Sunday, December 8, 2013

Holiday Time Again

It's the holidays again, and for once there is no power outage and my husband isn't deployed. We've been in this house three years, and this is the first time we've put decorations out. So you can understand that we're quite excited.

Wow. It certainly has been a while since I wrote a blog post. A lot has happened recently, and I also haven't read a book that I cared to write a review about. I've decided to re-read the Harry Potter books. I love them and appreciate them more now than I did as a kid. There are a few things that Rowling does in her writing that I don't much like (for instance using capital letters, exclamation points, and dialogue tags like "roared" all in one go) but it doesn't really spoil my enjoyment that much. I should be starting the last book tomorrow. I've been flying through them at light speed and cannot wait to Book 7.

Then I will be starting Clockwork Princess to finish up the Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare. (You can find the reviews to the previous two books here and here.) It will be an interesting endeavor since Princess managed to chase off some of her most loyal fans.

The writing is going... uh... we, it's going. I'm in the last seven chapters of my editing and I almost have the outline for the sequel done. I still have a lot of research I have to do for the next book, but nothing that will stop me from starting the novel right away.

And my blog has officially had over 10,000 views by perfect strangers who never leave any comments. That's awesome, but the lack of interaction kind of bums me out. If you are one of these wayward people, or someone who reads regularly, don't be afraid to say, "Hi," before running off. It's cool. I don't bite.

So there you have it. My really boring, entirely uneventful life update. I look forward to torturing you all to more book reviews soon.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: Clockwork Prince

I posted this review on Goodreads October 9th. I know, I'm a bit late posting it here. That's what happens when a vacation is rushing up on you and you have to get something done. So here it is. This review is one of my "bad YA reviews" that has gained me a following of about 6 people.

Audience, I give you my review of Clockwork Prince.

Clockwork Prince (The Infernal Devices, #2)Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

So, here we are again. Me and another one of these books written by a certain somebody that I will not name because I'm trying to behave. I need to learn to do that you know, but it's not going to stop me from writing a critical review.

In fact, I'm going to do something different this time around. I've decided that I'm going to just type. There are a few things I want to go over. I'm going to discuss Will's curse, and Will and Jem's relationship in relation to the curse and the whole Tessa thing. I'll throw in a couple bad similes for entertainment purposes. Then I'll just throw in whatever else I have scribbled in my notes and see how it goes. I'm going to cross my fingers and hope I'm still sane by the end.

WARNING: The following has spoilers, griping, whining, and no time for trolls.

Last Book Recap: Tessa is special. Creepy old dude wants to marry her for... reasons? Two boys fall in love with her. Her brother ends up being a greedy snake. Tessa scares away creepy old dude with fake suicide. The end.

Right off the bat, a few thoughts.

You don't ever see Mortmain in this, ever. There is a lot about him, but you never see him. A couple of his lackeys get busted/killed, but that's about it. Oh, and the best part, the title of this book is actually a reference to Mortmain. Yup. Check page 156 of the hardcover for proof.

And Jessamine's characterization. I can't even go there. I will start breaking things.

Okay, I've decided to start out with Will's curse, because there is no excuse anyone could use to justify how much of jackass he really is. How do I put this? When a character spends most of the last two books being like this:

Then they have no excuse to say, "I was totally faking. I was just afraid to love you and get you all killed because I thought a demon put a curse on me. I'm sorry. Let's all hug and dance and smile. Maybe have some tea together. The curse is fake. Let us celebrate."

Do you know why it doesn't excuse Will's behavior? Because a) he never told anyone that he thought he was cursed. Even when he found out, he didn't tell anyone but Tessa and Magnus. And b) he said all that mean stuff to people - like telling Tessa she should sleep with him because she might be barren - even though just about everyone in the house obviously cared for him in some way. So his idea where he would just be mean and broody to everyone to push them away didn't work, at all. Ever. Charlotte and Henry are like his big brother and sister. It's obvious with how much of his crap they put up with that they love him unconditionally. It's nice that Will recognizes that allowing himself to be best bros with Jem is really a dick move because he's dying, but Jem comes across as the kind of person who would have tried to be friends with Will regardless.

And let me tell you something about myself. I have a thing for guys with dark hair and blue eyes, yet I was not even close to being like, "He's dreamy." You want to know why? I asked my husband - who has dark hair and blue eyes - if he was cursed so that everyone he ever loved died, what he would do. His response: "Live every moment with them like it was the last one I was ever going to have." Now I get Will was 12 when he decided to do this, but the writer could have made him a relatively wise 12 year old and given him this perspective on life. He could have run off to want to be a Shadow-hunter because of the demon killing his sister. That's reasonable enough. The curse just makes the story feel like it's trying to make excuses for Will, like everyone else.

Now that I've told you what I think about Will's "curse", dear reader, I'm going to go into his relationship with Jem.

"But Tessa's the main character. Why not talk about her?"

Oh, I'll get to her. Especially when it comes to Will and Jem's relationship, because that is the thing that bothers me the most.

Okay, in Clockwork Angel the writer couldn't stop hitting us over the head with how these two were parabatai. She finally explains what it is, and in a nutshell, they're essentially attached at the soul. They're supposed to be able to "feel" each other all the time, even when separated. You would think that with this type of connection that you would have a stronger sense of what your soul-linked battle buddy is feeling.

In CA, this seemed pretty apparent. Will would be a complete jerk, and Jem would shake his head with a smirk on his face because he has an idea of what Will is really like. Will would buy Jem's treatments and take care of him when he's too sick. It was pretty apparent that they were really, really close. I actually kind of liked their friendship. You could see why they were compatible and why they might be drawn to each other as people. Jem understands that Will needs to protect his soul with his mask of cynicism and hostility; and Will understands that Jem is insecure about his illness and tries to treat him as a normal human being in front of people while caring for him behind closed doors.

This base to springboard off of is pretty solid. As much as I'm not a fan of this particular writer, she has her moments. So, what does happen with these two in Clockwork Prince. Naturally, the writer ruins their friendship.

With two BFFs in love with Tessa, you would think that you would get some really good, but believable drama. Or you would see a beautiful, but heartbreaking gesture of sacrifice as one friend lets the other have the girl of his dreams. (For now, I'm going to ignore Tessa's role in all this. I'll get to that in a moment.) So, what happens? Jem and Will never talk about the girl(s) they like or ever pick up that one of them may be crushing on someone special. Not even Jem, who seems pretty good at handling his friend, notices that Will is especially nasty to Tessa. It's like a formula:

Will + dickish behavior(n) = He likes you, with n representing the level of dickishness.

Yeah, like I buy that they don't shoot the breeze while they clean weapons, or while Will hangs out next to Jem's bedside. All it takes it a, "So, what do you think about, Tessa?" To confirm that men talk about feelings for girls, I asked my husband. Guess what, they do. If they're your best bud, it always comes up. Girls talk about guy problems and guys talk about girl problems. It's a part of close platonic relationships. Will and Jem are supposed to trust each other absolutely, which involves communication. There is no way they would have made it all the way to the engagement scenes without the other knowing.

Do you know how the writer could have handled it instead? Let's take Will and his "curse" fear. He likes Tessa, okay, but finds out Jem has taken a shine to her. Instead of trying to act like he wants to get up Tessa's skirt, he could guide her towards Jem. It's a lot more likeable behavior, especially since Tessa likes Jem, and is a lot better than whatever that engagement drama was. I swear I was almost physically sick there towards the end.

Oh, and the Will-drug den event. I don't think it fit the characterization that the writer had set up for him. He's known Tessa for like 3 weeks and Jem for years. I think Will would be more likely to get drunk on cheap beer and then stumble home. I admit that I liked seeing Jem get upset about it and slug Will, but even I wasn't sure that it fit with the previous narrative logic and I don't even like Will.

Which brings me to Tessa, who only serves to create problems between the two in really strange ways. She is the center of the love triangle, and thus has power to control what happens. This love triangle takes the center of the story, so we aren't even going to go into the plot (which I thought was okay) because there isn't enough of it.

Tessa spends many, many paragraphs comparing the two. It's how she fills the negative space between the plot points, and there is a lot of negative space. (So it quickly grows annoying.)

Take the following passage. It takes place when our intrepid threesome (get your mind out of the gutter) are riding in the carriage to the York train station to return to London.
"[Jem] looked not ill but very tired, though his exhaustion only served to point up the delicacy of his features. His beauty did not blaze like Will's did in fierce colors and repressed fire, but it had its own muted perfection, the loveliness of snow falling against a silver-gray sky." (p. 135)
Tessa continues to compare them physically without actually moving into emotional concerns except love or frustration. This scene is perfect example because they're all wet and cold. Jem is ill, but Tessa never shows any concern that their soggy state might affect his well-being. She just sits there and thinks, "He's pretty. They both are." And Jem wants to marry her.

Tessa flip flops between the boys without really being honest with them till toward the end of the novel after Jem proposes to her. She says yes to marrying Jem, but I have the feeling she only does it because he's dying, not because she really wants to. She says she loves both of them, but she thinks of Will and how pretty he is a lot more. While she does tell Will that she can't be involved with him anymore after being engaged to Jem, Will agrees that he and Tessa shouldn't tell Jem they were ever involved so that he can be happy before he dies.

Considering how Jem feels about his illness, I believe he would be more upset knowing about their dalliances later than before. Sick people often don't like being treated like they're sick. (Depending on the personality of course.) Jem seems to like his independence when he has it, so if he found out Will kept the truth from him because he was sick, then logic dictates he would be very upset.

But we all know that isn't going to be how this writer handles it because it requires rationality.

Moving on.

I mentioned in my review of CA that the writer has a certain obsession with appearance, and it shows. Characters are often judged or represented by physical appearance instead of by emotions, actions, and other non-aesthetic qualities. Tessa never thinks of Jem as the super sweet gentleman who likes to share his favorite things with her, or Will as the snarky book lover who cheats at memorization.

Now, to lighten things up a bit, I'm going to do a few "What?" descriptions. I love weird similes.
"Will smiled brilliantly as if complimented, though Tessa, seeing the malice under his smile, thought of light sparking off the cutting edge of a razor." (p. 19) First off, why not just say his smile was creepy. Second, use a dictionary when you write. "Sparking?" These books.

Describing Will's eyes: "His eyes were as blue as lakes..." (p. 67) I've seen green lakes, gray lakes, and lakes so clear and perfect they reflected the surrounding scenery. But the writer would have to observe life to know that.

"She felt pulled to him, like iron filings to a magnet." (p. 114) I don't see how this is romantic, unless you're a couple of scientists.

"... the gray light in the room made his eyes glow an almost unearthly blue, like a cat's." (p. 114) When the way the human eye actually works is considered, along with how light refracts, this is physically impossible. And it just sounds weird.

To describe Magnus' sparks: "They still crackled with blue energy, like heat lightning." (p. 291) Lightning is heat. You know those quick moving particles that make fire, move them faster and you get electricity. Science, people! Know it.

Now that's over with, I do have one final thing I wanted to bring up. Yeah, it's about research again. There is this passage where Tessa describes her first experience wearing "gear." (I hate that freaking word.)
"It was strange... going up a flight of stairs and not having to worry about pulling in your skirts or tripping on the hem. Though her body was completely covered, she felt peculiarly naked in her training gear." (p.50)
This story is set in 1878, Tessa would already be used to the feeling of air around her legs since women wore bifurcated drawers under their dresses. Their bustles or crinoline actually kept the skirts off the legs which was more sanitary than when women used to wear layer and layer of petticoats. Women's dress was still 25 pounds of clothing, but according to this article about dress reform, there was gymnasium wear for women at the time. (Although, while the article is recent, it doesn't note the discovery that working women only laced their corsets to 20-24 inches instead of 16. In fact, people use corsets for back problems now because they offer good support if laced properly.) The thing that Tessa would probably notice the most would be the lack of restriction around her torso and the free movement in her arms. Dresses were often cut so that arms couldn't be raised past chest height, unless you were a working woman like Sophie. Lightness would be questionable since the writer keeps changing her mind about what "gear" is made of.

Well, that's my ranty review of scatter brained complaints. Overall, this book mostly annoyed me because of the uneven characterization and focus on the love triangle. Oh, and poor decisions made by the characters. And the literary name dropping. And the weapons. So, basically, same complaints as before.

Next up, Clockwork Princess.

Need clarification on what those complaints are? Visit my other reviews of this particular writer.

The Original Mortal Instruments Trilogy
City of Bones
City of Ashes
City of Glass

The Infernal Devices
Clockwork Angel

Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I wrote this book review on Goodreads a week ago, and forgot to put it up here. Well, it's finally here.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #1)Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands", she speaks many languages - not all of them human - and her bright blue hairactually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

I was recommended this book by a few people on Goodreads who enjoyed it, so I picked it up at the library. Now, I should say that three stars is not a bad thing. It means I liked it, but I wasn't entirely enthralled with it.

Warning. There will be spoilers. I mean SPOILERY spoilers. They are unmarked. Proceed with caution.

I'll start with the stuff I liked first.

My favorite thing out of the entire book was the world building. It was top notch. Laini Taylor took your standard Angels versus Demons plot and made it her own with an entirely different mythology all it's own.

The Seraph are a race of people so perfect looking they look artificial with wings made of fire feathers. The Chimera are tribes of beastly hybrids that have banned together under one cause. These two races are at war in Eretz. Eretz is essentially a mirror dimension to Earth, the world of the humans. Humans, Seraph, and Chimera are all given their own belief systems which represent each differently. I'd seen another member of a writing group I'm a part of complain about how most books don't have such varied beliefs about one thing, so it's nice to come across this, especially in a YA book.

My favorite part was the Chimera resurrection system. The idea of creating new bodies from teeth to put souls that have been collected in is awesome. I swear I nodded and said, "That's cool." And it's plot relevant without being a deus ex machina. Double bonus!

My second favorite thing is the characterization.

The main character is Karou, a seventeen year old art student who lives in Prague. She has blue hair and an entire collection of sketchbooks. What I like about Karou is that she isn't like the other YA heroines in books I've been reading lately. She doesn't brag about everything she can do without doing it. She doesn't constantly whine about her, me, and I. She can actually fight after years of training, and shows it. Yes, all of Karou's bad-assness is actually shown not just told. She's also not some Mary Sue with awesome magical powers that no one else has. There is actually a rhyme and reason to why she's special.

I also like her personality. She still comes across as being a teenager, but has a maturity to her. She's not entirely juvenile because the writer knows how to handle the character. Instead, she has a sense of experience while still retaining a type of innocence. She has sense. I didn't sit there and facepalm repeatedly because she kept engaging in standard issue YA heroine stupidity. It was seriously refreshing.

Then there is her relationship with her Chimera family. She actually treats them like family. She has her moments of rebellion, but Karou doesn't yell at them or hate on them for keeping things from her. While she wants to know, and pushes her luck occasionally, she still loves them. Take the scene where Brimstone (the Wishmonger) throws her out for finding the resurrection cathedral. Karou does't resent him or get all pissy about it. She gets worried because she fears she's been cut off from the family she loves. That is the true reaction of a child, not the typical mopey:

"Well then, I don't want to see you again either," she said to the closed door. Mary Sue scowled and stocked off. If that was her punishment for a single indiscretion, then she would never help the old sorcerer again. She didn't want to even look at him after he just threw her out into the cold without her coat and shoes. What if she got frost bite? Then he would learn.

Sound familiar? Yeah. None of that in this book. Thank the holy high heavens.

As for Brimstone and the rest of the Chimera. (Grins stupidly.) They're just so awesome. I love them a whole lot compared to the Seraph. The Seraph come across like winged jackasses, you know, like most angels in YA.

Her friend Zuzana, total hoot. She also comes across as being a friend. Both her and Karou are supportive of each other. You know, true friends. Again, after all the crappy friends and girl on girl hate I keep seeing in YA, it's nice to see a female relationship that isn't all, "She's prettier than me. I hope she burns on every level of Purgatory," or "He's hot. Who cares if he's got all the signs of an abusive boyfriend. I think you should go for it." I seriously loved this girl.

Now, first and foremost, this is a love story. That becomes pretty relevant towards the end. I just though I should throw that out there before I brought up the romantic interest.

The swoon worthy boy is Akiva. Akiva is a Seraph soldier. He's volunteered to mark the portals to Brimstone's shop and that is how he comes across Karou. He tries to kill her because she works for the Chimera, but doesn't because he's drawn to her. Now before you, dear reader, roll your eyes at another case of bottled insta-love, I'll say it isn't really. But I'll get to that in a moment.

Akiva isn't the creepy, stalker type that forces himself on our fair heroine. He's broody, and does follow her, but does it because he wants to talk to her. It's awkward for him because he reminds her of his lost love he saw executed, Madrigal. Akiva is actually kind of adorable about it. He's bashful and guilty because he knows he tried to kill Karou and has just done something terrible to her Chimera family. He knows he's bad news in the way that a soldier followed orders only to find out that he killed the family of the girl he loved. While he is guilty, it's the kind of guilt that evokes sympathy in the reader because you know he was a) literally lost in grief, b) following orders, and c) caught up in the propaganda of his people made all the worse by seeing the execution of Madrigal. Seriously, this guy has had it rough, but what is important is he doesn't use it as an excuse. He knows he did bad and doesn't blame Karou if she wants to punish him.

Giant spoiler: Karou is resurrected Madrigal. While I guessed it from the moment Akiva started making comparisons early in the book, and I was worried that it was the horrible lost-love-reincarnated plot, after Chimera resurrection was explained, it made sense. It's a part of the world building that is well developed, so it didn't make me groan or roll my eyes. Kudos, writer. Kudos.

Okay. Now I'm getting into the I-didn't-like-this territory. Some of these are personal, so cut me some slack.

First, let me explain something about myself. I have this huge pet peeve against writers telling the reader that their character is beautiful, and sadly the writer does this with Akiva. I get that Seraph are supposed to be aesthetically perfect looking with a rigid and well defined bone structure, and symmetrical features, and shapely lips, and mesmerizing eyes, and sculpted muscles, and Abercrombie tans, and Fabio hair, and on and on and on; but don't tell me he's beautiful. Why? Because people have different standards of beauty. This is problematic because the writer seems to understand that, yet in the chapter where she initially describes Akiva (p. 57-59) she basically says he's beautiful without another POV hanging around. I felt like she was dumping melted cheese all over the pages. Personally, I viewed him as someone who was a bit artificial looking like he had been carved and given life. Not necessarily ugly, but distant and cold. Unreachable even. I'll admit, later when she tells us about his shoulder, it helped humanize him along with the fact he's rocking a buzz cut. It's little details like that define the character.

Which brings me to another issue I have. I felt like the back end of the book (the final 1/4 where she flashes back to Madrigal) were written after she had matured a bit as a writer. That's probably not true, but they read that way. Allow me to explain. The first half of the book there are a few awkward sentence structures that are either jarring or ruin the momentum the writer is trying to sustain, and some POV shifts in the middle of text that I had to reread to understand what the writer was trying to do. She writes the book primarily from third person limited, but occasionally slips into omniscient. I found it problematic and confusing. I wish I had taken notes to show some concrete evidence, but I haven't, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt. I'm just mentioning it now because it pulled me out of the text and made it hard for me to get drawn back in.

After the portals are burned, I felt the middle of the book floundered a bit. I would put it down and dick around with my phone. That's another reason why it only got three stars, it couldn't always maintain my interest. I can only take cutesy love stuff for so long, but I know that's me. My husband's the romantic if that tells you anything.

That said, the writer does show that she knows her way around a sentence, but I felt like she would get caught up in a poetic thought and drag is on too long. She liked to inject extra thoughts via hyphen into the middle of sentences. She didn't just do this a few times, but almost ever other page. I respect the style, but the writer over did it just a bit.

So, to sum it all up, read this book if you're looking for well written characters and some unique, thorough world building. Karou is a YA heroine who is totally worth your time, unlike some other ones I can think of. No, really. Read this book to break the Mary Sue monotony. It's just what the doctor ordered.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review: Under the Empyrean Sky

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What did you say? Wendig calls it cornpunk?

(Scratches chin.) I like this. I like this a lot. This is going in a direction I can get behind.


Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It's the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow, and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables, trying to earn much-needed ace notes for their families. But Cael's tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He's sick of the mayor's son besting Cael's crew in the scavenging game. And he's worried about losing Gwennie, his first mate and the love of his life, forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry, angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn't seem upset about any of it. Cael's ready to make his own luck . . . even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.


These days, dystopia YA is all the rage. One is born every time someone farts. Only half of them fit the definition of dystopia. (For definition, see my Divergent review.) Most of the ones I read don't make me bat an eye because I'm used to reading ones that have pretty much come true. You know, 1984 as brought to you by the internet, microchips, and the NSA. A true dystopia should make you scared. The nervous kind of scared where you think that it's not true, until you discover it could happen. Then you become a little paranoid.

Now take the 1% from Neill Blomkamp's film Elysium and drag them down into the Earth's atmosphere. Close enough where they can see the huddled masses, but not close enough to actually smell them. Break them up into separate flotillas that I imagine look a lot like Columbia from Bioshock Infinite, only more high tech art deco, and corporatize them. Think of Paolo Bacigalupi's torque run world from "The Calorie Man", "The Yellow Card Man", and The Windup Girl. Set it in middle America. Now hand that all over the Chuck Wendig. What you get is Under the Empyrean Sky.

Seventeen year old Cael McAvoy lives in a small town called Boxelder. He's the leader of The Big Sky Scavengers. He butts heads with his academic father, who he's angry at for being so passive, and wants to find a way out of the rut in life he's destined for. He thinks he's invincible. That's right. He's a teenage boy. A believable teenage boy. He swears, has sex, and drinks underage. No idealized hero here. No pretty boy Four Fears.

I admit that Wendig's characterization skills was what I was looking forward to the most. I read his Atlanta Burns stories, so I knew he could write teenagers, and not these perfect pretty teenagers you see in really popular YA either. Cael's friends are pudgy Rigo and over-the-top Lane.

Rigo hales from an abusive household, but is the tamer of the three. He's usually the one that tries to be the voice of reason until he gets outvoted by the other two. His favorite thing in the world is good food, and his friends have no problem making fun of him for it.

Lane is a bit more on the extreme side. He's more jaded and spouts what could be considered wild conspiracy theories. Sadly, he lives alone and has a tendency to drink a bit much. He constantly suggests that they should run away and join the Sleeping Dogs, a group of bandits. He is also a young closeted gay man, but you don't find out about this until you know him as a person.

And then there is Gwennie. She's the brains of the crew. She can fix anything. Gwennie is also the prettiest girl in town. While she fills the roll of Cael's sweetheart, she isn't incapable, but she's more apt to fall in line with the rules of the dystopian society. It's not that she isn't a fighter, she's just more realistic.

The Empyrean run the society. And I mean, run it. They decide where you work, who you marry, and what you grow. Even the monetary system is all theirs. Break the rules, and bad things happen. Most people work in processing plants for the local crop. The local crop, the only thing you're allowed to grow, is Hiram's Golden Prolific. It is literally blood thirsty, as in don't fall asleep among it or it might eat you. It's invasive and you can't eat it. It's used to make everything but food. (Sound familiar?)

Then there is Obligation Day. This is the day where you are paired with your future spouse. A Proctor comes down, hands you a certificate with names, and then leaves. That's it. The Heartlanders try to turn it into a ceremony, but it's really sad when you think about it. (This also adds a bit of a "love triangle" to the book, but is more realistic feeling since it's not The Friend-zoned vs. Incredibly Hot Dude.)

This brings us to the face of our oppressive society, Proctor Agrasanto. (Yes, that is a Monsanto dig, but could you really blame Wendig?) She's just your typical henchman in the long run. She hates her job and views the Heartlanders and uncivilized trash; dirty, disgusting, and not worth her time. While this view point is ultimately her downfall, we'll probably see her again.

As for the writing, it's in Wendig's third person present style. When so many YA dystopias I've read have been written in first, it's a nice change of pace to move between characters. It still moves at a quick pace, but the words and descriptions are cleaner than his adult work. (He wanted to write a book his kid could read.) The paring down of his signature language doesn't take away from his vivid descriptions. Take this little paragraph from early in the novel:

"It's the same dream every night. He flies low over the endless corn, the stalks swaying not with the wind but because that's how the corn is: it drifts and shifts and twitches, leaves whispering against leaves, tassels like reaching hands. The sky above is so pale it looks as though someone squeezed the color out of it, like a rag sitting too long in the sun." (p. 8)

It's succinct, uses sensible metaphors, and active verbs. It helps give his style a certain rhythm that runs the reader along.

Despite being the first book of a trilogy, it completes the first plot it introduces involving the mysterious vegetable garden, but leaves enough of a loose thread to continue the series. (Not telling you what. That would be a spoiler.) The story is also contained within the small down and a bit outside it which leaves Wendig the capability to explore the world more.

The book is also relatively short and a quick read. I read it in two days, much to my dismay. I wished it was longer, but that's just me acting like a fan. If Wendig added more, it would ruin the balance of the book. (Again, personal opinion.)

So, to sum it all up, read this book. It's got good characters set in a world with creepy, genetically altered corn and floating cities. Oh, and a male protagonist. How long has it been since you've seen one of those?

Now I'll just go have nightmares about the corn.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Review: Slide the Scales from My Eyes

I've been an internet acquaintance with Timothy Maguire for some time. When he asked me if I wanted a free copy of his self-published novel Slide the Scales from My Eyes in return for a review, my response was naturally in between "Hell yes," and "Are you sure?" Well, I devoured the book in two days, thoroughly enjoying this little urban fantasy set in Leicester, England.

Scales features a young bartender named Aleah Mitchell who prefers to go by the name of Lea to prevent any tongue twisting sentence structures. She's a university student with a Catholic upbringing that has left her with a love of suits and ties. When her supervisor at the bar she works at asks her to taste a new cocktail, her world is thrown sideways when a man breaks down the office wall using the beams from a lightbulb.

This is the readers initial introduction to an interesting and fun magic system in which people can acquire a power attached to a personal attribute. After a person is Forced, like when Lea saw the beam cut through the wall, they become Awakened. The Awakened can see the Shadow, which is pretty much made of the emotional residue of human beings. Outside of Geekomancy, this is one of the few fun and original magic systems I've seen in a while.

The characters are worth the read too. Lea herself is well written. She acts as a normal person would in this situation, she has no idea what to do or what is going on, and wants answers. She's not instantly kick butt but isn't useless either. She knows when it's time to run and when it's time to fight. She admits when she makes a mistake and tries to make up for it. In essence, she has a brain.

So, if you're looking for a fun read where you can loose yourself in a world of conflicting prophesies, conniving bosses, hair tentacles, and chicks who wear ties, then I highly suggest checking out this book.

You can purchase it from the following sources:
Google Books
Book Country

(Prices will vary.)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices #1)

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, #1)Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Cassie Clare. We meet again.

I apparently have gained a following because of these reviews, and they have convinced me to use my analytical powers on The Infernal Devices series. You could say I'm easily swayed because I lack dignity. But this is really just too much fun. It's so much fun, I need to be stroking a cat.

First, the usual disclaimer. This review contains spoilers, griping, whining, over thinking, and general ranting. Trolls need not apply.

Let's get started.

Ladies and gents. Gather 'round. I'm about to tear into Cassandra Clare's 19th century version of The Mortal Instruments. I present to you:

The Mary Sue, Tessa Gray! (Rhymes with Clary Fray.) Tessa is a magical orphan girl from across the sea. She can shape shift you see, which isn't really a stretch for a character with almost no personality. Sure, Tessa is a really watered down version of Clary. She's just self-absorbed and judgmental enough to allow me to draw the comparison, but otherwise I could insert just about anyone in her position. She doesn't think she's pretty. Check. She likes books. Check. All the boys fall in wuve with her. Check. She's supposed to be smart, but really isn't. Check.

How hard was it for Clare to round out this girl. I mean, it's only the fourth book she's written. Tessa couldn't be a Georgia peach who's family lost everything during the Civil War when she was just a babe? She couldn't be a textiles factory worker who used to prop her book up on the loom while she worked? (This was actually pretty common at the time.) She couldn't be the daughter of an insightful inventor who used to dream of flying? Come on! If you're going for Steampunk, Clare, go for it! Tessa should have been a goggle clad shape shifting, grease monkey. Her and Henry could have gotten their nerd on. But no. Her writer lacks the creativity to make anything remotely cool and fun.

Speaking of shape shifting. Tessa's special shape shifting ability allows her to change into anyone she wants as long as she has an object they owned. She gains their memories and thoughts, and if they died, she sees how and feels it. If the person is a Down-worlder, she gains their abilities and attributes. At one point, she turns into Camille - a vampire - at one point, and her heart stops beating. Sounds pretty cool and useful, right? Well, here is the thing with Clare's books if you aren't already familiar. If it makes sense, she doesn't use it. Nope. To easy and not romantic enough. Tessa's ability would be really useful in combat, but instead it's a deus ex machina. Clare only has Tessa use her shape shifting to move the story forward. The rest of the time it sits on the side.

Oh, now the fun part. Do you remember the whole Boadicea thing? How Tessa thought she couldn't be a fighter because she was a woman, but she could fight back because it's in her heart? I know, right! I'm laughing to keep from crying. Will tells Tessa there was this badass warrior chick who gave the Romans hell named Boadicea. (Usually spelled Boudica. I know about her because I saw a documentary on her. She was badass. And so were her daughters.) So, Tessa tries to emulate Boadicea by "killing" herself so the baddie can't have her. She fakes it using her shape shifting because apparently, when someone dies nice and bloody, she gets covered in it. Whatever. There was lots of blood, but the bad guy didn't check for a wound. The baddie invents robots and he falls for a trick from a girl who was stupid enough to scream in a room full of vampires. Yes, this girl, who trusted her philandering older brother. Oy vey.

Next up, William "the Scoundrel" Herondale! Will, as everyone calls him, is really just Jackass Jace with the dial cranked to 11. He's the kind of guy who will be dead in a ditch at 19. You know, reckless, rude, and utterly inappropriate. It's supposed to be the Victorian era, and he's making open sexual advances toward Tessa. These are the kind of advances that even a modern woman would have kneed him in the balls over. He doesn't wear a hat or waistcoat or cravat, so he's basically running around half naked. He treats everyone like crap. Do I really need to go on?

Oh, and all the fan girls get hot and horny over him. He's an insensitive, self centered asshole and girls think that's hot. Let me guess, that means he's damaged and only needs love to make him a better person. If that wasn't one of the most popular myths these books portray. Feh. He needs thumped, plain and simple. I can't believe Tessa is even thinking about hooking up with the guy.

Now for James/Jian/Jem Carstairs. This half-Chinese sweetie is just a gentleman. I'm seriously shocked that Clare can even write a character like him. He's so nice. He even saves a cat. Literally. When Tessa is feeling down, he just talks to her. He's the kind of boy you bring home to your mom.

And then there's the venom addiction. Yeah, Clare totally ruined Jem. She couldn't have him be some nice kid. It's like that Simon/Vampire thing all over again. In a nutshell, Jem was tortured by a demon and his parents were forced to watch. By the time he was saved, his body was addicted to the venom. If they try to wean him off it, the withdrawal is bad enough to kill him. So he has to continue to take it or he dies. Flip side, the stuff is killing him. It also keeps his hair and eyes silver. Even then, he's still a way better person than Will. Hands down. There isn't even a contest.

But there is something that Clare uses Jem for that I don't like; to make excuses for Will. Jem is Will's battle buddy. They're buds and watch each other's back. Jem tries to explain Will's appalling behavior to Tessa, saying that there is more to him than she thinks. The problem with this is that it ends up being hot air to make Will look deeper than he is. When Will enters a scene, all this "oh, but he's damaged" talk flies out the window on a fart. Jem was tortured and he's dying, and he's an absolute doll. Will has no excuses.

Now it's time for the parasol twirlin' Jassamine Lovelace. She's the biggest waste of a strong female character. She had the potential to go from opinionated Lady full of spunk, to Tessa's awesome-sauce gal pal. But that isn't how Clare works. Once she thought that Jess would turn out to be "better" than Tessa, she turned her into someone so selfish she would leave a comrade behind. I was shocked because it didn't fit with the characterization that Clare had set up for her.

There's this dollhouse scene where Jess shows Tessa her dollhouse replica of the house she grew up in. She even had dolls of her mother, father, little brother, and her. She tells Tessa that her house burned down with them in it, and it's the only thing left of them and her old life. She tells Tessa that sometimes she imagines that they wake up, go about their day, and then go to bed all safe. Nothing bad ever happens to them. No Shadow-hunter business and no fire. They're perfectly normal. I imagined this very sad teenage girl running her fingers over everything in that house as she tried to explain why she didn't want to be a Shadow-hunter. Why she didn't want a life of fear that you or the ones you love won't come back. Why she didn't want to deal with death and blood.

But here is why I hate Clare's writing. She turned Jessamine into such a bitch that her desire to be married and a mother without being a "warrior" is unacceptable in her world. I mean, Jess is part angel. Why should she want anything else? Why would she want to be mundane? They're worse than Down-worlders. Clare writes her Nephilim like they're perfect, but I can't blame Jess for wanting out. It would be a horrible life to live.

There's more characters: Charlotte, who is 23 and not a very good leader; Henry, who can't get any of his inventions to work right; Sophie, the poor maid who can't catch a break; Agatha, the cook; Thomas, Will's cast-aside childhood pal; but they aren't really worth speaking about. And the villain, I'll get to him when I get into world-building.

Which I'm starting, now.

There is nothing like trying to make sense of Cassandra Clare's world. There are so many gaping holes, that I've mostly given up. Mostly.

First, I'm going to start with the gun thing. Yes. Shadow-hunters don't use guns because supposedly the runes they tried to scratch into the weapon and bullets keeps it from firing, and no one knows why.

I would believe it if she wasn't the queen of convenient. From what I know, not all the weapons are inscribed with runes. I mean, she'll describe the curve of Will's neck, but not every weapon. We know some of them are made of electrum. Why not electrum bullets?

Now, I'd understand if they didn't like using them because guns are loud and they would be afraid to hit an innocent bystander. When they strive for secrecy, there's no glamour in the world that would cover up an accidental bullet wound to the head. But wouldn't they want to keep a couple around. Maybe a Colt Peacemaker and a lever action Springfield. I mean, those would come in pretty handy when they bad guy is a mundane . And he's packing his own heat.

Oh, and what about the automatons? Those wanna-be Steampunk cyborgs. I would have at least tried a shotgun loaded with a slug on one. From some of the appendages those things were given, why would anyone want to get close? But Clare has to have all her Shadow-hunters carry weapons on the archaic side of the scale. And she doesn't even describe them right. She says Will has straps crossing his chest. That is called a bandolier. Clare will describe the parts of a dress (and not even accurately), but she doesn't get into the finer points of melee weapons even though all her characters are warriors. Look at Jem's cane-sword-thing. She describes it like a blade shoots out of the end, but cane swords were really popular in the 19th century, so that seems more likely. He could use the cane part to block and then attack with the blade.

Damn it. I started thinking with logic again. Give me a moment.

Then there is her version of Victorian London.

First, let's start with the fact that the fog was so thick and toxic that you could chew it and it killed hundreds. New York was no picnic at at time, but Tessa probably would have choked on it. Clare describes it like it's some coal dust and mist.

Second, the characters act like it's the 21st century and not the 19th. They were way too informal and ran around without hats all the time.

In fact, most of what Clare puts about "her" London is like she was writing a book report. It doesn't flow well at all. She lacks in the social politics of the time. Tessa is American in 19th century Britain, and a Down-worlder no less. She would constantly be regarded as a sub-human by British Shadow-hunters. They acknowledge she's a Down-worlder, but not the fact that she's a barbaric American.

And I'm not even going to get started on Will kissing Tessa and implying that she should give him her virtue because she probably can't have kids since she's a warlock. (I mean, seriously. How do girls think that's hot?)

Then there's Clare's writing. It never fails in giving me entertainment. She's laid off the similes a bit, but not enough to matter. There are still zingers, but this time I wrote down all the ones I cared to involving glass. Yes, glass. I swear she has a fetish for it.

"... eyes like glass." (p.37)
"... a noise like cracking glass." (p. 39)
"... a gaze as sharp as glass." (p. 72)
"... like snow sticking to a dark glass pane of a window." (p. 172)
"... as if through a pane of glass." (p. 212)
"... it sounded like shattering glass." (p. 248)
"Will's eyes were slivers of blue glass." (p. 304)
"... like thin stems of glass against her skin." (p. 359)

Remember, those are the ones I wrote down. There are a lot more.

Clare's similes really are the one of the true weaknesses in her writing. Even when she uses a strong active verb, she tacks on a simile at the end like no one will understand what she's talking about. But that's when she uses a strong active verb that she hasn't abused. Everything still "gleams, "glints," "glimmers," "shines," and "shimmers" when it isn't "blue," "silver," "white," "black," "pale," "icy," or "gold."

All these weaknesses are apparent in Clare's obsession with appearance. In scenes where emotional description should take precedence, Tessa physically looks at people instead of trying to understand the conversation on an emotional level. Take these lines from when she's talking with Jem on Blackfriar Bridge:

"Tessa let herself stare at him, marveling a little at his strange beauty in the moonlight. He was all silver and ashes, not like Will's strong colors of blue and black and gold." (p.315)

Jem is trying to have an intimate moment with her, and all Tessa can think about is his coloring in the moonlight versus Will's. Not about how much of nice person he is because he was willing to share his favorite place with her. Yeah, I really wanted to smack Tessa.

Clare's heroines are so superficial I don't know how these girls could be considered strong female characters. Whenever she gets remotely close to writing a female character that is worth something (Izzy, Jess), she ruins them. She pushes their heroic actions to the background or covers it up with abhorrent and stereotypical behavior so that her intended "strong" female character can remain the Mary Sue. She doesn't treat her characters like people. She manipulates them to fit her needs first.

Well, my word count is almost up. I can't go into a tireless rant about how this book is unintentionally ironic most of the time with all these profound things Jem or another character floating in the background says that Clare can't apply or covers up. But what I can do is leave you with my favorite one. This is from when the Shadow-hunters surrounded the vampire Axel DeQuincy and the rest of his ilk that survived. I now give you his tirade in response to the Shadow-hunters bringing up the Accords:

"Equal? You don't know what the word means. You cannot let go of your own conviction, let go of your belief in your inherent superiority, for long enough to even consider what it would mean. (p. 254)

So true, and he was a bad guy.

Till next time!

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review: The Desert Spear

The Desert Spear (Demon Cycle, #2)The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, here I go.

I started reading this book immediately after I read The Warded Man because it was teasing me from my shelf for about a month. I picked my copy up at a used book store, intending to read the series, but it took forever to get the first book. I'm glad I read them back to back. It made remembering everything so much easier.

The following contains spoilers. Please read responsibly.

The book opens with a new class of demon. I applaud Brett on this decision. Upping the stakes in a sequel is a good move as long as it makes sense, and this makes perfect sense. Mind controlling demon princes and their shapeshifting pets add the perfect creep factor. I loved it and appropriately weirded out.

New demon aside, Brett went in an entirely different direction with the first part. He rewound the tape, relocated the story to Krasia, and gave us everything about Jardir. You remember Jardir, right? The jerk off that beat up Arlen and took the spear after saying they were friends. As it turns out, he felt horrible for it because of his highly ambitious first wife, Inevera.

Jardir was a poor kid raised to fight the demons as all Krasian boys are. You make it, you're set for life. You fail, you're disgraced into the lower caste like Abban. All Jardir is really good at is war. He's relatively intelligent, but pretty impulsive, which has a tendency to cloud his judgement. Skipping a bunch of character development, grown up Jardir comes across as fervent in the beliefs of his people and his mission, but yet he doesn't seem to quite "get it" when it comes to anything outside of blood or sex.

When the Krasian's invade the north, he blunders horribly by invading Rizon at night where he kills the men that resist and has the women raped. It is needless to say that the northerners don't take too kindly to this. In fact, when Jadir wants to unite them all under him, they're quite upset (understatement) because of his entrance. This pretty much sets the tone for a majority of the book.

This book is all about clashing. There are two "Deliverers" (Arlen and Jardir), two cultures, and the choices the characters must make. Many of them are torn in some sense between direction and another. There is a couple sentences that Jardir says that really sum up the struggles the best: "It seems our cultures are a natural insult to each other.... We must resist the urge to take offense, if we are to learn from each other." (p.167)

My general reaction to Jardir, last book aside, I didn't know whether I wanted him to die stick around so I could laugh at his misfortune in the form of his powerful wife. Brett gives him a bit of the "awkward foreigner" vibe in the scenes when he's in Cutter's Hollow to see the strange northern people who fight the demons. It sounds like a horrible gimmick, but Brett makes it work with his personality. Jardir always tries to understand the strange in his own frame of reference, as all humans do, and Brett understands that well. I applaud him for it.

As for Inevera, I loved to hate her. She's a well rounded, strong female character, but I felt bad for her husband. Bitch is manipulative.

Cutter's Hollow is where the stories join together since Leesha and Rojer are still there perfecting their demon slaying skills. It's been a year, and the only things that have changed is that Leesha is running the village. Rojer still doesn't believe he's important and Leesha has stopped trying to hook up with Arlen since he refuses to let anyone in because he's absorbed too much demon magic and it doesn't burn off in the sun like it's supposed to.

Arlen, now with so much ink it would make a tattoo convention jealous, is trying to share his battle runes with the people until he shows up in the places he was raised. This time around, Arlen's story is more introspective than before. He struggles with the idea that his time left may be limited. I usually don't like mopey characters, but I understood where he was coming from. He screwed up, and he doesn't want anyone to make the same mistake.

Until Renna comes along. There really isn't anything like a spunky, corn-fed girl to make everything better for our sad sack protagonist. She keeps him on his toes. I like her.

The extra view points are nice outside of the previous three. Brett arranges them artfully enough that I didn't feel like I was head hopping.

The previous world building is intact. Since it was so well done before, all he can do is add to it.

Oh, before I forget. One niggle. "... his face was a sandstorm." I rolled my eyes. I really did.

Over all, just as good as the first. Brett handles culture clash well, which only adds to the tension. The new characters are structured well and the character progression for the previous ones is logical. They don't stagnate. Going back to familiar settings is also a good call.

So, I guess I'm going to have to read the next one.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review: The Warded Man

The Warded Man (Demon Cycle, #1)The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finally managed to track down this book after having a used copy of The Desert Spear staring at me for months. I was thrilled when I could sit down an read it because it had people fighting demons with not an angel in sight. After what I've been reading, hallelujah!

Warning: This review contains spoilers! I only go spoiler free if it's an ARC. Those who read my reviews should know this.

The Warded Man is really the story of three people who have survived a demon attack at some point in their lives. I'm sorry if the following is a large summary. I feel like rambling.

Arlen is a farmer's kid from a backwater town in a world where demons come out to play once the sun goes away. Every day, he checks the wards around their fields and on their walls to make sure they'll be safe come night. Arlen is good with the wards, he's a smart kid, and one day he wants to be a Messenger; a person who braves the night to deliver goods and the mail. When his mother is attacked by a demon and dies, Arlen runs away, ashamed of his father's cowardice. He grows up in the city of Miln in the presence of good people, but runs away just shy of completing his Messenger training because of his fear of being tied down.

Arlen believes man should fight the demons, not hide behind the warded walls like cowards. They should all fight, like the desert dwelling Krasians. (That name is actually quite unfortunate if you say it out loud. It sounds like an Ocean Spray product.) This belief is both his rise and his own personal demon. He stays on the move, not allowing himself to be tied down to anyone. No wife, no children, no friends who see him for more than a few months. He carries news and goods to the five walled cities, and delves into ruins for new wards, hoping to find the lost battle wards. He finds them, carved into a spear, but ends up losing it to his Krasian friend, Jardir. (He's really a character you don't know much about till the second book. And he is quite the character.) Left in the desert for dead, Arlen tattoos runes into his skin so he can fight the demons since he has no other weapons.

Arlen pretty much has a one track mind, and it made me want to thump him a bit. He's all about saving the world, yet continues to isolate himself from others. He remains aloof and distant despite coming across those who are willing to understand: Leesha and Rojer.

Leesha is the second character. She hails from a household with an abusive mother and a meek father in a small town. Demons burn down half the village, and her unfaithful mother has her lover and his son, Leesha's betrothed, stay with them. After her betrothed says they had sex before marriage, she gets pissed at him for her broken reputation. When the old Herb Gatherer - they work like apothecaries - wants Leesha to apprentice, she accepts and ends up being awesome at it. Once she's learned what she can, her master apprentice swaps her for one in the big city because she feels she can't learn anymore.

Leesha is smart and resourceful, but prudish and a bit disillusioned about love and relationships. Even though all the women in her life keep trying to explain to her that sex is just a part of life and it is okay if she wants it, she continues to act high minded about it.

Rojer is the youngest. He was orphaned at three because of the shoddy wards on his parents' inn. Rojer is more a victim of greed and self-service than of demons. The warder was too busy to check the inn because he was trying to gain favor with the duke, and the duke's harold - a jongleur named Arrick - left his parents to die to save his own hide. At least Arrick tries to make up for it by making three fingered Rojer his apprentice. Rojer's special skill is playing the fiddle so good he can hypnotize or drive away demons.

I like Rojer. He's the type of person you can relate to. He's just trying to get by in the world without realizing how good or important he really is. Unlike Arlen or Leesha, Rojer is happy if he can eat and make someone's day. That is why I like him. In simpler words, Arlen and Leesha want to save the world, but Rojer wants to make you smile. He's what the book needs when The Warded Man dips into its more horror aspects.

Most of the book spends time on their three separate stories until the fourth part when they all tie together. Brett keeps it pretty simple with the three point of views, which is a nice change to some high/epic fantasies. (*cough* Martin. *cough*) Since he skips a lot of time, he also conveniently dates the chapters so the reader knows where they're at. Jumping forward also allows him to progress the story without another 50,000 words of useless.

Brett also keeps the language nice and clear, but he is definitely more tell than show. I'm not going to delude myself into believing it's anything super special, but Brett is good writer in the sense that the sentences are structured well and I really enjoyed reading it. In fact, I ran right through the book at full speed. It's the kind of books that a book snob like me and a person who just wants to read because they like fantasy can enjoy.

Although, my sprint was often interrupted by the phrase, "his/her face was a thundercloud." Brett uses a variation of this phrase often, substituting different violent weather patterns to mix things up. Every time I saw this, it saddened me and drove me a bit crazy. This phrase was like ink smears on a white table cloth. No matter what I did to try and forget they were there, I knew, and still cringe every time I come across them.

Oh, and women's fashion. I wasn't sure what he was going for there. He would stick with the generic "skirts" and "dress," which is cool with me, but then sneak "corset" in there, which would be difficult to make with the limited resources of his world considering the boning was usually whale bone (which they don't have with no access to the ocean) or steel (an expensive commodity). Maybe he was going more for stays made of reeds. Oh well. It's obvious I'm over thinking this.

Aside from my personal issues with the book, it still deserves four stars for simple but well done world building, and exciting, easy to understand writing. It keeps pulling you along even though you might occasionally want to throttle Arlen and Leesha. I recommend it for anyone who needs a break to just sit back and enjoy a good fantasy story without needing a genealogy chart or map.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review: Hush, Hush

Hush, Hush (Hush, Hush, #1)Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The following review will contain screaming, yelling, griping, whining, and spoilers along with much ranting. You have been advised.

So, I decided to pick up this book at the library to do my occasional funny blog post where I rip on terrible YA books that are ridiculously popular. I zeroed in on this one after seeing much swooning over Patch when I worked on The Mortal Instruments. After trying to process what I just read, which left me with a blank face that no animated little picture can express, my reaction wavered between:


Dramatic? Yes. Most definitely, yes. I don't even want to return this book to the library so some teen girl can have her brain warped, but I know such an attempt would be futile since there are other books like this out there. But I'll get to that later. First I'll focus on the typical stuff like characterization, quality of research, and the writing in general. Shall we begin?

Oh, and I told myself I would stay away from GIFs this time after my review of Divergent, but I can't promise anything.

First, Nora Grey. Yes, Nora. She thinks she's not pretty, her hair is a horrible cloud of frizz, and she's flat chested. She has no assets that any man would want because being a studious young woman is not sexy. She's just like every gosh darn YA protagonist with a vagina in these last books I've bashed on. I'm sensing a pattern.

Anyway, Nora is supposed to be smart and she has good grades because she wants to attend an Ivy League school one day. I stopped believing she had a brain when she ended up being so dense. I'm relatively intelligent and can be a total space cadet who's so far out I'm orbiting one of Saturn's moons, but Nora is pushing it. A guy sexually harasses her in school and then she thinks he might be stalking her, and she doesn't deal with it. She hangs around him instead of running and getting the cops or going straight to the principle when her teacher wouldn't help her deal with Patch. Her life was in danger, and she handled it poorly.

No, worse than poorly. She knew her life was in danger, it scared her, but she didn't deal with it beyond telling her vapid friend who didn't believe her half the time. Nora makes me so mad I'm thinking in run-one sentences. My vocabulary is being reduced down into growls.

I'll give you an example. By the middle of the book, Nora has discovered that the "good boy" might have killed this chick and then made it look like a suicide. She freaks out and refuses to be around him. Whereas her stalker, Pushy Patch, has sexually harassed her and she thinks he might be stalking her, not to mention the whole incident with the car and the roller coaster, and she still hangs around him. Hell, she gets rides from him. She gets in his car and on his motorcycle. Just writing about this makes me so mad I almost broke my keyboard in half over my knee. I hate her so much I could just...

Yes, I went there and feel no shame.

And don't get me started on how nosey and self-righteous Nora is. The things she does to find out about people who might have committed murder only support my idea that she should have giant neon letters that say STUPID over her head.

Now, going back to Nora's characterization, there was the iron pill thing. She's supposed to be anemic. I'm a stickler for writers doing their research, so when I spot something that screams, "I totally didn't," I wonder why their editors were sleeping. Nora and her iron pills are one of those moments.

Anemia is a deficiency of iron in the blood. It's not fatal, but since iron is really important when it comes to the formation of erythrocytes, red blood cells, then not having enough is still bad. You basically feel very tired and weak. (AKA, complete crap.) Those with anemia take iron supplements, over the counter or prescribed, with food once or twice a day. Eating a diet with iron rich foods can help too. That's what I try to do since I have a disease where anemia is a possible side effect. I don't need supplements, but I've known those who did.

So, in other words, I'm calling Fitzpatrick and her editors out on complete bull. Nora's anemia is not in anyway represented properly. It's used as a device to make her seem more weak than she already is. Wanna call me out? I have proof.

"I considered explaining I was anemic and had to take iron a few times a day, especially when I was under stress, but I thought better. The anemia wasn't life threatening... as long as I took regular doses of iron. I wasn't paranoid to the the point that I thought Patch meant me harm, but somehow, my medical condition was a vulnerability that felt better kept secret." (p.33)

First off, that is not how you use ellipses. Second, I know that in a review I shouldn't call out the writer, but I know way too much about writing a novel to turn a blind eye to lazy research. And I mean really lazy research. Writers will never be perfect, but that is what editors are for.

Oh, and the real kicker, Fitzpatrick graduated college with a degree in health. Just check the book jacket.

Now onto Patch Cipriano. All the girls swoon over this dark and mysterious fallen angel. But I ask you, "Why?" Why would you want to be with a guy who taunts you in class with sexual references? Why, when you think he might be stalking you? Why, when he later admits that he had every intention of killing you? If he made you swoon, then you either have serious issues or subconsciously support assholes who think they're entitled to your body.

Patch does nothing but intimidate Nora. He stands close to her and smiles down on her with a predatory smile. He makes inappropriate comments. He pins her against things. He even has a strange obsession with human bodies. He was thrown out of Heaven for trying to possess one so he could get it on with some girl. And then there is the mental violation. If those aren't enormous red flags surrounded by flaming GET OUT NOW signs, I don't know what is. Just because he has smexy abs and dark eyes full or mystery does not mean that you should bat your eye lashes at him. Saying this dude has boundary issues is putting it mildly.

You know what, I have to stop talking about Patch. Just read this review. If I go on, I will break something. Nora falling for Patch's abhorrent behavior just makes me furious.

To lighten the mood, I will now tell you that Patch is what we call my grandma's shih tzu. He is an awesome dog and super adorable. I will now take deep breaths and imagine him instead.

There, now I feel a bit better.

Honestly, the side characters weren't much better. Vee was a vapid stereotype. There is no other way to say it. If anything, Nora should hate her by the end of this book. Patch's ex Dabria is every bit the stalker he is, and manages to be more violent. The Coach is a disgusting human being that should never be allowed to teach again. Biology is not the place for sex ed, let alone his kind of sex ed. Elliot assaults Nora at her home. No excuse there.

And Jules. I don't have any excuses for him either, but I can understand why he'd hate Patch so much. This book has an underlying theme of violation, which I find ironic and hilarious in a way the author didn't intend.

Jules wants to hurt Patch because the angel has possessed him every year for over two hundred years. Basically, Patch uses Jules as a giant meat puppet for two weeks and Jules is along for the ride say or not. Jules can't kill himself because Nephilim are immortal, and he can't kill Patch because he's an angel. If Patch kills Nora (she's supposed to be a descendant of Jules) Jules would die. So, Jules wants to kill Nora to hurt him and possibly kill himself, and then Patch would basically be screwed. They're stuck in this cycle of hate; Patch because he's reliant on Jules for the human experience and Jules because Patch uses him. Both of them are bad people, and yet I understood Jules' motivations better. Patch didn't let him have a choice, and he wanted to be free from that.

That aside, I still don't get why Nora jumped. She was going to die anyway with the same outcome. Did she really think she could live or that Patch could catch her? I'm just going to stop thinking about that one before I get a headache.

For the plot, there was a bit of over stuffing to on. If Nora had to only deal with Jules, then the story would have been tighter. It is the main plot after all. But Fitzpatrick had the need to squeeze in Dabria. She didn't really feel like she belonged to the story except in the visions Nora had. There was just too much going on.

The writing was also passible aside from some bad dialogue and a few sentences that made me blink to see if they would change. It was nothing a good edit couldn't fix if you focus on just the sentences themselves. (The characterization needs overhauled entirely.) So, to help lighten the mood again, I will throw in some of these and hope I get a giggle or two.

"The air resonated with the boy's low laughter." (p.5) It is never specified whether it is low in tone or volume. Considering Patch's personality, I'm guessing volume, but either way I doubt the air "resonated" with it.

"Patch's eyes were black orbs." (p.19) I kept imagining those contacts used to black out the whole eye. Can you say creepy?

"By seven o'clock, the sky had glowered into an inky blue..." (p. 40) glowered: Verb. To look or stare with sullen dislike, discontent, or anger. Yup, her editors were asleep if they missed a word usage error this bad.

"A boom of thunder sent us flying through the doors." (p.133) I asked my husband what he thought this meant when I read the sentence out loud to him. He thought multiple people were thrown through doors by someone throwing lightning. It actually refers to Vee and Nora running into Victoria's Secret when they hear thunder during a storm. I told him his answer was much cooler.

"Something cold flushed through me, like a blush, only the opposite." (p.152) My real reaction: Um, what?

"His eyes looked like they didn't play by the rules." (p.214) This sentence made me cringe just typing it.

"My voice was strewn with cobwebs." (p.249) This is one of those sentences where I get what she's referring to, but it's still a bad metaphor.

"She laughed, and it sounded like ice cubes tinkling in a glass." (p. 321) This refers to Dabria's laugh. I kept testing the sound with different glasses, and it's really hard to imagine that sound coming out of anyone's mouth. If it did, it would be really annoying.

"His eyes were all over me. And they showed every sign of wanting to rattle me to death." (p.336) This is just bad writing, period. If the character is going to say that she's rattled or intimidated, then just say it.

So there you have it. My scatter brained review where I had to stop commenting on certain subjects before I put my fist through something. Or before I started swearing profusely. Or before I destroyed a library book.

And if you're one of those people who want to yell at me from the safety of your computer, I don't care. Never has a book made me rethink what is going into YA so much. Young Adult fiction is very important in that it gives teenagers, especially teenage girls, characters they can look up to and identify with. Because the demographic these books are targeted to are in a formative time in their life, content like I've described above disturbs me. It's not healthy to let girls think that it's okay for a boy or man to show you attention in that way. I was lucky to be have parents that taught me it isn't, but not everyone is.

The worst part is that she's a female writer. There are so many female writers out there that put out material that is worth the attention. Female writers deserve more respect, and books like this don't help. JK Rowling should be able to use her full name, if you catch my drift.

Sorry I got a bit preachy there at the end, but as a woman who wants to be a part of the published fantasy and scifi writers community, I've learned I have to be aware of what I put down. Words and ideas are more powerful than people think.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review: The Blue Blazes

The Blue Blazes (Mookie Pearl, #1)The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I begin, first the disclaimer. I don't know if this review would spoil anything for you people looking to read this book, but think of this as a warning just in case something comes up you don't want see.

I'm going to confess my undying love here. I love this man's work. LOVE with caps and italics, even in my voice. I hardly get excited over things that are released: movies, television, video games, and most books. But when Wendig announces that he has a new book hitting shelves in a couple of weeks (and he releases a lot of them) my reaction is often, "Now! Give it to me! I fling my cash at you! I demand you move faster, Time! No wonder people say you're old." My enthusiasm could even drown out the enthusiasm of my SuperWhoLock friends, and those fangirls smack you in the face with their fandom. (But I usually play it down. Being that devoted to people you don't even know is weird. Especially when you have their faces plastered all over the wall, digital and real.)

That said, I'm not afraid to point out the flaws of things I love. I see no point in being unrealistic if it still isn't going to change how you feel about something. This is where I admit that there isn't one thing I didn't love about Blue Blazes. It's very hard to find urban fantasy these days that isn't strong chick falls in love with vampire/werewolf/monster/human-male-with-personality-disorder. Face it, you know I'm right. It's like trying to shake a stick and not hit a bra or panties in a lingerie store. After reading books by genre-benders like Wendig and Lawrence (who I also worship by gushing over his books and recommending them often) I'm always looking for more.

Mookie Pearl is a thug for the Organization. They keep everything in line between the gangs and anything that wanders up from the Great Below, especially when it comes to Cerulean. Cerulean, most commonly known as Blue Blazes, is a drug created from veins found in the Underworld. It lets you see the true nature of the creepy-crawlies, makes you faster, stronger, and can lead to addiction like all substances. Mookie is a Blazer because he has to be. He needs to see these other things so he can crack their skulls. That's his job. Then his daughter Nora, whom he is not on good terms with, tells him that his Boss has cancer. And naturally, everything starts to spiral down.

Wendig does something not seen in his other novels, he world builds. He has made his own type of hell, and doesn't just borrow from other lore. It certainly influenced him, but this is all him. The most distinct thing is that there are three pigments: Blue Blazes, Red Rage, Golden Gate, Green Grave, and Violet Void. Blue is common, it does as described. Red is Hulking Out, going Super Saiyan. Muscles bulge like you're some roid-raging freak and anger takes over. Yellow takes you to the very heart of the Great Below. Green we never see. And Purple, well, let me just say that I don't want to spoil it.

Then there are the different layers of the Great Below. The first level is the Shallows. It's the more accessible part. It's where the town of the dead, Daisypusher, is located. (I recommend reading Bait Dog and his Miriam Black books so you can spot the easter eggs.) After the Shallows is the Tangle, a place of twisting catacombs where anyone can get lost. At the bottom of it all is the Expanse. Worm-like gods wallow in perpetual hunger in the Expanse. They're just the right amount of unsettling to make them ominous. I loved it.

Mookie himself is a great rounded out character. He's the loyal lug-head, but you don't want to get on his bad side. Scarred head to toe both inside and outside, he'll do anything for people he loves and anything to people who screw him over. Mookie is solid and predictable in the way you want your character to be. You know he'll fight tooth and nail, even if he looses in the end. Giving up isn't in his DNA.

And that brings me to his daughter, Nora. Nora still harbors teenage vitriol towards daddy for not being around. While she's mostly hot air, we know she's not afraid to put a bullet in someone if she so desires. Nora guards her hurt close, like her father, making them more alike than just as people I wouldn't want to wrong. Oh, and she's written just as well.

And then there's Skelly. She's a tough as nails former derby girl turned gang leader. I loved her character development. There was something refreshing about it. You don't see many tough chicks, a urban fantasy staple, question the image they give to people. What Skelly goes through makes her discover what she's made of and not made of. I want to see more of her.

Face it, Wendig can write a female character. He can write just about any character really. They all come out well done with their own distinctions. Even his side characters. Hell, even his made up gangs all have personality just in their descriptions. (The Get-Em Girls rock my socks.) Every part of Wendig's little world in Blue Blazes has a well finished touch, and I know we're going to be seeing more of it in the future.

Sorry if I did nothing but gush again, but what can you do when faced with good writing?

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Book Review: Emperor of Thorns

Emperor of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #3)Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've never done this before. I've never gotten a book ahead of its publication date. You can't leak the ending. You can't spoil it. So, what do you say? What do I say? In my previous reviews of Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns I brought up scenes I liked and wrote about Lawrence's use of modern science to make these books more than a fantasy. I even wrote about the chronological structure, but I'm not going to do that now.

I'm going to tell a story instead.

When I was sent a DM over twitter asking if I wanted a copy, I naturally said yes. Then I ordered book two because I needed to catch up. King showed up before I left on vacation and I finished it before I got back. There, squished between the screen and front door, was a white shipping bag of bubble wrap and plastic. I couldn't get it open fast enough, and the damn package was impossible when I tried to use my fingers. So I resorted to scissors.

My face lit up when I held the pretty green proof copy of Emperor in my hands. Sure, the release cover is nice looking, but it's always the story that matters. I couldn't wait to crack it open, but I did. I wanted time to devour it. The next day I sat down with it after work and ate it up.

But then a curious thing happened. Over the course of the next few days, I read less and less. Then, about half way through, I set it down. It sat unread for a few days on my dining table. I walked by it every day, but didn't pick it up. Why did I stop reading? I was loving it to death.

The truth was that I didn't want to get to the end. This is a strange feeling for me. I'm the kind of person who finished awful books because I have to know what happens next. I understand that a good thing must end because all things should end before they wear out their welcome. I'm the kind of person that would like more Firefly, but I'm happy it died while good so that fans didn't have to see it decay, a former shadow of its glory. I knew this was it for Jorg's story. I follow Lawrence on Twitter. He's already working on a new series.

You see, we - the audience - has seen Jorg grow up. We haven't just seen a single moment in his life punctuated with memories. We know his thoughts and fears. We've seen him go from brash teenager who is way too smart, to a mature young man who recognizes all the wrong he has committed. A young man who recognizes the importance of having those you love in your life and why you should save them. Lawrence has managed to squeeze the life of a person into three books while at the same time analyze the role technological advances play in our world. It comes down to Jorg, the boy who defies fate and thumbs his nose at "No," to fix the mistakes that people made a thousand years ago. A boy-turned-man that is just like them, all desire, to fix modern man's drive to play god.

Now, for those of you who don't like these books because Jorg is a deplorable personality, you miss the point. You put it down at Prince of Thorns and missed one of the best things about this character. He is self aware. He grew up and knows he is a terrible human being. He doesn't try to justify it or spout excuses. He knows. That is one of the best things about this character. As much as he tries to be a better person, he knows that he is impulsive, quick to anger, and contrary. He knows that people deserve better than him, yet he is the perfect hero for a story like this. And he knows that too. He is greedy, lustful, stubborn, and profane. He is human. You aren't supposed to like him, just understand him.

So, in my own self awareness, I finished the book. The ending snuck up much faster than I imagined. At one moment I had one hundred pages, and then forty. And then there were no more. That left me staring at the back of a flimsy paper cover. I didn't want that to be it. Even with a favorite TV show, I don't think I've never been this attached. I cherish what I got and leave it at that. After all, all good things must end.

But there was something stunningly beautiful about the ending. I wouldn't change a thing. And for that, I respect you Mark Lawrence.

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