Thursday, January 8, 2015

Red Rising: review

Pierce Brown
(Just released in paperback, FYI.)

Goodreads summary:
The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity's last hope.

Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it's all a lie. That Mars has been habitable - and inhabited - for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield - and Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda.

Now comes the part where I try to write a coherent review of a book I adored and it just ends up with an awkward combination of exclamation marks and caps lock.

So let’s give it a try; I’ll basically list all the reasons I loved Red Rising. And it must be known that I paused in the middle of reading The Name of the Wind, to read this. I didn’t mean to, I just couldn’t stop. (And it’s about 600 pages shorter so.)

When I saw the blurb saying it’s like Ender’s Game meets The Hunger Games…yes, it helped me pick up the book in the first place. But through the entire book all I could think was yes yes yes that’s actually an accurate comparison. For *once* in the history of catchy blurbs.

Guys this book is so vibrantly brutal, and caught me by surprise at pretty much every turn. Even when I thought I figured it out, I don’t think I was correct in predicting a single thing that would happen. It just has a crisp and unconventional feel while reading, despite the rather simple description on the back. Sure it has elements of the books mentioned above, but don’t judge or compare it because Red Rising is a wicked smart space opera and OWNS it. 

For the actual plot and setting of Red Rising, if you’ve read the synopsis, you know the basics. There’s a handy map in the front, which I referred to a lot. It takes place on MARS which is badass and please please let there be more books on my favorite planet. Many landforms are mentioned which you’ll recognize if you’re a space nerd. The game (which I don’t think should be capitalized?) takes place in Valles Marineris and takes about a year I think. The point is to sort of take control/conquer the map a la Age of Empires, and it’s specifically said the point of the exercise isn’t to just have everyone kill each other off. The players are of high-ranking-parents Gold children; the next generation’s rulers. It’s a game of war strategy and social behavior study. Technically it’s part of ‘school’ but these teens don’t know what they’re getting into. Alliances are always shifting, and the rules are grey all around. I would name all my favorite characters, but I fear butchering the spelling, and I’m sure everyone’ll have all their favorites. Prepare for ALL THE FEELS, my friends. ALL OF THEM. 

An element that really caught me by surprise is how women were so equally represented in Red Rising. During the game at the Institute which is 80% of the book, there are just as many vicious girls as kindhearted boys involved. (As kindhearted as a Gold killer can be.) There’s really no mention of anything silly like women not being as strong etc, even in a physical sort of battle. Each individual plays to their strengths, no matter their gender. The key is non-mentioning, just make it so. And to my amazement, it worked. 

Something I’m really picky about in sci-fi/futuristic books is the lingo. It’s normally a fine line between shit and brilliance. It did take me a few chapters to get used to reading it, but then all the words sounded so natural! Especially within different castes—from swear words to compliments, there’s a carefully crafted structure to the language that blends seamlessly with this world.

I’ve somehow managed to have the Red Rising hardcover on my bookshelf since last January, and while it was silly of me to wait so long to read it…I’m impossibly happy I waited because yesterday the second book, Golden Son, was released and I would have seriously injured someone in my wait for its release.

Wow I think I did pretty well with my caps lock self control.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Trial by Fire: review

Trial by Fire (Worldwalker #1) by Josephine Angelini

Goodreads summary:
This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying experiences that others in her hometown of Salem take for granted, which is why she is determined to enjoy her first high school party with her best friend and longtime crush, Tristan. But after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class, Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly, Lily is in a different Salem—one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruelest of them all is Lillian . . . Lily's other self in this alternate universe.

What makes Lily weak at home is what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. In this confusing world, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can't hope to shoulder alone and a love she never expected.

My thoughts:
First, since it's a must, let's look at that awesome cover for a minute. Maybe two. Wonderful and perfect, I hope the next one is that fitting.

I have read Josephine Angelini's Starcrossed trilogy before, and at the time I really liked them. (Back in 2011 when there was the initial slew of trilogy-debut-similar books being published.) Not bad for her first ones, but now after reading Trial by Fire, I can see her writing has changed very much. She's found her footing, and it's significantly better. I was surprised, and now delighted. I can easily hope it's just going to keep getting better, and she will keep growing as a writer.

After racking my brain, I can't actually come up with any 'parallel/alternate' universe books I've read. To me, usually they're off-putting with the mirrored image cover, because I despise and avoid those. That's sheer shallowness on my part, and now I might have to close my eyes and pick another book in the genre, because this one exceeded my expectations. (Oh yes, A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray is near the top of my pile. Again the cover, it's like they learned their lesson on the mirror thing.) But maybe what makes this stand out to me is once Lily gets pulled into this alternate universe, things aren't 'almost the same', it's 'holy crap my house turned into a castle' so the differences are more world-wide. A very different timeline having branched off long ago, rather than something Lily did differently that day. Does that make sense?

What did I love about this book? The correct question was what DIDN'T I like about this book? Yeah yeah, I had to say it. Literally the only thing I didn't like, was the very beginning. If you pick it up and start reading thinking, oh boy, this girl Lily is a little shallow regarding "The Boy" Tristin who's a total tool, and she's annoying. Well I can tell you, even by the 50 page mark (what chance I give books) she changes, along with the whole book's tone, which really took me by surprise. Also regarding Tristin…

The romance part of Trial by Fire was such a gulp of fresh air, I can't express to you enough. Without giving too much away, a love triangle is reasonably avoided, and Lily actually does things for HERSELF instead for her guy. It's more like she builds friendships and different kinds of relationships with about five close people. Whoa, like real life, then? Not solely wineing about who isn't falling in love with her? It felt natural and kind, a deep understanding in the most opposite form of insta-love as possible. Thank you Josephine Angelini, we need more female characters like Lily. (Not Lillian, please. That would just be terrifying.)

Since the POV is third person, we mostly see Lily's side of things, but every once and again there's a glimpse into what's going on outside her sphere of knowing, and we see what's up back with Lillian at the castle, or Gideon, who is Mister Slimy Asshole. I think this arrangement of headspace really worked for the story, even though it's not something I'm used to enjoying in books.

I love the blend of science and magic in here. It's like when Whedon mixed westerns and science fiction. Everybody kinda pffft at it, (crazy people) and look how well it worked out. Trial by Fire's world building is beautiful and creative, with things from bioluminescent trees as street lamps, to spliced together creatures to help with different tasks in society. (Some didn't work out so well though.) When the magic is explained in detail, it transforms into an exquisite scientific topic, and the whole process was utterly bewitching. Pun intended. You'll see what I mean when the willstones come to play, there isn't a way to shortly describe it.

Justification. That may be the theme to Trial by Fire. With many of the decisions made by Lily, Lillian, even Rowan and Juliet, I found myself really trying, and seeing, the motives behind their actions.  -What was terrifying and well written about Lillian, was that yes, her argument actually makes sense, nuclear power is bad! But is it hang-thousands-of-school-children-who-are-learning-science bad? It is to her, but we're also missing some vital information to totally hate her at this point. (I'm kidding, there is no saving that bitch's soul.) And as the story unfolds, and Lily learns more about being in this new world, her actions become even more questionable, and you're wincing alongside her as she makes every important decision.

Lastly, while I was left with an ending that kept me wanting more, it had enough of a sentence, a chapter, to leave me with an "Oohh I wonder what's going to happen next!" Rather than "What! That's not even a complete sentence!!" In other words, a tolerable cliffhanger. More like a ledge. …See this is why I don't do metaphors.

(Need recs, any more great parallel universe or witchy books I can't miss?)


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Heir of Fire: review

Book three of the Throne of Glass series, so yes SPOILERS for the second two.

Goodreads summary:
Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy. 

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?

I really want to give this 5 stars…4.75 all right?

After the awesomeness of Crown of Midnight, and its awful cliffhanger, I wasn't sure what to expect from Heir of Fire. First of all it's like twice as long. There is no second of all. It's just really freaking long.

This installment follows three points of view. Celaena's voyage to the fae realm, introducing Manon the Iron Witch (is that what they're called?) being evil/up to no good in the far mountains, and Chaol and Dorian's goings on back in Adarlan's castle of glass. You see why this has to be so long, it's like three stories woven together. It was done excellently, I must say. 

Celaena's story was the slowest, I think. At least through the entire middle of the book. You remember in the Eragon series where he goes and trains for ever and ever in the second book? That's like what it was. Celaena's so messed up right now with guilt, depression from her best friend's death, and oh this Queen of fae crown she's supposed to take on and save everybody with. It's a lot for her to handle, and her instructor, Rowan, is super obnoxious about helping her take control of her magic. Eventually, the relationship between Celaena and Rowan becomes one of the most interesting I've come across. It's slow building, but intensely deep and not in the way you might think. And her magical powers are outstanding and awesome. Once she stops incinerating everything within a mile of her.

When we meet Manon…well I wanted to run way screaming in the other direction. She and her people are so terrifying with their iron teeth and nails and bloodthirstiness, it's amazing. There's some real woman power here, and it's too bad these warriors are on the bad side. It's a sort of behind the scenes to what the king is planning, and a different perspective on the war.

Now for Chaol's and Dorian's perspective. Chaol is definitely becoming more complicated. As much as he loves Celaena, her fae powers scared him at the end of Crown of Midnight, and now he's a little unsure where his loyalties lie. Or I should say to whom his loyalties lie. Watching this internal struggle and the straining relationship with his friend and prince, Dorian, is hard, but very real. It's never black and white with these things like war and friendship. 

Dorian on the other hand, is trying to control his newfound magic in secret as well as…yeah that's mostly it. At least from what I can remember, he's having an awful time of it, being prince and everything, and disagreeing with his evil dad, all that really fun stuff. I'm really proud of him for moving on from Celaena in the romantic sense though. I really didn't expect that maturity which started in the last book. It only strengthens in here, and he (successfully?) starts a new romantic relationship too. He isn't just 'that other guy'--that boat sailed long ago. Because this series is about so much more than Celaena and her badassery and fancy dresses.

I think my slight of loss stars is…there is no actual interaction between Celaena and Chaol. From a fangirling point of view, I was in a state of depression. I needed my sexual tension!!! Nope, character building it is, I guess. Kudos for that aspect (lack of romance whatsoever) and still making the book an incredibly enjoyable read.

Wait, I have to wait another year for the next one? Okay, I AM glad this story keeps going because it looks like this is just the beginning...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Beyond the Pale- anthology review

Available for purchase now:
Add it on Goodreads!
To learn more about Beyond the Pale-

Here's a new collection of short stories; many of you will recognize at least a handful of the authors. The stories vary quite a lot, so I think there's something in it for every kind of reader.

My overall rating is three out of five stars!

This is an added update. After posting this review, I was told by the editor to please not share my rating anywhere like Amazon or Goodreads because it was only 3/5 stars. Well, you see, that's not how reviewing works. In my review I haven't said anywhere to not buy it, or it sucks, anything like that, I just put my honest opinions in it like I always do. As an author you're going to have to deal with that sort of thing. So I'm going to share this review far and wide.


Hooves  and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela by Saladin Ahmed:

Not my cup of tea. I tried a few pages but couldn't get into it.

Children of the Shark God by Peter S. Beagle:

I'm not sure how to categorize this one. I haven't read any of his books before, but I've definitely heard about them. This story brings the classic moral-fairytale-esque idea and twists it all around for a completely original tale. There's something about the way he writes, like a true ancient storyteller with a vivid imagination. It's impressively creative, and now I really should get to reading The Last Unicorn...

Misery by Heather Brewer:

I've only read Heather's work in other anthologies, not her actual books, so I know I like her writing style. She's also an incredibly nice person. Misery, one of her two stories in here, is probably my favorite. It reads like a true black-and-white Twilight Zone episode, with almost a touch of The Giver. This story had me in goosebumps from the first sentence, and ended differently than I expected.
(Also I realized I'd read this one in another anthology before, no wonder I liked it! Again!)

Shadow Children by Heather Brewer:

It's okay, but nothing original and sort of predictable…also too short to succeed in grabbing me.

Red Run by Kami Garcia

Supernatural fan? It's like a condensed version of an episode. Twisty turny creepy.

Pale Rider by Nancy Holder

Halfway through I realized I'd read this one before too. Its difference stands out--unique paranormal/dystopian combination.

Frost Child by Gillian Philip

Not a fan. Read a few pages but couldn't get into it, but it also had to do with one of her stories, like a prequel. So maybe that's why I just didn't understand.

South by Gillian Philip

One of the shortest stories, but in my top three favorite. Reads like an old tale of the north, but all I could gather was it's at an icy island in the middle of nowhere. Similar to Peter Beagle's story from near the beginning. Both have that older-story feel.

A Knot of Toads by Jane Yolen

Second favorite! If I remember correctly, it took place in Scotland in the early 1900s. Witches and curses and despite it's grossness, I totally enjoyed it. Don't miss this one!

The Adventures of Lightning Merriemouse-Jones by Nancy and Belle Holder

This is a retelling of Dracula….with mice as characters.

I think I'll leave you with that.



Thank you to the editor for sending me a copy of this book to review; receiving a free copy has in no way influenced my opinions of the book. This is a review without bias.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Hush, Hush: review

Rating: 3 stars
Summary: Romance was not part of Nora Grey's plan. She's never been particularly attracted to the boys at her school, no matter how hard her best friend, Vee, pushes them at her. Not until Patch comes along. With his easy smile and eyes that seem to see inside her, Patch draws Nora to him against her better judgment.

But after a series of terrifying encounters, Nora's not sure whom to trust. Patch seems to be everywhere she is and seems to know more about her than her closest friends. She can't decide whether she should fall into his arms or run and hide. And when she tries to seek some answers, she finds herself near a truth that is way more unsettling than anything Patch makes her feel.

For she is right in the middle of an ancient battle between the immortal and those that have fallen - and, when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost Nora her life.

My review:

Pretty mixed feelings in this one. First of all, wow, throwback before the dystopian craze, eh? Kind of a nice break there! 

There isn't much substance, and that's where the stars disappear. There's like 300 whole pages of biology-homework-related-googley-eyes-after-mysterious-hot-guy. Then the last 80 pages or so something exciting/supernatural actually happens! So that took a while.

What I didn't get. Nora didn't like Patch. Yeah there's that "he's dangerous but I feel drawn to him!!" thing going on. But I never even felt their chemistry!! And she kept bugging him and everything. He wasn't the stalker it seemed, she was. I didn't even like Patch all that much: he wasn't as witty/snarky as Jace, but not smexy enough to be like Daemon. So it was a definite "eh" for me. 

As far as angel-genre books go, pretty good! although I only have just the barest glimpse of this lore, it's fascinating and I'd like to learn more about it. Points for that.

Nora is a good character, not too cookie cutter, but sort of flat still...I mean, I couldn't even name any hobbies she has? She's pretty independent, but also falls to the trope of "drawn to dark and dangerous (and says that exact thing in her narration) but what can you do?" After all, Nora is even more masochistic in my eyes than Bella, and that's impressive. (Almost so bad it's good, kinda thing?) For every good aspect I can think about her, I remember something just as annoying sooo that wasn't helpful at all. Oh she does have an awesome tropey best friend Vee who has some hilarious lines. 

Hush, hush is a pretty fun book. It's not going on my shelf, but I don't regret reading it. Good for an escape read. I, personally, won't be continuing the series. Too many other awesome books out there.

Jane :)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Picture books you just have to take ten minutes to read.

I'm working a lot in the children's section of my bookstore, and I have found that picture books, a genre previously unexplored to me, are freaking awesome. Here are a few that I sat down and read and absolutely loved. I won't really review them, because I'm picking them because I like them. I'll just put summaries and links.

This magical story begins on an island far away where an imaginary friend is born. He patiently waits his turn to be chosen by a real child, but when he is overlooked time and again, he sets off on an incredible journey to the bustling city, where he finally meets his perfect match and-at long last-is given his special name: Beekle.

New York Times bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator Dan Santat combines classic storytelling with breathtaking art, creating an unforgettable tale about friendship, imagination, and the courage to find one's place in the world.


In this quirky twist on The Boy Who Cried Wolf, a boy's excuses turn out to have an unexpected element of truth.


The ingenious author of 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore and a brilliant illustrator and production designer of the Coraline movie have created a hilarious, touching picture book perfect for young animal lovers. Like the Caldecott Medal-winning Officer Buckle and Gloria, Sparky stars a pet who has more to offer than meets the eye. When our narrator orders a sloth through the mail, the creature that arrives isn't good at tricks or hide-and-seek . . . or much of anything. Still, there's something about Sparky that is irresistible.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Maze Runner: book review

Rating: 3 stars
Summary: "If you ain't scared, you ain't human." 

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He's surrounded by strangers--boys whose memories are also gone.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It's the only way out--and no one's ever made it through alive.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

My review:

Pretty mixed feels here.

Yes, I read this finally for the sole reason that a movie is coming out. Also, I did listen to the audiobook, I didn't read it. (I hope I spell things right.)

When Thomas wakes up in the box and enters the Glade…..a hundred pages later something interesting happens. If you like lord of the flies, or are a 14 year old boy, you will probably love this book. For me, as I fall into neither of those categories, this is not my kind of book. I really don't like to put gender labels on books but this felt like a boy book to me. I seem to be in the minority in not liking it though, so I'll try not to rant.

The narrator wasn't my favorite, but I tried not to let that influence my opinions too much. He did al the accents really distinctly, so that was much help. If I was reading this book myself, I would have put it down probably 50 pages in from boredom and confusing slang. So it does have a slow start, but for the last maybe third of the book, things get super exciting, and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately the fall-flat parts for me were that the writing was very predictable and simple, and the only girl character was in a coma the entire time, and wasn't remarked upon unless Thomas said she smelled like flowers (which makes no freaking sense) or to mention four whole times that she has black hair, pale skin, and blue blue eyes. I guess you can't say much more about a character who goes into a coma after blurting out one creepy sentence.

For the other boys, it was a strange set up, some boys having been there the two years, and lots of newer ones joining. I feel like the older boys (been there longer, ages were vague) were a little bullheaded, and close-minded to Thomas's suggestions. Whereas I was like yes yes! when he had an idea, there's like, lets lock up the girl for no good reason! Huh? C'mon you guys, you really want to be stuck in that maze forever? Why not keep grabbing onto new ideas? Boys...

Now, really near the ending, things took some unexpected turns so I was finally surprised with some events…and so maybe maybe I'll read the second one sometime. I can tell it'd be really different from this first one.

I never say this, but the movie looks way more awesome than the book, so I am really excited to see it!