The Broken Kingdoms

brokenkingdomsSynopsis: (From back cover.)

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind.  Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse.  This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy.  Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city.  And Oree’s guest is at the heart of it…

This is probably the briefest back of book blurb I’ve seen so far.  While the first book ended in a way where you don’t have to read the second book, it’s very self-contained, this blurb feels very…lackluster.  If you haven’t read the first book, this honestly isn’t a very exciting blurb.  On its own, it does nothing to really instill in me a want to read the book, in fact it almost feels like a thinly veiled romance.  However, if you did read the first book, then it’s painfully obvious who Oree’s mysterious guest is, so it still doesn’t do anything to really pull you in to want to read it.  We can guess, from the events of the first book, that her guest is Itempas, but the core plot of the story is very much glossed over.

First sentence:

Prologue: I remember that it was midmorning.

This kind of opening is actually more powerful than it initially seems.  We’re given POV from the start, and it tells us that the character is about to have a bit of a flashback moment to something in their past.  Prologues seem designed for flashback moments, so I’m not opposed to that.  But there’s something in the simple phrasing here.  Often when we think back to something traumatic or a very important moment in our lives, we focus first on some seemingly unimportant facet of that day.  The time of day, that your feet hurt, that you stubbed your toe that morning…Jemisin introducing the prologue, and the character, in this way showed (at least to me) how much she developed the character’s personality.

First Chapter: “Please help me,” said the woman.

Given the hints from the blurb and the events that take place in the prologue, I was expecting something a bit dramatic to start off the first chapter, maybe some action or danger or something.  It actually turned out to be something very mundane but also entertaining.  It helped set up Oree’s personality (considering the prologue is ten years earlier) and gives us a (at first) jovial opening to the story.  That quickly changes, though, as the body of a godling is soon discovered by Oree.
The Good:

Unlike Yeine of the first book, I actually liked Oree’s character.  I remember complaining in my review of Hundred Thousand Kingdoms that Yeine did not feel like a real person to me.  She was described as being one way, a warrior, but none of her actions reflected that at all.  I had a very hard time seeing the character I was told to see and it made it difficult for me to really care about her.

Oree, however, is far more developed.  She’s a blind artist, blind since birth, that can see magic.  There were times where magic was so strong it lit up her world and she could see almost like normal.  I believed she was blind, I believed it was something she’d been dealing with her whole life, I also believed in the personality we’re shown from the very beginning.  And because I could believe in her existence as a person, I cared far, far more for her as a character than I did for Yeine.

As seen with Oree as a character, Jemisin’s writing visibly improved between this book and the last.  The descriptions were far better, the character interactions were more genuine, I actually liked more than one character!  I liked Oree, Madding and even Itempas!  Also, the plot, while simple in nature, was very well done.

The Bad:

The sex scenes.  I’m no prude, far from it, but from a writing standpoint, the sex scenes in and of themselves were something of a paradox.  Reading them was like watching the writer write something she was only just becoming comfortable writing.  The sex scenes in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms were brief and fairly subtle.  Here, she took a step further and while on one hand they were done well, on the other it seemed like she was testing unfamiliar waters.  For example, there are two sex scenes in the book and both have a ‘warm-up’ scene.  I’m not talking foreplay, I’m talking a separate sex scene, described in a paragraph or maybe only a few lines.  Subtle, but present.  And then, immediately following the conclusion of the first round, the characters wake up, talk a little bit and then go at it again, this time with a bit more detail.  There’s nothing innately wrong with that, but it always made the first scene feel like a warm-up, like the author’s first draft, and then we get to see her try a little harder at writing one.  Even though the second scenes were certainly better than the firsts, it made me question the purpose of the first one, especially since the second ones were better written.

Jemisin also has a developing habit, specifically do these scenes, of falling to a very ambiguous descriptor that just feels lazy.  “He did something else.”  In the first book, it was a frustrating description because it felt awkward and it felt like the author didn’t know what else to say, but the rest of the scene hadn’t been all that detailed so it was passable.  But in this book, if you’ve just described him ‘slipping into her as though he didn’t belong anywhere else’, I think you can come up with something a little better than ‘he did something else, something different, something new’.  It just feels lazy.

The very, very ending.  The resolution to the main conflict was fine, perfect even.  It made sense, it tied everything up in a neat little bow, and everyone (that lives) can move on.  Then we get to the part where we find out who the main character is telling this story to.  In the first book it was Goddess Yeine reflecting on everything.  In this book, this is a rather large spoiler here, it was Oree talking to her unborn child.  OF ITEMPAS’.  What?  Jemisin did such an amazing job building Oree and Itempas as friends, bffs that for better or worse had to rely on each other to get through their crazy situation.  They started off neutral, graduated to flat out disliking and at times hating one another, and then they reached a balance.  Jemisin also does an amazing job building Oree’s relationship with her actual love interest.  I believed in their romance, I was even rooting for them.  So when she sleeps with Itempas toward the end it felt a little forced.  I could believe it, because I wasn’t really believing they had feelings for one another, this was just Itempas trying something different and she was all for it.  Then we get to her being pregnant and talking to their unborn child hoping he’ll one day walk back through the door like they were some happy couple all along and that. Just. Felt. WRONG.  It felt forced and completely unnecessary.  I think my problem with the first book was that the romance between Yeine and Nahadoth felt unnecessary and forced, the same goes for Itempas and Oree, they worked much, much better as friends.  This leads me to believe that writing romance isn’t really Jemisin’s strong point.  Or, she really likes romance and tries to squeeze one in there always, oblivious to whether or not it actually belongs.  Either way, it doesn’t do her book any favors.  That ending really ticked me off.
The Unexpected:

As I read Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I felt like I was supposed to like Nahadoth.  He was literally the god of shadows and was dark and broody and kind of cold-hearted but really a bit angsty and lonely and whatever.  If done right, that’d be right up my alley.  But he felt forced, he felt like the posterboy for the tragic hero that I’m supposed to love even though I really shouldn’t.  And so I didn’t.  I didn’t really care for him too much.  In fact, by the time I finished Hundred Thousand Kingdoms I was far more interested in Itempas as a character and not Nahadoth.  I wanted to learn more about him and his struggles, his personality.  It was that want that really drove me to pick up the sequel.

That being said, I wasn’t expecting to like him as much as I did.  Like Oree Vs Yeine, he felt, in comparison, like a far more developed character than Nahadoth.  He was a bit cold but also very aloof.  He was a fallen god that wasn’t ready to accept his new lot in life and so faced it with increasing indifference.  I believed that about him and it really drew me into his character.  I’d hoped to learn more about him and his personality and Jemisin delivered.  Which, to be honest, based on my experience with the first book, I wasn’t really expecting that.  There were several characters that I really liked.  With the first book Sieh was the only saving grace.  Here, I liked Oree (if we ignore the ending) I loved Itempas, I even liked Madding and some of the other godlings, like Lil.

All in all, I wasn’t expecting this book to pull me in as much as it did, I really, really enjoyed it.

Final Thoughts:

My final words on my review for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms were : I am interested in seeing more of Itempas as a character, the last few pages did a wonderful job of showing me that there was more to him than some jerk of an older brother, but I do hope there is more to the story than a brooding, banished Skyfather who falls for some woman.

I have to say, excluding that very, very ending, Jemisin certainly delivered on that.  I had some doubts picking this book up but I devoured it.  I enjoyed far more than I did its predecessor and would certainly recommend it.  You don’t have to read the first book to read the second, the final events of the first book are explained in this one (summarized rather nicely).  But, we’re told to see Itempas one way, through the eyes of those characters in the first book, so I think that initial image of him provides a nice contrast when we get to this book.  It’s your call.  I loved this book and I am very eager to read book three.  If Jemisin’s writing continues to improve, coupled with the fact that Sieh (my favorite character in the series thus far) is a main character, the third book should be great and I really hope it doesn’t disappoint.

Also, I recall mentioning that Jemisin’s way of telling the story, the flashback moments mixed through out in the first book were at first interesting but quickly felt abused.  No such case in this book.  The element is still there but no where near as strong.  It also feels refined, like the author took the time to really consider where those moments would work without bashing us over the head with ‘Oh wait, I totally forgot to mention…!’

All in all, a great book.  I’ll be reviewing the final book in the series soon!

The Hunger Games

ImageThe Hunger Games

By: Suzanne Collins

 

Synopsis:

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts.  The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to anticipate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games.  But Katniss has been close to dead before — and survival, for her, is second nature.  Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender.  But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

I had an eye brow raise at this.  Most people like a good dystopian, and this one would certainly be a young adult book.  Good combo.  No wonder it made it to the silver screen.  I however, have not yet watched the movie.  I don’t like watching a movie based off the book, till I’ve read the book.  Granted after reading I can’t help but nit-pick, like we all do, on what wasn’t in the book, or what did happen and what they left out.  Oh well. 

The synopsis alone would have done it for me.  I’ve always loved the concept of ‘The Truman Show’ and thinking they could push that into a dystopian made me quite curious. 

 

The First Sentence:

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.

For a first sentence, this isn’t particularly stunning.  I know that it will be in first person present tense.  I know that this person is missing someone.  I like to have a name or even a he or a she, something more to identify with.  As a first sentence this is very blah. But then, the book picks up quite quickly so we can overlook this.

 

The Good: 

The story ran quickly to the point.  Relationships were made and solidified in moments.  I cried by page 26.  You would too if you get into the book.  Best farewell ever and no one had even died yet!

The author has a great way of making you care about the characters almost instantly.  You know the relationships and you route for the ‘good guys’ and care if one of them gets hurt.  I’ve read way too many books that don’t have enough of the caring element.  This one blew me away.

It also had a strong female lead, that was independent and not looking for love.  Hey she didn’t even want it when it was smacking her in the face.  I would figure this would be a bit of a disappointment to some YA readers as most look for the couple to get together.  Kat is just not that kind of teen I guess.  But then, when you’re living your life to survive things like that tend to get overlooked. 

 

The Bad:

I had this thought and it keeps popping up.  If this great Capital can restructure a person: from healing limbs, wounds, perfecting skin from scars long ago, why do they need coal? What purpose does it serve? If they have the technology to run the capital with such things as an arena where the very climate can be changed on a whim, why would they need such a primitive fuel source as coal?  So district twelve with the sole purpose to dig in the coal mines has no relevance to what the Capital can do. What is the point in that?

My other complaint is Katniss’ inability to understand that she has feelings for Gale and Peeta.  With all the bonding time during the games, why is it she never realizes that she has true feelings for Peeta and him for her?  I was a bit angry when at the end she simply assumes that the whole thing was a ruse for both of them.  After she sees the videos of him doing his best to keep her safe, she just thinks he was ‘playing his part’. Sorry but no, I don’t buy it.  With all the epic bonding the author provides between reader and character, why is this bonding between characters so aloof?

 

The Unexpected:

The genetically engineered werewolves formed from the other players.  WHAT!?! This was so unexpected; I almost put the book down.  With all that had happened, this just seemed ridiculous. 

Way to show off the extraordinary powers of the Capital. Not.

It was completely unnecessary. I would have much preferred something to happen to Katniss and Peeta to show that he could do more than paint himself into the scenery. Hand to hand combat between Cato and Peeta would have been epic.  More than just Peeta getting his butt handed to him.  

I understand the author was going for the idea that the woman can take care of herself, but her counterpart was so useless when the reader sees him. It’s hard to think of what he could have done to help Katniss. All I saw of him was the wounded boy hiding and waiting for death, later nursed back to health, only to hurt himself again.  Why the careers would have him join them is beyond me.

 

Final Thoughts:

So as much as I don’t like the plot hole or the fact that Peeta is useless.  This was a great read.  I enjoyed the world and the idea that the government had control through fear.  The only way to keep that control was to keep the fear going.  I loved the personalities of all the characters.  They were each so different and resounding in personality that I could easily either fall in love with them or hate them within a few short pages. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who is into dystopian and YA, even the fantasy readers would like this.

 

Thanks for reading

~Muss

Theft of Swords – The Crown Conspiracy

!! – Theft of Swords is a volume that contains the first TWO books of the Riyria Revelations.  This review is only of the first book in that volume, Theft of Swords.

Synopsis:

THEY KILLED THE KING. THEY PINNED IT ON TWO MEN. THEY CHOSE POORLY.  theft of swords

Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles—until they are hired to pilfer a famed sword. What appears to be just a simple job finds them framed for the murder of the king and trapped in a conspiracy that uncovers a plot far greater than the mere overthrow of a tiny kingdom. 

Can a self-serving thief and an idealistic swordsman survive long enough to unravel the first part of an ancient mystery that has toppled kings and destroyed empires in order to keep a secret too terrible for the world to know? 

And so begins the first tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.

At the point of writing this review, I’ve only read the first book, obviously.  Since the books were presented originally as separate entities I thought it best to look at them as such.  So, I can’t say for sure, but it seems to me that this blurb really only applies to the first book.  They’re hired to steal the sword, they’re framed, they have to uncover the true culprit, etc, etc.  So it doesn’t do much to give us an idea of what we can expect out of the entire Volume.  I may be proven wrong when I read the second half.

That being said, when we get to the point of them getting hired to steal the sword, we already know what’s going to happen!  We know it’s not a real job, we know they’re going to get framed, so there’s a bit of build up to something that really doesn’t have any climatic value.

(For the majority of this review I’m going to try very hard to refrain from revealing who the bad guy is, what twists are present, etc.  I know most of my reviews do contain inevitable spoilers but I feel that the plot and the turns it takes are one of this novel’s few strong points, and I’d rather not ruin it altogether.)

First sentence:

Hadrian could see little in the darkness, but he could hear them—the snapping of twigs, the crush of leaves, and the brush of grass.

A decent set up, a bit of atmosphere, mood, we know the name of whose head we’re in to start with, and we can get a very basic idea of where this is about to take place.  It’s not clunky or too ambiguous and gets me reading into the next sentence.  The entire scene flows pretty well, it’s set up to the extent that our heroes Hadrian and Royce are traveling and stopped by a group of would-be bandits.  Hadrian & Royce then manage to talk them not only out of robbing them, but of clearing the path for them.  It’s very entertaining.

The Good:

Like I said, it’s very entertaining.  The conversations and banter between characters had me laughing more than once.  Hadrian & Royce have that best friend/have been through it all together kind of attitude and it manages to show without being overbearingly cliché or annoying.  The conversations and witty remarks between the main characters and side characters, background characters, it all flows very naturally and I had no issues believing that someone would say A, B or C in that situation.

The plot itself had me guessing quite a few times in terms of who was really behind the killing of the king and attempted murder of the prince.  The way the facts are presented, as the characters discover them, really have you going one way before you get completely thrown to another.

Royce is that fantasy character that is a thief, super stealthy, can sneak into shadows, blah blah blah.  One of his saving graces is that we the writing doesn’t dwell on just how well he slips into darkness, or how confused everyone is, or how mysterious, or anything.  It’s simply just ‘Royce slipped into the shadows’, which is a welcome change of pace.

The Bad:

The Riyria Revelations books were originally self published and then, due to their popularity, picked up by Orbit and republished as the three volumes we have now (2 books per volume).  Unfortunately it’s fairly obvious that there wasn’t a lot of editing done between the self-publishing stage and the redistribution stage, as a result, the lack of editing that was done prior to the self-publishing stage is very evident.  There is an ungodly amount passive voice that could have been avoided with just a few good beta-readers.  Same goes for the exposition scenes.

As a writer, I noticed these things.  But when I passed a book to someone else to read, who is not a writer, even they felt tripped up by the amount of ‘was’ and ‘had’s.  The exposition scenes were obvious to them as well.  To the point that while the characters are having a casual conversation about the Gods, the religion, the philosophy behind it, the different factions of the Nationalists, Imperialists, and Royalists, you can’t help but take a breather to let the info sink in, and while you’re taking that breath the thought occurs to you: Shouldn’t these characters, that have been living in this world and this setting all their lives, know at least some of this?

They felt like excuses to explain what was going on and because of that you wind up getting confused on some of the information anyway.  By the end of the book I was STILL lost on the difference between the Nationalists, Imperialists and Royalists, not because as a whole their concept was convoluted but because they were presented to us in on large info dump and then referred to afterward as though we’d committing the information to memory, with no real context.

The fight scenes.  Oddly enough the one-on-one fight scenes were much more difficult to muddle through than the larger scale battles.  Sullivan writes the scenes in a way where everyone on the planet must obviously know the different stances, attacks and defenses when fighting with a rapier.  Terms were thrown out there that had no real meaning to me and it was only by pushing on to read what the combatant’s reaction was, could I figure out what the initiating attack had been.  If the defense was as confusing as the offense, I was definitely lost.  On top of that all the one-on-one scenes were described, in my understanding, as though they were fighting with rapiers.  Everyone.  Always.  Mind you, Hadrian is described as having 3 swords, none of which are quite as elegant as a rapier.

Finally, there was ONE section that I literally frowned, flipped back a few pages and cringed.  Once the prince is back in his territory, he goes to the one person he can trust and mobilizes an attack against the capital and the traitor attempting to take his throne.  He arrives at the abode of his ally early one morning, by nightfall hundreds of people have been amassed from the nearby provinces or districts or what-have-you (it’s never really made clear) and they’re ready to attack by the next day.

Not only does this illustrate the absolute lack of time reality that’s found consistently throughout the story (ie everyone can be reached by only a few hours or day or two’s travel, this massive kingdom seems rather small when traveling) but I also found it hard to believe and impossible to understand how his ally was able to gather his wits about what’s going on (since he didn’t even know before the prince’s arrival that the King had been assassinated), send word to the outlying whoevers, they had time to organize their forces, march to the ally, and then they still found an hour or two to have a final meeting.

What?

I mean, if the distance between places is so grand that this guy, a friend of the royal family, hadn’t even heard through the rumor mill that the King was assassinated (pretty big news) how did he get messages back and forth to everyone else so quickly?  This, like the passive voice and exposition scenes, probably could have been avoided with some basic editing.

The Unexpected:

The first book, The Crown Conspiracy, is self-contained, which is pleasant because I was able to enjoy the story and take a break from lugging this tome of a novel around and read some other books in the meanwhile, without feeling obligated or suckered into reading the next book.  When it is revealed who really was behind the planned assassination of the King and attempted assassination of the prince, I was surprised.  Everything pointed to someone else and I fell into it wholeheartedly.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up the book.  It’s a high-fantasy sure, and the back blurb definitely paints a particular image.  I think I may have been prepared for some flowery prose, a couple of clichés and maybe a robed mage or two.  (We do get the latter although he disappears almost as quickly as his character is introduced.)  In actuality it was a very quick and easy read.  There’s maybe 10 chapters in the first book, each chapter being somewhere between 30 and 50 pages, which was a little annoying, but I blew through it surprisingly fast.  It’s very easy to fall into the characters, their personalities and the like.

Final Thoughts:

I know that my ‘The Bad’ section is longer than my ‘The Good’ section, but this book was enjoyable.  So much so that I fully intend to read the second half of the first volume, as well as (barring the series going totally downhill in that second half) volumes 2 & 3.  It’s a comfortable read.  I do feel the bad points are worth mentioning because they can stilt the enjoyment of the book.  I also hope that those cons will work themselves out as the story (and writer) progresses.

Viridis by Calista Taylor

Viridis

By Calista Taylor

ImageBook description via Amazon.com:

In steampunk Victorian London, where airships dot the sky and tinkerings abound, Lady Phoebe Hughes develops an herbal elixir, Viridis, unlike any other. London’s elite flock to her club to experience the euphoria and heightened senses the drink brings, an orgasm brought on by a single kiss. But when Lord Hawthorne is murdered after leaving her club, Phoebe is shocked to find that not only was he working for the Special Services to infiltrate the Cause, a movement fighting for the city’s poor, he was also in possession of her secret formulation for Viridis.

 

Adding to her difficulties is the unexpected return of Mr. Seth Elliott, a brilliant tinkerer who stole her heart and imagination, only to abandon her when she needed him most. Unable to ignore all that is between them, Phoebe finds herself falling for Seth once again, only to have a powerful rival for her affections wrongly accuse Seth of attempted murder. As Phoebe struggles with a way to free her love, revolution, conspiracy and murder threaten to ruin it all.

 

*** Author’s note: Some scenes are not suitable for those under 18 years of age. ***  

~Some spoilers included~

While I’m not always into mysteries or steampunk, this one caught my eye.  Well, look at that cover. Doesn’t it catch you?  The blurb caused an eyebrow raise, only to intrigue me further. I honestly didn’t know what I’d find in this book, erotica, murder mystery, or something else.

The first sentence:

The body lay as it had fallen, the man’s limbs bent at awkward angles.

This sets up the feel of the story quite nicely.  You know someone is dead, awkward angles, hmmm, I would say murdered.  The line grabs me, letting me ask the right questions. Why was he dead? Who killed him? Who found him?

The Good:

This book explains just enough to keep me flipping pages.  Not all the questions are answered, but good questions do rise and conclusions lead me astray. Then they brought me right back to where the story wanted me to be.  And the ending! Loved the twist, loved the way all the loose ends were tied and the concept that good overcame the overbearing pompous jerk.  I breathed a content sigh when I had finished. I’d call it good brain food. Yes, good eating indeed.

The Bad:

There wasn’t much that was bad in the story.  The only thing that made some of the reading drag was the constant talk about the Cause and the impending revolution.  None of which happen in this book.  I would assume that all of this is set up to continue into the next book.  I love book series but sometimes I think it would be better if the mention of the Cause and other parts of that plot line weren’t talked about so often.  It distracted me from the main plot: Murder, theft, and the masterminds behind it.

The Unexpected:

I was not expecting the good guys to fall so far.  Poor Phoebe takes upon herself a most horrible sacrifice, one that most women would die rather than go through.  I cringed for her, my heart bled for her.  The author was detailed just enough so that ever torcher was indeed felt.  I still feel it.  And the reaction that Seth has after, I didn’t know whether I felt his pain, or if I wanted to smack him.

Final Thoughts:

I don’t normally read these types of books.  I mean there wasn’t a werewolf or a fairy or a zombie or even a dragon to tweak my inner fantasy girl. There was however a great romance, a lovers triangle (though only touched upon as in the past) and believable characters.  I loved or hated each one with just as much vigor as I would my friends and foes in real life.

I will be picking up the next book as soon as I can.  I’m sure I’ll be reading more on the Cause and finding out if that finally comes to a head. I can’t wait to go back into Phoebe’s world and see how’s she’s doing.

Thanks for reading.

~Muss

Blood Red Road

bloodredroad

Synopsis: (From inside cover.)

Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant dust storms.  That’s fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother, Lugh, is around.  But when a monster sandstorm arrives bearing four cloaked horsemen, Saba’s world is shattered.  Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on a quest to get him back.

Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her.  So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: She’s a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent.  Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

Blood Red Road has a searing pace, a poetically minimal writing style, relentless action and an epic love story.

Normally I don’t include those last lines of how ‘epic’ a book is, or what awards its won, or whatever they decide to include as a last-ditch effort to get you to read the book because they’re either way, way off or just so generalized that it hardly matters.  However, Blood Red Road really is full of ‘relentless action’ and is a pretty darn ‘epic love story’.  And not just in a boy-meets-girl kind of love, Saba’s love for her brother and, eventually, her love for Emmi as well.

First sentence:

From Prologue: Lugh got born first.

Right away we’re given an idea of the kind of language and syntax this book will be using.  It’s not a very striking first sentence, but it does help set the tone.

Chapter One: The day’s hot.

Another one that’s very short, clipped, to the point.  Which is essentially what you can expect from the entire book.  These aren’t opening lines that in-and-of themselves immediately grab me and pull me in, but they do make me want to read the next line, if nothing else to get just a little more.

The Good:

This book is incredibly fast-paced and action-packed.  Neither term I use lightly, but right from the beginning things go into motion and it never slows down.  Just when you think it’s going to be okay, at least for a little bit, that Saba can take a breath and sit for a moment, something else gets thrown her way.  Usually, something major.

The blurb describes it as an ‘epic love story’ but the word ‘epic’ is so overused lately to describe creative works nowadays it holds little meaning to me.  But, for once, I think it’s appropriately used.  When Lugh gets kidnapped Saba embarks on this insane mission to rescue him, fueled entirely by her blind love for him.  Meanwhile, their little sister Emmi tags along because she loves Lugh too, but Saba hates her.  I mean, hates.  She loathes this little girl with every fiber of her being, blaming her for their mother’s death, the reason their father has seemed so out of touch lately, she’s even jealous (I think) of the attention Lugh gives her.  Throughout the course of the book Saba has to learn to find a place for Emmi in heart but it is not easy.

As bad as I felt for Emmi and as much as I wanted to punch Saba in the throat for the way she treated her, I loved the fact that there was that rift between the two of them.  Not every relationship is perfect, even if you are blood related.  I don’t think the story would have worked if she loved Emmi as much as she loved Lugh.  On top of that there’s a pretty decent age gap between the two of them, about 10 years I think?  That can also cause an issue ‘cause they just can’t relate on a lot of levels, Saba would have outgrown any ‘kid stuff’.

And then of course we have the romantic love.  When Saba meets Jack you know it’s going to go down that road eventually, and at first I wanted to dislike him because he was a romantic interest and would only get in the way.  On top of that, earlier in the book, Saba was given a ‘heartsstone’ which would grow warm whenever she was near her heart’s desire.  Guess who she was around the first time it starts getting toasty?  Yeah.  So, a part of me was afraid that there wouldn’t be any real romantic development between the two of them and it would just ‘be’ because that’s what the heartstone (and author) say.

I shouldn’t have doubted Moira Young.

Saba can’t stand Jack when she first meets him.  In fact she spends most of the book disliking him, despite whether or not he makes her feel a little funny.  She refuses to believe in some stupid heartstone and chooses to instead charge ahead and put her sole focus on saving Lugh.  So there was development between the two of them, he had to win her over, she had to give a little, and hey, when you’re fighting hellwurms side by side, you tend to respect one another a bit more.

The Bad:

While I love the prose and writing style that Young chose to use, and I do believe it fits the world and the characters perfectly, from a writer’s point of view, I think she could have afforded to cut back just a little on misspelled words.  There were quite a few and certainly enough for us as readers to have a complete grasp on the world and the character’s way of life.  I think words like ‘exactly’ could have been spelled just like that and we would have heard it in their way of speaking, I’m not sure it was necessary to take it to ‘ezzackly’ (or something similar).

It didn’t hinder my reading, not entirely.  But I think there are people out there that will miss out on this amazing story because of just how stylized it is.

The Unexpected:

I wasn’t expecting to love this book as much as I did.  I wasn’t expecting to love Saba as much as I did.  She’s coarse and mean and rude and in a lot of ways very narrow-minded, but she will do anything for her brother, for the ones she cares about, and she kicked so much ass doing it too!  I didn’t think I’d be cheering for her and Jack.  I didn’t think I’d get attached to any of the side characters, so much so that I’m yelling out loud, flailing about on my couch, whenever they were in danger.  I just did not expect Saba to dig her way into my heart with such ferocity.  I should have though, it’s the only way she knows how to do things.

Final Thoughts: 

The book is advertised on it’s cover as being ‘better than the hunger games’ and while I don’t really agree with that kind of advertising tactic, nor have I actually read The Hunger Games, I can say that the book WAS amazing.  It’s not often (although it seems to be in recent weeks, so maybe I’m just lucky) that I find a book, read it, and can’t shut up about it afterward.  It’s even rarer that I’m freaking out and banging my head on the wall because the sequel doesn’t come out for months and I can’t fathom waiting that long.  That kind of excitement and rabid fangirlism tends to get reserved for upcoming video games, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way about a book and I’ve got to say, it feels good.  There is no doubt in my mind I’ll be reading Rebel Heart when it comes out.

-Anon

Tangled Tides

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Tangled Tides

Amazon Book Description:

Yara Jones doesn’t believe in sea monsters-until she becomes one. When a hurricane hits her island home and she wakes up with fins, Yara finds herself tangled up in an underwater world of mysterious merfolk and secretive selkies. Both sides believe Yara can save them by fulfilling a broken promise and opening the sealed gateway to their realm, but they are battling over how it should be done. The selkies want to take her life. The merfolk want something far more precious.

Treygan, the stormy-eyed merman who turned Yara mer, will stop at nothing and sacrifice everything to protect his people-until he falls for Yara. The tides turn as Yara fights to save herself, hundreds of sea creatures, and the merman who has her heart. She could lose her soul in the process-or she might open the gateway to a love that’s deeper than the oceans.

What caught me most is the word Selkies.  Something I don’t find often in more modern books.  Here’s a quick description:  They are seals that can shed their skin on land and walk as humans but need to return to the ocean.

The word selkies alone made me want to read the book.  Though I have to say I was afraid it would turn out to be a Little Mermaid tale revised. I do love teen romance type books but mermaids can be a bit campy for me.

 

The first sentence:

I needed to choose between the angel and the mermaid.

This had all sorts of questions popping in my head.  It may not tell who is talking but the setup of the story is there.  The sentence isn’t intensely dramatic but it does have an allure to it.  Between the cover, the synopsis and the title it got me thinking of what choice she made.

The Good:

I did enjoy this book.  The romance and interactions from the characters were vivid and fun to read. The habits and social interactions of the mermaids, selkies and sirens drew me into the world so much more.  The tale wasn’t even close to the Little Mermaid and that gave me a great sigh of relief.  The story was original and well crafted.

The plotline flowed extremely well.  I couldn’t put the book down.  Each scene led up to the next one with relevance and a perfect pace.   There were enough twists to make me wonder who the bad guy was and who was good.  There were so many doubts but promising aspects of each.  I was happy to find that both sides weren’t bad or good.  They were just two different sides trying to fight for survival.  Some of the methods in which each side reacted could border on evil. But one will do anything to get back to the one they love and save a race from extinction.

The Bad:

My biggest and only issue in this book was how slow Yara was.  She didn’t seem to figure things out till the last minute.  The world around her worked to use her as the key to save the races but at the same time she didn’t see any of it.  She didn’t realize much till she really needed to.  I was sad to see that she had too much of a soft side.  Her past reflected someone who wasn’t shown love till a later age.  However, she was a trusting person and found it easy to love others.  I would expect some one more hard edge after having a strict childhood.

The talk about Yara’s mother, who died before the story takes place, all say that she loved the girl.  I saw no true evidence of it.  Yes the mother came back as a ‘guardian angel’ to watch over the girl, and she made a plan to protect Yara from a horrible fate, but there were no obvious show of love.  The mother could have done all this for the love she bore Yara’s father.  (also dead before the story begins)

I had a hard time connecting or sympathizing for all the things Yara’s mother does.  There was a lot of focus on how much Yara wanted to be loved by her mother, but even when she has a chance to connect with memories of her mother, it is just reiterated how much the mother loves the father and doesn’t love Yara.  Perhaps less focus on that relationship would have made this less frustrating.

The Unexpected:

Yara lets her trusted guardian give her a slow and painful death.  I didn’t expect it, even though I saw it coming.  My mind didn’t want to believe what I was reading.  She died, turned to stone, slowly, while looking into the eyes of the man she loved.  Taking his place.

Final Thoughts:

I picked up this book, expecting a twist off of an old classic.  I found instead an interesting twist on mermaids, and other sea monsters.  Gorgons and gods are real, but are locked away from Earth.  They are beyond a gate that only Yara can open.  The story drew me in and held me till the end.  Though the very end was a bit cheesy with the love conquers all theme.  It left me wanting to read more from this author.  She has a new book planned for publishing.  This being her first book (from what I can tell) it was well written and good for anyone who enjoys Young Adult fantasy.

I would recommend it.

Thanks for reading,

Muss

General Site Update

Hello readers!

As you may have noticed, reviews here at ABC have been a bit sporadic and have actually stopped altogether for a bit there.  There’s a very simple reason for this.  Well, we’re a small, very small, (think tiny) staff here at ABC and the tail end of 2012 really sent us for a spin.  But don’t worry, we’re not here to tell you ABC is shutting it’s doors, but more that we’re going to be doing a bit of renovating and reorganizing in preparation for the new year!  We hope to bring in 2013 with brief profiles for the Critics here as well as an archive page and a more frequent posting schedule!  We may even expand our reach into Goodreads and Twitter.

So, from all of us here at Anonymous Book Critics, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and we’ll see you in 2013!

-Anon E. Muss

Curse of the Wendigo

This is the review of book 2 in the Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey.  You can read our review of Book 1 by clicking here.

Synopsis: (From the inside cover.)

“It is called Atcen…Djenu…Outiko…Vindiko.  It has a dozen names in a dozen lands, and it is older than the hills, Will Henry.  It feeds, and the more it feeds, the hungrier it becomes.  It starves even as it gorges.  It is the hunger that cannot be satisfied.  In the Algonquin tongue its name literally means ‘the one who devours all mankind.’”

As apprentice to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, Will Henry has lived a life dedicated to the pursuit of monstrumology: the study of monsters.  But when Dr. Warthrop is informed that his old mentor Dr. Von Helrung is trying to prove the existence of the mythical Wendigo, He Who Devours All Mankind, a creature that starves even as it gorges itself on human flesh, Will’s world is plunged into fresh turmoil.

Will and Dr. Warthrop must traverse the desolate wastelands of Canada…and in the process, may discover a truth far more terrifying than even they could have imagined.

First sentence:

From Prologue: The reader was a retired middle school English teacher whose mother had come to live at the facility in 2001.

I actually really don’t like this opening line.  It’s not until the second paragraph that we even understand why she’s referred to as ‘the reader’ –because she came in as a volunteer to read to the residents of the home where Will Henry had stayed as an old man.  I think we could have given her a name, any name, or a last name, something.  It was unnecessarily jarring and I’m really not sure why Yancey chose to do it that way, since I’m pretty positive he doesn’t do anything in the monstrumology series without it serving some purpose.  Maybe so we could focus on the woman, Lillian?

First Chapter: I do not wish to remember these things.

Nothing strikingly dramatic.  The first chapter starts off with Will Henry admitting he doesn’t want to write any more of his journals, or to think any more of Pellinore or his past, but he can’t escape it.  A nice lead-in to the story itself, especially considering there’s been a couple of years from book one to book two, so understanding that Will Henry is writing whatever it is he remembers, as he remembers it, makes the jump in time barely noticeable.

The Good:

Let me just start off by saying this book was BEYOND amazing.  It exceeded every expectation I could have had, coming from the first book.  But in particular, my favorite points were how Will Henry grew as a character and how his relationship with Pellinore grew.  We got to see Will actually challenge his master’s opinions, he stood up for himself or at least what he was thinking.  What was even more pleasant to see was how Pellinore reacted to it.  For the most part, he took it in stride!  I think their relationship really grew (as much as their dysfunctional arrangement can progress).

My second favorite thing about this sequel was the dialogue.  The dialogue in the first book was well done and had moments of humor, but in Curse of the Wendigo it just shot up to the next level.  There was humor and dry, biting remarks and comebacks, even from Will!  It was one of the things that definitely helped show how Will and Pellinore’s relationship had changed and grown over the years that passed since the first book.  And it was just down right entertaining.

The Bad:

I am hard pressed to find something about this book that I didn’t like.  I suppose if I were going to be nit-picky I could complain about how stubborn and blind Pellinore seemed to the obvious facts, even for his character.  BUT, considering the circumstances, his best friend, his ex-fiancé and best friend’s wife there were a lot of factors that would make him actively choose not to see the truth.

From a story-telling vantage, as a writer, I was surprised to see the ending mimic the first book in so many ways.  Will is separated from the group, dragged into some unknown pit, he faces off the big-bad and subsequently kills it.  While on one hand I enjoy seeing him take charge and overcome his fears and kill creatures, it seems as though every other monstrumologist ever, is just not up to the task.  They’re all conveniently out of the way.  On one hand, I can see the reasons for it, even for Will finding himself in a hellish pit, these are hellish creatures after all, but on the other it’s so reminiscent of the first book, and we know Pellinore to be a man of some considerable abilities, so to never actually see him use those (besides his reasoning and attitude) is a little disheartening.  But, not so much so that it ruins the book or the ending.

The Unexpected:

The level of gore and depravity in this book really just through me for a whirl.  Yancey outdid himself with the creature in this book, what he was capable of, what he did—wow!  I really felt for Pellinore in this book, I loved him from the first book but this one made him seem more human and tragic.  I actually knew nothing about the plot when I picked it up, just that it was the sequel to a book I loved, a wendigo was some form of vampire, and it was bound to be enjoyable.  I think I partially expected a story about a bunch of wendigos, but it was actually much, much more personal and intimate to the main characters and that worked far better than anything I could have anticipated.

Final Thoughts:

I said it once, I’ll say it again—this book was amazing.  I winced and gagged at the gore and I felt heartbroken and shocked at the story behind it all.  I also liked the nods to the Dracula story, Lucy and Mina become Lillian and Muriel, Jonathan is Hawk instead of…Harker is it?  And then there’s Von Helrung of course.  It’s done in a way where the events precede Stoker’s writing of his novel so we’re lead to believe he based it off of these people and changed the names (and events) around.  It’s interesting and fun without detracting from the legitimacy of Yancey’s own story.  I can’t wait to read book three!

Anonymous

Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn

Contains SpoilersImage

 

Synopsis:

From the Amazon Blurb

When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.

Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can’t read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can’t be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf’s mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she’s dragged deep into a hidden underworld of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

This was a bit eyebrow raising.  A teen, ok so we are dealing with YA, and controlling minds.  Yup that got me interested.

The first sentence:

A zero like me shouldn’t take the public transportation.

So automatically I would think that this is someone who has a low self-opinion of themselves.  Reading the short story prequel, however, I know that ‘zero’ is a term for someone who can’t read minds.  So now the questions are: Who is this? Why can’t they read minds? Why is public transportation a bad thing?

Not enough to know what’s going on, but enough to ask the questions. So I read on.

The Good:

I like my occasional girl likes boy, boy likes girl, boy and girl are afraid to admit it.  This is how the book starts. It’s what drew me in, but there was something more to keep me reading.  The intrigue with the ability for everyone to read minds, everyone except our Main Character, Kira. She is an outcast because without the ability to read minds, no one trusts her.  They can’t read hers.   She struggles to live in a world where she will never fit in.  When she finds she is so much more, she can only see herself as a freak.

The twists and turns of this brings us out of the typical high school drama and into the world where mindjakers are a guarded secret.  The Feds guard it to study them; the mindjackers guard it to avoid capture.  Kira must choose a side.

The Bad:

Kira’s love interest, Raf, seemed wishy-washy at the end.  It was like he never really trusted her, but that’s not true.  I’m not sure how this could be handled so that it doesn’t feel forced, but it just didn’t work for me.

The Unexpected:

Kira had a choice in the middle of the book.  She could have gone with the Feds, to look for and capture any MindJacker that abused their gifts.  She knew that no one could force her; no one could jack into her mind and make her do what they wanted. She chose against the feds, against the groups of other mind Jakers, in favor of those just learning, and perhaps a chance for herself.  That shocked me.  There looked like there was only two options, but Kira was thinking outside of the box.

 

Final Thoughts:

This book had all the twists and turns to make me want to skip sleep.  It was completely worth the read.  I’ll be reading the next book soon.

 

Thanks for stopping by

Anonymous 

Sweet Venom

Synopsis(Inside cover blurb.)

GRACE just moved to san Francisco and is excited to start over at a new school.  The change is full of fresh possibilities, but it’s also a tiny bit scary.  It gets scarier when a minotaur walks in the door.  And even more shocking when a girl who looks just like her shows up to fight the monster.

GRETCHEN is tired of monsters pulling her out into the wee hours, especially on a school night, but what can she do?  Sending the minotaur back to his bleak home is just another notch on her combat belt.  She never expected to run into this girl who could be her double though.

GREER has her life pretty well put together, thank you very much.  But that all tilts sideways when two girls who look eerily like her appear on her doorstep and claim they’re triplets, supernatural descendants of some hideous creature from Greek myth, destined to spend their lives hunting monsters.

These three teenage descendents of medusa, the once-beautiful Gorgon maligned in myth, must reunite and embrace their fates in this unique paranormal world where monsters lurk in plain sight.

The blurb is actually what got me to read the book.  The cover looked interesting enough, I though the juxtaposition of her hair tweaked to curl like a stinger over the title ‘Sweet Venom’ was nicely done.  I opened up to the blurb, and the entire concept seemed interesting enough triplets that’re descendants of Medusa.  Not some fancy god or goddess or hero of legend, but a creature noted for being gross and evil.  Of course throughout the story we learn that her reputation was horribly besmirched by Athena, etc, etc, but it’s still a neat concept.

First sentence: Hydras have a distinctive odor.

BAM.  No leading up to it, no gentle easing in, bam, monster.  I like it.  It’s a monster that pretty much anyone that knows any basic myth, will be able to visualize.  It definitely got me reading the next line, which kept the pace and punch of the first.  Overall, I think it deserves to be placed on my list of great opening lines.

The Good:

The concept overall is an interesting one.  Descendants of Medusa, pretty cool.  There’s mention of Athena and Zeus so I’m going to assume these guys make an appearance later in the series.

Even though the chapters are titled by whose POV it is going to be in, each girl has a distinct personality.  With Greer I think being the strongest only in terms of I really believed she was a rich, snobby girl, totally different from Gretchen and Grace.  Her character wasn’t just painted to dislike the other girls because they were ‘beneath her’, she observed them and made educated guess based on their personalities and what she knew about them.  There were parts of each girls personality that made me believe they were sisters but they were each distinct enough to be their own person.

The creatures were fun.  Just reading their descriptions was entertaining.

The Bad:

It almost felt as though the author wasn’t convinced we, as readers, would be able to suspend our disbelief that these were monster fighting triplets or that this girls would really accept this kind of life.  So every other page was a scene with Grace reminding herself that this was her destiny and that she could do this and that it was meant to be, and it was really grating!  It really took me out of the story and away from them.

What I actually couldn’t ignore was Nick and Gretchen.  Nick is this new guy at school that just shows up and starts HARASSING Gretchen.  Like, seriously harassing her.  He won’t take a hint, he won’t take no for an answer, to the point she considers knocking him out to really drive her rejection home more than once.  Besides that just being plain creepy, I refuse to accept that Gretchen, someone that’s been hunting monsters for years and is trained to pay attention to the weird or unusual, would accept this so lightly.  Yeah, it pisses her off, but she never really stops to question how weird it is that he shows up out of nowhere, or that he seems to be a glutton for punishment, or that he’s seen her fight (it’s not really made clear if he can see the monsters or not, I think he can).  Instead, she starts to look forward to his freaky harassment.  And for Gretchen, I just couldn’t see it.

The Unexpected:

The ending.  This is going to be a spoiler but on the same hand, it’s so anti-climatic I don’t think I’m ruining anything.  The book ends with Gretchen’s apartment exploding.  I know, that sounds pretty climatic but it’s not.  Just after she and Grace and Greer decide to work together (after a monster some how makes it into Gretchen’s apartment, which is stated as having super-security) Greer, who can see glimpses of the future or something, says she feels weird, like something bad is about to happen.  Gretchen gets a call on her cell phone from a stranger telling them to get out of the apartment.  She doesn’t recognize the voice but they sound urgent enough to scare her into scaring her sisters into jumping off the balcony and into the water below, just as the windows of her apartment (which is also some type of loft set up in an old warehouse or…something) blows out and the whole place goes up in flames.  It ends with them floating in the water, Gretchen can see her sister’s are alive and fine, although shocked, and while she doesn’t know called her, or who wants to kill her, she’s determined to find out.

END.

I was pretty ticked off with that ending.  It felt like a bad 90s spy movie.  And NOTHING gets explained.  The monsters are coming out more often than they should and we find out someone has put a bounty on the girls.  We don’t find out who, we don’t find out who has kidnapped Gretchen’s mentor, we don’t find out why Nick is such a persistent jerk or why Gretchen seems to think that’s okay, we don’t find out where Grace’s other brother (who’s also adopted) disappears off to or why he’s so damn mysterious, Grace figures out who Gretchen’s mentor’s sister is, that they needed to locate, but for some reason she decides to wait on confronting the woman.  Leading to the explosion.  I would not at all be surprised if in the next book the sister suddenly disappears or is hard to find, making their job all the more difficult.  There are too many questions left unanswers for my liking.  I can understand a few, to keep interest and to keep us wanting more, but this just felt like I really long prologue.

Final Thoughts:

I haven’t read any of the author’s books, apparently she has two other series out, at least one of which has a god/goddess theme as well, but I didn’t care for this one.  The writing was actually really good, I believe the characters for the most part, I just felt really cheated with the ending and not in a ‘Oh my god, I must read the next book!’ kind of way.  I don’t think I’ll be picking up the second book to this series.  I’m interested in the story but not so much that I can sit through another book and risk that chance that even more questions are unanswered, Gretchen continues to act in a totally unbelievable way for her character toward Nick and Grace continues to swoon over Milo.  If anything, I may just read a review of the second book or a summary and sate any lingering curiosity.

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