounter and the strangeness that the Fae display. However, when we finally learn about Elowen’s motivations and reasons, it comes so late into the book to have as much impact. A lot of it ties more with Kaede’s development, and I liked that, but it felt like an eleventh-hour addition. Not that Lo doesn’t bring her out of left field, but I wanted more of Elowen’s direct influence when the group is traveling through the forest, instead of strangely prophetic dreams.But as I said in the beginning, I really liked Huntress and a lot more so than Ash. (Which is saying something because I loved Ash.) I liked the more high fantasy feel, I really liked the relationship here, and I think that this does a fantastic job of bringing a new reader into Lo’s world without retreading too familiar fantasy ground. Again, I’m very conflicted on which book to recommend to readers starting with Malinda Lo, and it’s going to come to a personal preference, because this is just as fantastic.

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories - I’ve made my case for why I like steampunk in a few other reviews, and so I’m surprised that it’s taken me a while to read this. This collection is actually a really good starter for those wanting to get into the world of clockwork hats and googles and souped-up Victoriana. What also helps here is that some of the stories don’t limit themselves to the plain ol’ souped-up Victoriana (although the majority do fall under that category). One of my favorites, Dylan Horrocks’s “Steam Girl,” takes place in the present reality, although there’s a hint of “Perhaps the fantasy is also the reality” as well as exploring the positives of escapism. Libba Bray’s “The Last Ride of the Glory Girls” is Westernized steampunk taking place on a colonized, unnamed planet with glorious feminist tones; and MT Anderson’s “The Oracle Engine” explores machina in Ancient Rome. Really, though, the majority of the stories here are absolutely fantastic, with the two weakest, in my opinion, being Holly Black’s “Everything Amiable and Obliging” and Shawn Cheng’s comic “Seven Days Beset by Demons.” (As an aside/plea not only for this anthology, but for a good chunk of steampunk stories out there: I know the Victoriana is a big part of the appeal, but there’s a whole world out there with a lot of people in it. There’s only three stories in here with stated POC characters—Bray’s, Kathleen Jennings’s “Finishing School” and Elizabeth Knox’s “Gethsemane.” I know I’m guilty of this in my own writing in the subgenre, but guys, think outside the coin-operated box a little.) As I said, this is a really good introduction to steampunk, and definitely a quick and satisfying read. Check it out if you can.
Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, #2) - Sarah J. Maas I reluctantly own up to the fact that I can be outwardly dismissive of books. When I got my copy of Throne of Glass last year for my company’s Best of the Year list, I initially dismissed it largely based on the cover. Because the hardcover cover for Throne of Glass looks boring and bland. (I’m debating on just buying the paperback because THAT cover is awesome. That is how I imagine Celaena.) And after a slow build-up at first, I ended falling in love with Throne of Glass and had to download the prequels and wait for Book #2 to come out.It is worth saying that this a book where the bulk of the plot is centered around Celaena’s relationships with the men in her life while the actual plot meanders in the background. And admittedly, there were points when I thought “Okay get on with it.” But considering the fact that the larger plot involves Celaena trying to uncover lost information that very few people are willing to actually talk about, it doesn’t bug me as much. (Although having Mort the enchanted doorknocker who knows what’s going on but refuses to say anything was equal parts funny and frustrating. Was I the only one who was reminded of the skeleton guard from The Last Unicorn with him? Because Mort had that vibe.) However, I did really like some of the plot twists thrown at the readers, even when I called them five or six pages after the set up was introduced. Like Celaena turning out to be Aelin Galathynius, for example. WHICH I HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT—how in the hell does that work out, especially since we’re in Celaena’s head for the majority of the book? I know we got hints that Celaena wanted to avenge her parents, but there’s no hint of her being fae and my brain kind of hurts if I think about it too long. I do give Maas’s writing credit, though, as the lead up to Chaol’s discovery of her identity had me hooked and she does do a fair job of misdirection up until that point. Nehemia’s death, on the other hand, I did not see coming. It’s not only a huge plot twist for the reader, but it feels right in the context of the book as well. But still…I really wanted Celaena and Chaol to save the day. Instead, I get kicked in the heart. A lot.But the thing that I do have to applaud Maas here for is that despite the chunk of the plot revolving around Celaena and the two men in her life, it actually works really well. In a category that is overflowing with bland, unnecessary love triangles and forcing the bland heroine (read: readers) to choose between equally bland leads, Maas is an exception that proves the rule. The relationships between Celaena, Chaol and Dorian were extremely well-defined and set-up in the first book, and gave both male leads a chance to shine without feeling repetitive or boring. And even then, you could honestly see Celaena end up with either lead, and it would still work really well; there’s no obvious push for Chaol or Dorian. This, people, is how you do a love triangle.And Maas takes it further with the respective character development in Crown of Midnight. In most other YA love triangles, when the heroine starts cozying up to her choice of hero, the spare turns into an asshole and a huge pissing contest ensues. Here, when Dorian realizes that Celaena and Chaol are in love with each other, he lets it go. He cares about his friend’s happiness, and if that means letting go of a girl he loves (and knows that he’ll never be with ultimately), then Dorian will be there to support both Celaena and Chaol in their relationship. And yes, Celaena is *one* of the reasons why Chaol and Dorian’s friendship begins to fray, but the larger context is that the two aren’t sure if they can trust each other anymore. Yes, Dorian does take Celaena’s side after Nehemia’s death, but it’s because of what Chaol knew. Not to mention, Chaol is willing to risk his friendship to Dorian to do what’s right for the kingdom and save Erilea; again, while Celaena is a reason why Chaol does what he does, it’s not the defining reason.(All right, I have to squee here: THE DANCE! Omg the dance. *squee* I have smooshy feels for Celaena/Chaol.Also, THANKS FOR THE THING SARAH J. MAAS because I was totally beginning to ship Nehemia/Dorian and NO THAT THING HAD TO HAPPEN GAH. WHY.…*cough* Moving on…)If there is a major weak point in the two books overall, I don’t like the overall main plot line. Fighting against the corrupt king, fine; restore magic back to the kingdom, okay—except that we never learn what the king’s plans are and what his ultimate end game is. And it is frustrating, moreso here, because I want to know what exactly he’s doing and what that’s going to mean for the rest of the kingdom. The revelation of the realm gates comes far too late in the book for any major impact, and the only progress we get from that is the revelation of Celaena’s Fae form and her further identity. While it wasn’t really explained in the first book, I was willing to forgive it because the story was more on Celaena’s fight for survival. But in Crown of Midnight, so much is centered around her infiltration of a rebel group and trying to uncover the king’s plans that the lack of any explanation is a major sticking point. I’m really not looking forward to a massive info-dump—or worse, villain monologue-- on the entire backstory in the third book. And even though I just praised Maas for the handling of her love triangle, the fact that it takes precedent over the actual plot is rather grating. If you really liked the first book like I did, especially Celaena’s respective relationships with Chaol and Dorian, you are really going to like this book. However, for those of you looking for answers, I do have to warn that there’s not a lot answered in this book and while what we do get pays off, the amount of time spent on the romance aspect is frustrating in that context. However, the plot itself is very well-paced and structured, punctuated with great action scenes to liven things up every once in a while. (Celaena’s rescue of Chaol is definitely her CMOA thus far.) As for me, I will be impatiently waiting for book 3, whilst eyeing The Assassin and the Empire, because I don’t want this to end.

Two Boys Kissing

Two Boys Kissing - David Levithan My initial reaction after reading the end of this book: LEVITHAN! what do you do to my emotions why.Setting the sledgehammer of emotions aside…One of the things that I mentioned in my Openly Straight review was that I had felt that it would have been buried by the press for Two Boys Kissing; specifically, the fact that Levithan has stated that his book is a book written for now as opposed to its spiritual predecessor Boy Meets Boy. Having now finally gotten my hands on Two Boys Kissing, I’m happy to say that there’s really not a direct comparison to this and Openly Straight, and even though Levithan treads familiar ground, it is an examination of what it means to be gay in 2013 as opposed to 2003 or 1983. (It should be noted that Levithan states that the book was written shortly after the founding of the Trevor Project in 2010, and that proceeds from Two Boys Kissing will be funded to it.) It feels a little moot to say it, but the fact that the book is narrated by the spirits of gay men who died from AIDS really underscores the premise. This isn’t a book that’s just about exploring one’s sexuality or labels or the fear about coming out to your family; there’s all of that in there. But it’s also about the bittersweetness of being able to be free and open, and how some things really haven’t changed. I liked that Levithan doesn’t shy away from the fact that there’s still a lot of hatred and bigotry in the world, even when things have come so far. Sure, you have the community center holding the gay prom, and the local high school not batting an eye when two boys decide to break the world record for kissing on their lawn, but it doesn’t mean that everyone’s okay with it. One of the things I really liked was the parallel coming-outs with Craig and Neil, specifically for how their parents get involved. Craig’s mother showing up at the marathon make-out is heartbreaking enough to begin with, and then the increasing realization that Craig’s family has abandoned him is just more than heart-shattering. For Neil, it’s really just getting his parents to outright admit what they won’t say, and even though there’s still things to talk about, after his parents admit that Neil’s gay and they still love him, life pretty much just moves on. But then there’s also Cooper. Cooper’s story is more atypical to what most people probably still think gay YA fiction is like—the self-loathing, getting kicked out of the house, and steadily declining path. And I liked that it’s in here. Levithan’s works typically have a positive gay experience—which isn’t to say that’s bad, but sometimes the negative takes a backseat. And as I said above, I liked that this does illustrate the negative. I liked that we do have a character who’s self-loathing and scared and it illustrates the message all the more better for it. And having the narration underscore those last few pages with Cooper really bring Levithan’s point across—even if you’re scared and lonely and don’t know what to do, you are never alone. (Massive points to Levithan, for pulling off a tricky concept a second time beautifully without resorting to schmaltz or tragedy for the sake of with his chorus of narrators.) This is a book about capturing moments in time. There’s no one major character breakthrough or huge defining plot moment that changes the characters’ lives forever, but a series of sketches in 32 hours about these boys and what they go through. The closest to a major character breakthrough/huge defining plot moment are both Craig and Cooper, but putting the focus on couples like Ryan and Avery and Peter and Neil makes this feel like these are just moments in time and we’re just glimpsing them. (The book conversation between Peter and Neil kinda made me roll my eyes at first, but then d’awww.) The only thing that I really wanted more of is Tariq—he just feels too much on the edges, and I really wanted to get more in-depth to his life.I do agree the assertion that this a book that needed to be written now. It’s not a particularly ground-breaking book in its portrayal of gay kids nor is its message particularly anything new. But Levithan’s writing and making fantastic character connections is what he’s always done best, and it really shines here. It’s a glimpse into these lives and it doesn’t need to be anything more than that. And that last page. (My heart, it can’t take it.) Fantastic book, highly recommended.

The Testing

The Testing - Joelle Charbonneau I need to start out by saying, guys I really did try to look at this optimistically. After the first two books I read for my job’s Best of the Year lists, I was looking forward to this one. And considering that my first inclination towards The Testing was that “Oh, look another YA dystopia that misses the point of The Hunger Games and is just a romance in a oppressive setting.” I’m not very happy to find out that my first inclination was right. (Additionally, I know that I normally like to wait a day or two before writing/posting a review after finishing a book so I can gestate; however, I knew early on what my biggest issues were and what I wanted to say here.) Here’s the thing: if it wasn’t for the second half of the book, I would have liked this. I did like the first half of the Testing process in this book. It’s basically the standardized testing and problem-solving except for the fact that if you fuck up, you will die. You don’t get a warning, make one mistake and that’s it. The scene where the Test candidates are putting together the radio boxes and one of them gets a NAIL IN THE EYE was actually really well done. (Unfortunately, now that I realize it, the only really good scene in this whole book.) I was looking forward to reading more of this, and everything comes to a screeching halt when the fourth Test starts. This is why we’re seeing the same thing happen with YA dystopias as with YA paranormals a few years ago: retreading the same ground over and over again. If you can give me an interesting premise that involves teens killing each other, great. Awesome. Sell me on it. If your YA dystopia has a death match because well, look at Suzanne Collins! I am going to turn around so fast without giving your book a chance. If there’s no logical reason to have the death match, then don’t put it in. Do something different. There’s a reason I tell people to go read Scott Westerfeld after finishing The Hunger Games because “Okay, you liked that? HERE, HAVE A TALLY AND A SHAY.”And my big disappointment with The Testing is that while I was reading it, I thought that this could go extremely psychological. You’ve got a questionable government that’s already altering young impressionable minds, why not go the route of the Milgrim experiment? Or Stanford Prison? I personally think those would be a better test of who’s suitable for this government instead of putting the kids into a death race. Jumping off from there, Charbonneau opens up a massive plot hole in the first handful of pages. We learn very early on that Cia’s father was a successful Testing candidate, and he gives her pointers. Said pointers basically amount to “So if you pass, all of your memories of the Test are repressed. Btw me and some of the other survivors think the government’s corrupt.”*headdesk*This is another thing that needs. To. Stop. Again, have the rebellion, have the heroine figurehead, I’m fine with that. DON’T BRING IT UP IN THE FIRST FIVE CHAPTERS. The whole point of a dystopia is that it’s supposed to LOOK utopian and perfect. (The one series aside; look, there’s going to be a lot of comparisons to Hunger Games, I’m sorry.) If there’s a bunch of people already questioning the government that the heroine knows in the beginning, then the oppressive government doesn’t scare me. And again, GLARING PLOT HOLE. If this government can erase memories and is aware that’s there a rebellious faction, why the hell are they not mentally conditioning every single Testing candidate to be loyal and obedient to them? That would make me afraid! If you’re just repressing the memories of said candidates (additionally makes no sense; how is anyone supposed to apply what they’ve learned), then people are—and have—figured out something’s up. Hypnotic drugs, brainwashing, backmasking—there’s a whole world out of psychological fuckery out there to use. I would have taken brainwashing over this. (Again, one of the reasons why I really like Uglies; by the end of that series, Tally’s brain has been so messed with that when she fights back, everyone is fucked.) By also having Cia know early on that there’s something going on, it doesn’t develop her character. It only allows her to move from point A to B to C until she needs to do something. The discovery of the recorder at the end is an asspull; it reads like “Oh, she’s going to have her memory wiped in two pages! Um, SECRET RECORDER! We have to end this on a cliffhanger!” Don’t dress it up that she was actually worried about losing her memories—if she was, why wasn’t she keeping a secret diary or something? And let’s talk about Cia, shall we? Cia is the other reason I knocked this down to two stars, along with the whole second half of the book. There’s nothing to her character that endears me to her, aside from the handful of Testing scenes in the first half. She’s a bland, faceless heroine who tries to prove that she’s badass and brave and caring because she can shoot a bad guy to save her love interest’s life. Also not endearing me to her?Once again, I am grateful for my broken-in boots. Most girls will need to exchange their fashionable footwear for something they can hike in. [pg 137-138]At which point I actually said, “Fuck off, snowflake.” Apparently Cia is the only tomboyish girl in the post-apocalypse; ergo, she is even more super-special. (Because, you know, getting the chance to go a fashionable big city isn’t worth making a good impression on. All those girls in their nice dresses are vapid bitches who are waiting to turn on Cia. I'm sure they all got a helpful info-dump about the corrupt government.) I don’t care if she likes wearing comfortable, practical clothing and I also really don’t care if she doesn’t like wearing dresses. What bothers me is that I hear about this before Cia’s supposed skills with engineering. Again, this something I see over and over again—the first thing we see is the main character dressing up for her special adulthood day. Show me Cia tinkering with something in her fancy dress. Show me her squeeing over technology. Because when I read Cia mentally whining about “Omg this dress is so uncomfortable but I haaaaave to wear it,” my mental soundtrack is already queuing up Taylor Swift.The other elements of this book are just bland and boring. I don’t care about Tomas, and yes, before you ask, there’s a fucking love triangle. (A really stupid one to boot, as there’s no chemistry or build-up to Will’s character at all. Amongst other problems.) A lot of the reason I disliked the ending so much is that Cia suddenly feels sorry that so many people have died, but we never get to know anyone beyond Tomas. I don’t feel sorry that anyone’s died. Not even the people Cia does interact with for more than three pages. Aspiring YA dystopia authors, my message is this: Yes, death matches can work. But please, please don’t give me a death match because that’s what Suzanne Collins did. (Insert my rant of “You know that’s not what The Hunger Games is about, right?” here.) If you have an interesting idea, run with it. Work on it. Do something different. Because, it’s books like these that illustrate the catch-22 of “Oh, agents and publishers say they want something different; here, have another *flavor of the month* rip-off.” There’s a wealth of possibilities to explore out there, and even just doing something a little different can mean a whole lot to a reader.


Ash - Malinda Lo While I’m a sucker for retellings and an even bigger fan of fairy tale retellings/reworkings/updates/continuations/spins/what have you, I do come into said things with a caveat—what does the author do to make this their own? Which is hard, and I acknowledge that. Taking a story and characters that are so ingrained into our culture and is instantly recognizable and other people have done their own takes, how do you do something new with it? (Trust me, I’ve done it. It is hard.)*So even though when I do pick up fairy tale retellings, I tend mainly side-eye Cinderella retellings. Because there’s so many different takes on it, and it’s a part of our culture—not just straight retellings or updates or reworkings, but the whole idea of the Cinderella story in everything. This is a story where you can find some variation of in every culture and specific to said culture. And my side-eyeing isn’t because I hate the Cinderella story (I actually don’t; I’ll read it, but it’s not one of my favorites. Also Grimm > Perrault), but it’s so permeated into our folklore that I do think “Do we really need another take?”It’s interesting, then, that in the last year and a half, I’ve not only read three prominent retellings/inspired by/twists on Cinderella, but have really enjoyed them: Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass (Maas has stated that the Disney film was a jumping off point for her in an interview), and probably the one that’s gotten the most press, Malinda Lo’s Ash. The only reason I heard about Ash when it initially came out was that “It’s a lesbian Cinderella OMG.” Don’t get me wrong, when I found out more about the plot, I was really interested in reading it, it’s just taken me a while to get my hands on it. (And promptly loaned it to a friend…using the “Cinderella but with lesbians!” tag.)Although Lo does stick fairly close to the larger aspects of the tale in general—wicked step-family, celebratory events by the royal family, enchanted clothes that disappear at midnight—the things that she does twist and change are the strongest parts of the book. Given that I also love anything that has to do with faerie lore, I loved that Sidhean is literally a faerie godperson and applies all the lore rules to what Ash asks for. I love the detail that Ash acknowledges she will have to pay some price just to see Kaisa again, even at the cost of joining Sidhean in the realms of Faerie. It doesn’t quite pan out, and I’ll touch on it later, but I really liked that it’s a plot point that does feel like it’s going to play a larger role in the climax. And even though this does loosely follow the story beats of having the grand climatic ball, I liked that we get to see the relationship between Ash and Kaisa grow from a chance encounter to friendship to awkward new romance. (Also, I got more of a nod from the Grimms’ version, as the various events that Ash attends that occur throughout the plot are closer to that than just the grand climatic ball.) The inclusion of fairy tales in the story itself is another detail that I really loved, especially how they relate to Ash’s journey. The stories that Lo creates for her world here aren’t direct mirrors of well-known tales of our world, but they’re stories that could be told in our world at one time or another. It adds a layer to the story that not only builds this world up in the readers’ heads, but they also serve a purpose in the story itself. The overall story does seem to stop whenever one of these tales is related, but they do relate to the events occurring in the plot at the moment. I also liked the acknowledgements that the fairy tales are respected by Ash and other characters, and that they’re seen as both warnings and lessons. I do like Ash as a main character. I like that she wants more from her position in life, but she’s unsure as to what she exactly wants. I liked that she’s able to carve a bit of happiness for herself after the death of her father, and that she’s willing to stand up to Lady Isobel and Ana, even when it’s not going to end well for Ash. I really love her respective relationships with Sidhean and Kaisa. I liked that even though Sidhean refuses to answers her questions about his relationship with Ash’s mother, Ash does still find comfort and a bit of happiness with Sidhean. Again, I love the progression of Ash and Kaisa’s budding love, and how it’s so completely obvious to everyone else in court, and Ash is just blissfully oblivious. And I really liked that there’s no actual love triangle in play here—even though Sidhean and Kaisa are in love with Ash, Ash’s decision is more based on the terms of her contract with Sidhean and if she’s willing to give up her life in the mortal world for just one last lingering moment with Kaisa.(I also kinda love the fact that the prince is a nonentity. He’s there, and his search for a wife does play a role in the story, but he only shows up for two pages total and Ash gets the hell away from him. I actually came into this thinking there was going to be a love quandrangle; I was very pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t.) However, this conflict is the only real misstep in the whole plot; specifically, the resolution to Ash’s dilemma and how she escapes from Sidhean’s terms. The faerie lore is such a huge part of her relationship with Sidhean, and it’s a major point that when Ash asks for the favors that she is willing to pay the price for them…except that it never comes to that. And even though I like Ash getting take the third option, it never feels that there’s any cost to her to get what she wants. It even irks me that the one night she agrees to with Sidhean is one night for the mortal world, and not faerie. The ending feels too easy and it’s really a disappointment when the stakes are set so high. Additionally, I would like to see more adaptations that get into the motivations of the stepfamily. I do understand Lady Isobel’s reasoning of making Ash pay off her father’s debts, but at times, she and Ana come off as nothing more than gold diggers. If I may make the comparison, one of the things that I really liked about Cinder’s Adri is that we’re given a reason why she despises Cinder so much: if Cinder hadn’t been adopted, Adri’s husband wouldn’t have died from the plague. I’ve never really seen anyone else give a reason for the stepmother in any retelling aside from the gold digging, and I’d like to see more depth there. It’s really more disappointing with Ana, because we’re given a few scenes between her and Ash that could develop Ana as a deeper character, but after one failed bonding moment, Ana gets firmly placed in as the Wicked Stepsister. As an aside, I do like that Lo takes the time to develop the below stairs characters, even if Ash only interacts with the staff at the Seatown house most of the time. It’s one of those things that I rarely see done (especially with Cinderella retellings), as it really illustrates the class divide and here, shows off Ash’s own hopes and desires.Despite the misstep of the climax and the resolution, I do really recommend this book. Lo’s style is beautiful, it sets the right tone without being too childish or high fantasy, and even when she relates the in-universe fairy tales, the stories neatly flow into one another. It’s a beautifully told story, especially of one that’s been reiterated so many times and Lo brings her own stamp on the tale while still retaining the familiar pieces. I’m very much looking forward to reading Huntress and Lo’s other works.* *coughshamelesspluggingcough*

Apocalypse Scenario #683: The Box

Apocalypse Scenario #683: The Box - Mira Grant A short, chilling read from Mira Grant (alias Seanan McGuire, Destroyer of Emotions) that takes a nihilistic but harmless game of “What if” and turns it far more destructive than its players could imagine. In the short amount of pages, Grant manages to give a detailed sketch of all of the players of the Apocalypse Scenario and how they may potentially react to the mysterious Box in front of them. My only real complaint is that she does tip the reader’s hand as to what’s going on, without giving enough suspension of disbelief as to what’s going on. It may fit with the Scenario’s creator, but from a narrative style, it’s a little too obvious and I didn’t feel doubt as to what’s going on.That said though, Grant manages pack a punch (as she so often does) in a few thousand words. It’s a fantastic little story, and while I won’t claim it’s a must-read-right-now, it is a spooky little read to keep in mind for the next few weeks.

Dare Me

Dare Me - Eric  Devine I’ve been sitting here waffling on what rating to ultimately give this book. Because there’s some good things that Devine does here, specifically with the main trio of boys he follows for the course of the story and their motivations and reactions. However, there’s also massively glaring problems with this book that ultimately dragged it down for me, and one in particular that does not make me want to recommend this book.I like it when teenagers in books are portrayed as more average teenagers—they’re not particularly intelligent or wordy or snarky, they just are, and sometimes that includes writing dumb teens doing stupid shit. It’s probably more evident due to the rise of YouTube and social media, as how many news stories in the past few years are centered around teenagers getting caught in the midst of criminal acts because of uploading them to social media sites? And it’s the central focus for Devine here, as the author acknowledges that this is a commentary on that sort of behavior. (Although I would argue more that what Ben and his friends do are more of a product of the post-Jackass imitators rather than the recent challenges.) I liked that there’s an exploration and an acknowledgment on Ben’s part that he does get an adrenaline rush from completing the stunts and the thought of doing the next one on the list. I even buy Ricky’s whole speech about wanting lasting high school glory and leaving their mark before graduation.There’s a few big snarls with this premise, though. First, I’m kind of disappointed that there’s no real escalation or discussion on how dangerous the stunts performed actually are. The only boy who suffers a deliberating injury is John, and even though the impact of him breaking his arm is discussed and essential to his character arc, there’s no continuing escalation of the danger. Which isn’t to say that Ben gets away physically okay, as the book ends with him losing sight in one eye and his love interest impaled on a corn stalk. (I have problems with the climax, more on that below.) I wanted to see more of the bruises and cuts, but aside from the one Christmas stunt, there’s no real acknowledgment of the less serious injuries. Mainly because most of the adult characters buy the boys’ explanations of how they got injured in the first place, and it’s a detail that’s especially egregious when you take Alexia’s story into this. Secondly—and this is a huge problem that I have with this book—is the identity of the boys’ benefactor and the lack of explanation of why a wealthy businessman would even think to provide these boys with the provisions to potentially injure themselves. Mainly because there’s NO RESOLUTION TO THIS. Oh, sure, the boys get caught and all is revealed but…why. I had a dozen explanations going through my head the entire time that I was reading this, and when I got to the reveal, I wanted to scream bullshit at the book. It doesn’t make sense. (It feels like there's an epilogue that got cut out for whatever reason that deals with the fallout of Alexia's injuries, the revelation of the boys' activities, and what the hell was going on the entire time. I would have liked to have read that thanks so much.)And it’s partially because Devine decides that there needed to be a “rich versus poor” narrative in this book. There’s several ways he could have gone about this, but having O.P. being wealthy is such a hard left field reveal makes the financial aspect ridiculous and nonsensical. There’s already a strand going on with Ben and Jesse’s rivalry over Alexia, and this just feels...stupid. Which is a shame, because Ben’s family’s financial situation is one of the parts that I did like about the book. I did get why Ben was so desperate to put himself through this physical torture to get money, to make his parents happy and maybe even get their old house back. It made sense with John, as he fucked up his other source of college funds by breaking his arm. And even though Ricky’s situation wasn’t completely explored, you can see why he would have been pulled in by the ad listing he finds in the first place. It actually works well, and again, given that teenagers generally don’t make the best decisions ever, it does make sense in the thinking “Dude, we get to be legends and make a shit-ton of cash!”The other major issue I have with this book is the treatment of women. I will not completely excuse Ben’s objectification of Chantel, but I also don’t fault him for it. I will fault Devine for writing Chantel and Alexia as respectively the slut and the damsel with no other character arc or definition beyond that. Making Chantel related to O.P. is a stupid plot excuse to even try to add depth to her character, and it makes me angry that that’s the only reason she’s a supporting character. Alexia’s story makes me angry. Alexia only exists as a trophy between Jesse and Ben, with the added bonus that Jesse abuses Alexia. The only reason Alexia exists as a love interest is for Ben to rescue her, literally and wishfully. The abusive relationship makes me angrier, because it feels like a flimsy excuse for Ben to rescue Alexia and never fully explores the ramifications and realities of being in an abusive relationship. And the line that Ben has about Alexia being strong feels like a cop-out, especially given what happens to her at the end of the book. And that ending is the main reason why I won’t recommend this. The escalation between Ben and Jesse not only takes away from the main mystery and conflict between the trio and O.P., but again, it only sets up Alexia as a prop. She has no purpose in the story aside from being the trophy and for all of Ben’s talk of how much he respects her and would treat her right, I have a really hard time believing it.Also, a very special mention to Ben’s sister Ginny, who becomes Ben’s confidante and hides the fact that her brother and his friends are harming themselves because she needs data for a research paper. Given the ramifications of what Ben and his friends were doing and police involvement throughout, I’m shocked that Ginny wasn’t arrested for endangering a minor. That, and I never got that Ginny or Ben actually cared for each other. I understand that they’re not close, but nothing about Ginny’s actions suggested that she was worried for Ben’s safety.Devine had a strong idea and concept, but ultimately fails in his writing and characterization. As an exploration of male friendships and the limits one is willing to go for to achieve personal fame and glory, he does succeed, but the lack of reasons and motivations of other characters, plus Ben’s relationships with Chantel and Alexia really killed this book for me. Which is a shame, because I was really looking forward to reading this when I got it at work. Ultimately, I really can’t recommend it on that basis.

Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke

Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love & Karaoke - Rob Sheffield I’m a nerd who was raised by the worst kind of nerds: music nerds. My parents pretty much raised me on music: my dad’s an entrenched singer-songwriter fan, and my mom will appreciate anything that she thinks is good; their marriage is backed with a soundtrack full of Springsteen and U2 and Dave Matthews and various other cuts. Me, I ended up with a healthy appreciation for all kinds of music, over 80 gigs of music on my computer and a rather worrying attachment to my iPod. (Considering my mental bluescreen whenever it decides to wipe itself.) So it’s really no surprise that I tend to get more attached to books that really utilize music. They don’t have to be about musicians or bands or singers, and I’ve found the books about music fans are the ones I respond to best. (This is also why that High Fidelity counts as one of my favorite movies. Well, that and John Cusack.) Enter Rob Sheffield. I picked up his debut memoir Love is a Mixtape shortly after it came out, and I’ve been a fan of his writing since. (His column is one of the few things I continue to actually read in Rolling Stone.) His brand of music nerdery responds a lot to mine wherein we just love music, okay? Sure there’s bad and good, but if you connect to it, then that’s what matters, right? So all that said. Turn Around Bright Eyes* is the proper follow-up to Love is a Mixtape, detailing the years of Sheffield’s widower life to him meeting his current wife. Like his other books, he uses a facet of the music fan to tell the story; from mix tapes to top ten lists and now karaoke. It’s not just the fact that karaoke brought him and his wife together, it’s what the idea of karaoke is about—getting up on stage and making a damn fool of yourself. And if that’s not a great metaphor for life, then I don’t know what is.Sheffield is a fantastic writer. I’ve actually been waffling on my recommendations of this book because you don’t have to read Love is a Mixtape before going into this, because Sheffield’s able to communicate his grief so well. Having read the first book does help with the full emotional weight of the first half of Turn Around… but you can go into this book without knowing the full details of Sheffield’s first marriage. And the first half of the book is fantastic. There’s a line in the first few chapters where Sheffield talks about living in New York City circa late 2001, about how he can’t escape death and mourning. And it’s through slowly escalating journeys away from all of that death that he begins to find himself again. My one issue with the book, though, is that it’s disjointed at points. I’m used to Sheffield going off and music nerding for a chapter or two; he’s done it in his previous books. However, the structure of Turn Around… doesn’t quite gel together. The first half was great, and while I like the other chapters dealing specifically with the workings of karaoke and karaoke performing—trust me, they’re really good too—structurally it doesn’t work. There’s one chapter just on rock-and-roll fantasy camps that doesn’t quite fit the rest of the book; it’s good but it feels weird to bring into a book about karaoke. (Not helping is the very overt mention that Sheffield went to the camp on a Rolling Stone assignment that got shelved.) There’s really not a lot of exploration with him meeting his current wife or their relationship—we get the details of their meeting and wry observations on Sheffield’s anxiety of being a boyfriend, but there’s a sharp cut to their engagement and no real examination of the relationship itself. I really wanted to see more of that in here.Still, it’s a great book. It manages to be funny and touching and sweet without dwelling on the grief or making it overly saccharine. And even the disjointed, music nerdery parts are still really good reads on their own (see the essays on the trajectory of “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” as karaoke anthems and Neil Diamond as proto-karaoke superstar). Sheffield’s books are a must for music fans, and this is a definite addition to my library. *I dare you to read that title and not burst out singing**. You can’t do it.**every now and then I fall apaaaaart…****** IN GERMAN!


Broken - Elizabeth Pulford, Angus Gomes One of my main arguments for YA books is that it’s much more innovative and genre-busting than what a lot of literary critics would deem it to be. For example, consider the wide appeal of comics/graphic novels/manga with YA readers and teens; it’s not a surprise that there are a lot of authors incorporating artwork into their books as part of the story-telling (see for instance, Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy.) However, the problem comes when the artwork doesn’t hold up to the work of the story-telling and can feel more like a popularity grab instead of being part of the story.It’s a glaring problem in Broken—the artwork manages to highlight how weak the story is in general and it comes off as gimmicky. Instead of naturally flowing into the story and highlighting minor details to add to the broken innerscape of Zara’s mind, we get a handful of panels randomly interspersed throughout the text that don’t add much to the story. There’s very few panels that let the moment speak for itself, and it feels more like padding at times. The art itself isn’t horrible (it’s passable with the idea that Zara is ‘drawing’ the art), but it’s very pedestrian and standard. Nothing about the artwork speaks for itself or can stand alone from the story. (It should also be mentioned that the in-universe comic book hero Hoodman and Dark Eagle read like what people think high concept comic books are like. The concept sounds interesting sure, but Pulford and Gomes fail at pulling off the effectiveness of the artwork.) The art wouldn’t have been as much of an issue with me if it also wasn’t for the fact that the story here is incredibly weak. Pulford takes two separate events in Zara’s life—her abduction and captivity by a stranger when she was seven and her brother Jem’s death and her being in a coma as the main story—and tries to force them together without drawing a strong enough connection between the two plotlines. There’s several issues surrounding the larger problem. The timeline and plot moves around randomly, without any clear indication of how Zara’s remembering things. More time is spent on Zara’s friends and why Jem loves a particular comic instead of developing the relationship between him and Zara. Whenever Zara talks about being abducted, so much of what happened is obscured to the point that the eventual reveal of what she confessed to Jem is not only a letdown, but doesn’t make any sense! Her captor wanted to be a “mommy?” Great. What does that have to do with anything? It’s repeatedly stated that Zara needs to face the truth, but this isn’t that big of a reveal. The abduction plotline makes absolutely no sense. I understand that Zara has tried to move on from it and that she’s outwardly presenting being okay nowadays, but…There’s no underlying sense that Zara’s broken in the first place. Is her inner journey about accepting the fact that Jem’s gone and she doesn’t have anyone she could trust that implicitly? But even then there’s no real understanding on Zara’s part that Jem’s gone. And I get that Zara needs to talk about what happened to other people, but again, there’s no real pay-off. We don’t even find out who her captor was! The last page of the book is just telling us that he’s been captured, but no revelation of who it is. We don’t even know if Zara’s seen the guy in years, it’s just “Nope, we need to kinda resolve this!” If there had been stronger build-up with the abduction and more of an impact—maybe Zara being more distressed and wild after the report of a similar abduction—that would have made more sense to me. It’s also very disconcerting that her captor doesn’t read as a monster who sexually abused Zara, at least to me. I’m not ignoring that he’s very sick and disturbed, but the implication that her captor has mental illness is somewhat insulting. (Plus the implication that he’s genderqueer …*sigh*)The characters are…bland. They’re not terrible, and I definitely was expecting worse from this. But there’s nothing that says to me that Zara’s an engaging heroine who’s going to confront her dark past with the power of ARTWORK! She reads like a teenager who says she likes art. Except there’s nothing there. There’s nothing endearing Zara to the reader. As I mentioned above, her relationship with Jem doesn’t even make that huge of an impact on the story. There’s no real weight to Jem’s death either—it feels emotionally convenient to force the plot in motion. Jem never feels like a character in his own right, therefore losing half of the book’s weight and meaning. But even outside of Zara and Jem, none of the other characters ever get fleshed out beyond what Zara thinks of them. Trace is the most rounded character of the supporting cast, but even then I don’t think her character is fully fleshed and realized. A lot of characterization is given to us via Zara infodumping and so none of them ever get a chance to grow in the reader’s head.I can see a through line with what Pulford wanted to do with this. But the catalyst for Zara’s journey and the truth she has to face doesn’t fit together and the lack of payoff is not only frustrating, but somewhat insulting and narrow-minded. The characterization doesn’t help with an already-crippled story and what may have worked as a strong character study ultimately reaches short of its goal. While the artwork could have given Broken a leg up, it’s frankly pedestrian and doesn’t add anything to the story. It’s not a horrible story, but extremely lacking. Honestly, I would say to skip this, because while there’s nothing to outright condemn the book, there’s also nothing for me to recommend reading any part of it.

Love Is the Higher Law

Love Is the Higher Law - Only someone like David Levithan could write a book about 9/11 and manage to hit me with the Sledgehammer of the Feels. It’s not to belittle the day nor what happened, but let’s be fair here—9/11 has been used as a cheap emotional plot point, or it could be taken that way in the eyes of some critics. Anyone of my generation knows exactly where they were and what they were doing when it happened. (HS sophomore ceramics class, second period.) And as current events have shown, every September someone’s going to pick off the scab and all the emotional wounds come pouring out again. So yes, I was a bit skeptical going into this book. (I picked it up because I was on a post- Every Day high and it was at the used book store.) Not because I thought that Levithan would go for cheap emotional responses, but more due to my own jaded feelings on the subject. Here’s the thing that I love about Levithan’s work—his human connections feel genuine. While there may be complicated circumstances to throw two characters in the same room together, it never feels forced. And neither does the connection. A lesser writer would have forced the three main characters to cross paths repeatedly. Or have made it more obvious that these three have met. But the great thing about Jasper, Claire and Peter is that they’re already somewhat mutual friends, but they’re not that close. And what does eventually bring them together isn’t specifically 9/11, but rather through reaching out to the people that they already knew. It’s one of the strongest aspects of the book as a whole, I liked that Levithan highlights this friendship growing stronger because of Claire finding solace in her friends. The idea of human connection isn’t due to grand circumstances or random encounters (even though how Jasper and Peter initially meet is due to a random encounter, but it’s never played up in text), it’s making those connections stronger.And everyone’s feelings feel genuine as well. I hate to keep bringing it up and treating it like “Nobody ever could write a genuine realistic feelings and emotions in any book about Huge Recent Historical Events”…but it does feel more real and emotional here. I don’t harp on Claire for being so scared and feeling so alone as she walks the city at night. I don’t hate Jasper for feeling indifferent and trying to come off as sarcastic about everything. They feel human. It feels real. It’s recognizing the fact that not everyone is going to have identical responses to the same event. I love that Jasper feels tempted to ask a cab driver if it gets any easier to hear passengers say how things look so different now. It’s not Jasper being flippant, it’s something that I think someone would think—maybe not always right after it happened, but eventually. I do have a bias towards Peter, mainly because of the fact that he’s a music geek. And specifically, that he uses music to help and ease his own thoughts and feelings about 9/11. I love that it opens with him going to get a Bob Dylan album—and there’s a later detail that someone eventually buys it for him—and that thread of music keeps occurring throughout his narration. I loved the parallels of the two concert scenes in his narration; the quiet affirmation of the Next show that everything is going to be okay again one day and the huge anthemic reprise at the U2 show at the start of the final third. (Oh, and fail on me for not realizing that the title of the book is from “One.” )(Personal anecdote tangent time: when I was reading the U2 scene in particular, hand to God, my iPod decides to throw up “Walk On.” I kinda stared at it for a moment and just went NOPE. NOPE. I DON’T NEED THE EMOTIONS RIGHT NOW and switched the song.) It’s a book with a very thin plot, and it’s outright stated in the author’s note that this is Levithan’s way of working out what he was feeling on 9/11 and for the months afterward. But it doesn’t feel like he’s dumping HERE HAVE ALL OF MY THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS AND DISCUSS on to the reader. And I think the title sums it up beautifully—love is such a higher law, that it will always transcend hate (mainly by taking the lyric out of context; I forgive Levithan for it though because it’s a great point on his part). I love that we get to see Jasper and Peter’s relationship evolve throughout the book, from “random acquaintances with a kick-ass mutual friend” to “let’s try again and see if we don’t work.” (Oh, the emails. My heart.) And Claire never really feels regulated to the side for being a third wheel or the standard gay guy’s chick friend. (I actually really like her and Peter’s friendship.) I really liked that we get to see the year through their lives between the anniversaries, and that while the day is always going to be there in the back of their minds, 9/11 doesn’t dictate everything that these three do with their lives.It’s worth a read, yes. I don’t know if I’d put as a “You HAVE to read this book RIGHT NOW,” but it’s a definite read. As I said, I personally picked it up because “Oh hey, David Levithan book I haven’t seen cool.” But I do recognize the issues with the subject matter and that some people may not be as willing to jump into this book as I was. So…I guess it would have to be, if you’re interested do; if not, well, try to give a shot sometime and see if you like it. From what I’ve read so far of Levithan’s books, his works are always worth a read, but I do realize that not everyone will think the same.
The Shapeshifters: The Kiesha'ra of the Den of Shadows - Amelia Atwater-Rhodes Ah, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, the purple prose enabler of my youth. (I’m not slamming her; look, she was fourteen when In the Forests of the Night was published, the writing’s not perfect. She’s gotten better.) Between seventh and tenth grade, I devoured the entire Den of Shadows quartet and loved them. And then I read Hawksong and that was the last book I read by her until All Just Glass came out a few years ago. It’s not that I wasn’t interested at all in the Kiesha’ra series, I just never got around to reading them as they were being released.I’m also going to review this as one whole book, as opposed to reviewing it by volume. Because this is one continuous story, just experienced by different characters. And there lies on of my big problems with the books and Atwater-Rhodes’s writing—she really doesn’t do a lot to differentiate voices from book to book. I understand that yes, Nicias is going to sound more like Danica due to their upbringing, but Zane comes off cold and distant in his book, and it’s been established that he doesn’t have emotional reserve. It’s more jarring to me in here than it was with her other omnibus, especially reading this in one go, and it makes the book feel extremely dry. It doesn’t bother me for every book—her narrative style does work in Hawksong and Wolfcry. It just doesn’t gel with the characterization of the narrators at time.But the really weak part of this whole series, and this is a problem that I have with nearly all of her books, is that Atwater-Rhodes cannot write a decent climax to save her life. She does great character studies. I like it when her climaxes are contained and small battles and the big breakthrough is for the character emotionally. Here, this feels like she so wants this series to be big and epic and sweeping and every single volume ends with the characters talking at one another. I get the backstory, I do. I get that this world has seen so much bloodshed that none of the main characters wants to continue…but I never get the idea that the stakes are high enough that bloodshed will be inevitable. Only one major named character dies in this series, and her murderers are brought to justice without a big fuss. (Andreios doesn’t count in my book. I may have swore a lot at that reveal.) There’s so much talk about the falcons being a constant danger in the post-war world, but they don’t really do anything except swoop and talk about “Yeah, you’re all going to die if you continue to live together.” Everything about this series feels too easy. One of my main problems with Hawksong is that each side manages to handle their respective leaders marrying for politics with relative ease. Aside from Charis Cobriana’s assassination and Danica’s near-assassination (which feels more like a move of jealousy, not politics), there’s no on-screen escalation of violence. And it never escalates in any of the further books. The only time we get an exploration of how complicated things are is in Wolfcry, and Oliza’s internal struggle about choosing a mate. That book really does illustrate that while Wyvern’s Court may look like a haven of peace, there’s still old wounds and struggles and it’s all piled on top of Oliza until she can’t take it anymore. Wolfcry is one of the few instances across the series where I didn’t mind the protagonists talking at the climax until it backs down because it made sense.Falcondance and Wyvernhail were the two weakest books in the series, in my honest opinion. While I consider the world-building one of the strongest aspects of these books (and why I’m actually planning on picking up the Maeve’ra books when they come out), I do not like the falcons. They have a larger purpose in the narrative, but every time a falcon from Ahnmik shows up it feels like they’re only there to be mysterious and ancient. They don’t make as huge of an impact as they should on the books, especially since Nicias and Hai are major players in the end. And Wyvernhail in particular. Again, I get what Atwater-Rhodes is doing with Hai’s visions. But nothing in the plot completely suggests that everything’s going to die and a lot of character actions feel forced, or rather, Hai automatically jumps to conclusions. It feels jarring when the character decides “Fuck what the future holds,” when I can’t see the logical conclusion from “Oh Oliza will have to take the throne after all” to DEATH AND DESTRUCTION. (It’s not that I dislike Snakecharm save for the ONE THING ABOUT REI. SORRY NOT THAT UPSET. You can also tell how long it’s been since I’ve actually read the first book because the flashbacks to Sebastian and Danica meeting for the first time had me going “What, was that in the first book originally?” Anyway. Snakecharm’s not bad, it’s good. It’s just more a breather book and expands more on the history of the avians and the serpentiente.) Again, I do give Atwater-Rhodes credit for creating a series with a complex mythology and sticking with it. (Den of Shadows mythology was wibbly at points.) But the lack of any consequence or stakes pretty much kills my enjoyment of the series. I don’t know if I would have liked the Kiesha’ra better if I had originally read the individual volumes, but the omnibus really illustrates the problems with Atwater-Rhodes’s writing, especially since it does begin to feel repetitive when the solution to each book is the exact. Same. Method. I’m not saying that it’s a terrible series, but I do feel like it’s a weak one. Again, I’m hoping that the upcoming Maeve’ra will fill in some of the large plot issues (particularly with the falcons).

How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea

How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea (Newsflesh #3.1) - Mira Grant Y’know, I would be totally fine if Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire wrote more Newsflesh novellas like this one. Not that I’m begging her to, but I’d love to see more of this universe, and this novella in particular is a great semi-sequel to the trilogy. Most extra stories and sequels I’ve read mainly focus on wrapping up loose ends and making fans happy. This is what I really want from sequel stories—just checking in on the characters, a few months or years down the road and then leaving them be. I don’t really want explanations, or tying up minor plot threads or Babies Ever After; sometimes I do, but not all the time. And really helping here is the very obvious fact that the Masons are nowhere to be found in this novella. The focus is on Mahir, and while we do find out some new news about the After the End Times crew, what I really love about this novella is how routine it is. Aside from the first half of Feed, we never got to see how journalism and trips like Mahir’s function in the Newsflesh-verse. (And even that first half, it’s established that the presidential campaign is a huge deal and not standard journalism.) There’s no major conspiracy at play here, and while the characters’ lives may be in danger, it’s because they live in a world with zombies not because shadowy government figures are actively trying kill them. It’s kind of refreshing to read. (Yes, I consider this to be an improvement to this series. In a good way.)And it’s all illustrated by the setting. In a world that’s so defined by safety, Australia isn’t just an anomaly, it’s so disorienting for Mahir to even be outside. His sense of amazement of just being outside on a regular basis comes across so well—even though we spent a book and a half with Mahir running around America. It says so much about the world-building and the writing that even something as mundane-seeming as eating in an outside café is treated like an exotic experience. And yet, this appearance of complete freedom is shown to have its drawbacks. The main conflict here isn’t “Who’s picking off zombie kangaroos and how do we stop them?”; it’s the idea that people are just as important as conservation and that they will prevail. And for a series that gets as bleak as Newsflesh does (a lot), it’s a really affirming message. It’s not as revolutionary of a statement as “Rise up while you can,” but it still works really well. (While it feels like “Oh, Australia is already full of things that can kill you; let’s zombify ALL OF THEM” could have been a really easy running gag, I love that Grant still manages to make these things dangerous while acknowledging the absurdity. The zombie kangaroos were pretty terrifying and disturbing, especially with the description of the moaning. *brr* However, THE ZOMBIE WOMBAT. “We are being menaced by a teddy bear.” *dies*) I also loved meeting Jack and Olivia. As I noted in the original trilogy, it was hard to forget at times that ATET wasn’t just a handful of people shacking up in California and Mahir, but rather an extensive global network of blogger journalism. It also helps that Jack and Olivia are struggling journalists who, despite having positions at a prestigious site, don’t have the ratings to back them up. And everything about this story exemplifies that: again, there’s no conspiracy; it’s just a small story about Australia’s new and zombie ‘rabbit-proof fence’ and Mahir’s helping his new hires get a leg up. But it doesn’t mean that it’s full of danger or that Grant skimps on the characterization. While both Jack and Olivia read as atypical Australians (Olivia being cheerful and nonchalant about everything; Jack, true to his pop cultural heritage, is an Irwin), they’re never treated as naïve or blinded by the realities of the world around them. I really loved their friendship and professional relationship; again, if we get more Newsflesh stories, I want more of them. It should also be worth pointing out that in the larger events of Newsflesh, there are some continuing events from the end of Blackout. While the last book ended with the decision to keep the truth about reservoir conditions secret, we actually see scientists who were never affiliated with the CDC realizing that complete K-A immunity is possible and that we may find a cure. They’re not screaming from the rooftops about this discovery, but I love the detail that this is a thing that’s not going to be secret for much longer.Again, this is how to do a series continuation. Unlike Countdown and Last Stand of the California Browncoats, which really only served to expand on world-building for the series proper, this is much more of a breather story. I loved being able to check in on Mahir after things have calmed down, and I really loved that we got to see how journalism normal works in this world of zombies and conspiracies. But it’s not just a fluff piece meant to satiate fans until Parasite comes out—it does have something to say. I absolutely loved this story, and again, I want more.
Shut Out - Kody Keplinger As I was reading through this, my mind kept going back to Elizabeth Eulberg’s The Lonely Hearts Club. While this isn’t a direct comparison of the two books, as the circumstances between the respective strikes are different, I really couldn’t help but doing a compare and contrast. Obviously, Eulberg has a more lighter affair that sugarcoats its message of sisterhood solidarity, while Kody Keplinger isn’t afraid to boil the argument down to girls and their sexual partnerships. (I give Keplinger a lot of credit for exploring teen girl sexuality frankly in the two books I’ve read by her so far. There’s still some problematic elements—I’ll get to them later—but given the realism of her characters, I don’t blame her for said problematic elements.) Yet, despite the surface maturity of Keplinger’s and its stronger focus on sex as a weapon, there are strong similarities between the two books: incredibly rash decisions by teen girls against boys, female bonding, and conflicting feelings brought on by hormones.Just had to get that out of the way, because it was sticking in my head as I was reading Shut Out. Focusing on this book proper, I’ve never read Lysistrata but I do know the vague plot details of it through other mentions in pop culture. (There was an episode of M*A*S*H that uses the withholding sex as a plot device. Yeah.) And as far as YA retellings go, this one isn’t as bad or rote as I’ve seen. (Although that could also be due to the fact that Lysistrata isn’t as well-known as say, freaking Pride & Prejudice.) It helps that Lissa does read the actual play after the strike begins and does acknowledge the similarities between her situation and the events of the play. Which is something that I’ve never really seen in other retellings/reworkings, especially when the source material is older and considered canonical. However, there are two problems overall with the main set up. The whole rivalry between the football and soccer team feels extremely weighted in the soccer team’s favor. Lissa makes a point that both teams have gotten extremely out of hand (to the point that—athlete worship aside—official actions should have been taken) . But it feels that the football team carries the majority of the blame and the escalating violence, and we never get to see the soccer team get out of hand. No matter how small the injury, physically harming someone is more serious than getting egged while trying to make it with your boyfriend. There’s nothing to suggest that the soccer players are as bad as the football players in terms of retaliation. And it’s partially because that we never get to know anyone associated with the soccer team. Of the assembled girlfriends, the only named girl is Ellen, and we never get to see anyone else aside from Cash and Ellen’s boyfriend Adam. (May I point out what a missed opportunity Ellen is? Lissa mentions that the rivalry tore them apart as friends, but it never feels like they were particularly close. Really, if the rivalry is bad enough to dump your best friend, I’d actually use that as the catalyst for a sex strike, not “We got egged again.”)I never feel like I get to know any of these characters intimately well. Even Lissa, who is the narrator, doesn’t feel as fully fleshed out. I do like that she’s a flawed character and that her flaws are not only called out by Cash and her other friends, but Lissa herself acknowledges her frosty exterior. (Again, I give Keplinger credit for writing realistic main characters, and that realistic doesn’t necessarily mean bland.) But while I do get why Lissa is so overprotective of her family and others, we never get to see another side of her. I never get why her being a virgin is a big deal or why she won’t sleep with Randy—which wouldn’t be an issue if it wasn’t a minor plot point. I’m not asking for every single detail of Lissa’s life, but I wanted there to be more to her. Similarly, Cash isn’t fleshed out either. We do find out his history with Lissa from the past summer, and his home life, but there’s not much to Cash aside from being charming and his belligerent sexual tension with Lissa. I get that he’s the major love interest, but there’s nothing that grabs me and makes me want to ship him and Lissa.And I would chalk up the lack of character development to the fact that this book is too short. The plot is rushed, there’s no real room for character growth and I think the book suffers for it. I’m not asking for a 500 page tome, but beefing up the story would have helped not only the characters, but the plot as well. There’s no heated battle of the sexes here; at best, we get a few skirmishes. There’s no heated retaliation from the boys’ side, and I would have liked to have seen things go a little out of control. I do like that Lissa doesn’t realize right away that the boys have banded together, but there needed to be more build-up to the ending. If there was one thing that I do like, it’s the discussion of female sexuality and the hypocrisy of “Girls are either sluts or prudes and there’s no in-between.” It’s not a perfect discussion, but given that we are talking about a group of high schoolers, I don’t exactly blame the problematic slang thrown around the girls’ slumber party. What I do respect is that Lissa doesn’t judge any of the girls for their sexual experience or lack thereof. Chloe repeatedly talks about why she sleeps around and isn’t particularly demonized for it (aside from repeated uses of ‘slut’). While Mary gets criticism for choosing to wait to have sex at first, Lissa does stand up for Mary and the other girls do see that being a virgin doesn’t necessarily equal being a prude. Again, it’s not a perfect discussion, but it is more frank than YA lit that allows its heroines to have sex…but not too much sex. But aside from that, the real problem of this book is the pacing issue. This is only 273 pages, and I felt that there could have been so much more done with the story and the characters. There’s a lot that I feel like I wasn’t told about Lissa or Cash and that we could have really seen a true battle (as far as high school intersex battles can go) resulting in a bigger climax and character development for Lissa. It’s not a bad book, but it’s very weak. I’d really stick with Keplinger’s debut for now.
Rosemary and Rue - Seanan McGuire As I said my review of Discount Armageddon, I’ve just experienced the wonderful feeling of finding an author and going SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY. And as I said, despite my urge to just up and buy every single one of Seanan McGuire’s books, I exercised the tiny amount of willpower I can summon when it comes to book buying and picked up her first books in her respective series.Toby Daye is very different from InCryptid, and probably runs more standard to what most people think of as straight urban fantasy. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t like it! Again, I’m just pointing out that this is a different tone than the other books of McGuire’s that I’ve read so far. (May I give mad props to Seanan McGuire for being able to pull this off? Sure, she has similar traits across the three series that I’ve read, but tonally they’re able to stand on their own. Which I love it when an author’s able to shift their style from book to book.) The noir style fits surprisingly well with the darker look at the fae world, and I really liked Toby and the world built here.I loved the opening prologue. The ending of that first chapter throws a surprising punch when it’s revealed how long Toby spent as a fish and how much time has passed. A lot of fiction that deals with Faerie always brings up the whole time-distortion, mainly within the Faerie Homelands of Your Choice (which is also in here), but the prologue here really sets up Toby’s character for the rest of the book. We get to see her dealing with a loving family that she’s created for herself and how she’s managed to reconcile her two worlds as best as she can. And to have that cruelly ripped away from Toby isn’t just a shocker, but it gives a deeper meaning to why Toby is so damaged and distant from all of her friends. I am a little mixed that Simon and Oleander don’t appear in the main mystery, but it does feel like they will be important later on in the series.One of the reasons why I really liked this book is that it’s one of the very few examples that really get into how faeries would work in the modern world. For example, there is an actual difference between cold iron and modern appliances—which is exemplified in the death of Evening Winterrose. It’s not a problem that I’ve had with other faerie books, but I liked that it’s mentioned that McGuire’s fae can exist in the modern world, even to the point of acclimating to current technology. I also love how the knowes are hidden throughout San Francisco and the differences between each of the courts.As for Toby herself, I really liked here. It’s too easy to write her off as “tragic and daaark” but again, the opening really establishes why she’s cold and distant—it’s not just the fourteen years she lost with her family, it’s also the failure of locating Luna and Rayseline even after they’ve been returned to Sylvester and Shadowed Hills. Toby even recognizes that her exile is self-imposed and that her friends do expect her to return to society…but she doesn’t feel ready. And yet, I liked that her friends were accommodating of Toby—that even though they’re ready to have Toby back into their lives, they’re willing to give her space until she’s ready. It’s a really different take on the whole dark loner type, and it’s one of the things that got me more interested in the book.The other thing that I love is the Fae and the various creatures and its mythologies and oh about everything about it. I really liked that even though the featured fae creatures are largely based in European backgrounds, there are other cultures’ fae bleeding into this society. (For example, Sylvester’s wife, Luna is a kitsune.) I liked that we did get a good idea of what most of the fae are like, even with small glimpses into one or two characters’ personalities. It’s one of the reasons why I’m really excited to read the rest of the series and see how much more in this world there is. (OH and I love Spike the rose goblin. Mainly because he’s a cat. With thorns and a naturally nice smell.) As for the main mystery and revelation, it really works more along with Toby’s personal journey. While I didn’t call that Devin was the one behind Evening’s death, he definitely rubbed me the wrong way and I did suspect him in having some hand in the larger events of Toby’s life and curse. (Also not helping was that I had heard that Devin’s involvement with Toby was problematic, and coming off of Discount Armageddon which had a similar reveal). It does make sense given the larger events, but it feels obvious that Devin’s not a rogue with a heart of gold. Again, if you take this just as Toby’s own personal journey as the story, it does work a lot better with the reveal and ending; it’s just the murder that’s not quite gelling for me. (Side note—I do like how Evening curses Toby in order to force her to keep working on the case. Mainly in how it keeps cropping up every day and how violent it is.) Overall, I did really enjoy the first Toby Daye book, and looking forward on getting my mitts on more of her exploits. It’s a very different tone than what I’ve read of McGuire’s work thus far (deadpan snarker narrators aside), but I like the more overtly dark tone and noir feel of this series. Must resist blowing my bank account on buying every single volume.

Changelings & Other Stories

Changelings & Other Stories - Leah Cypess Eh. I would have rated this higher, seeing as a lot of the stories in this collection are right up my alley—dark fantasy and alternate realities. Unfortunately, Cypress tends to end a lot of these with a more positive spin than one would think would happen. (See the titular first stories, “Changelings” which ends on such a complete 180; it makes sense in-universe, but the tone is so sudden and different, it jolted me out of the story.) The overall prose isn’t bad, I just don’t like the sudden “lighter and softer” change a lot of the stories had.