Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Review: Forgotten Suns

Forgotten SunsForgotten Suns by Judith Tarr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first experience with Judith Tarr, and I'm not sure if I should have started elsewhere to get the feel for her writing, but this was a pretty great book anyway. My main problem (and this could be the fact that I'm struggling with The Dumb since getting pregnant) was that I had a really hard time figuring out some of what was happening politics-wise, and with the different factions that were in play, and even with Rama and his motivations. I'm not sure if they were meant to be murky or if I just was not getting it. I have a feeling it was my issue, because the rest of this book was pretty fun.

Quite a bit of adventure awaits the reader and we dive right in from the very first scene. All Aisha wants to do is explore a cave, it's not her fault she used too much explosive and blew it up, right? But she SAW something down there, just before everything caved in, she's sure of it. And of course being grounded has never stopped a teenager from doing something interesting. When she goes back to the cave to explore with her little brother, she's disappointed by the fact that it's empty and what she saw was gone. She's just telling herself that she was seeing things, when she finds a man outside who isn't exactly human - Rama.

Rama, the name he takes but which is not his real name, is dangerous and just like a tidal wave. He sweeps Aisha and her aunt into a massive cross-universe adventure in which they attract the unwanted attention of pretty much every military group in the system. Rama just wants to find his people, who disappeared 5000 years before. Aisha wants to help him, and her aunt Khalida can't seem to stay away from whatever it is they get themselves into.

The success or failure of all of their endeavors centers heavily around what they call "Psi," which isn't exactly magic but is how some of the characters attempt to understand it. Psi-masters are very powerful and can do a lot with their powers, such as manipulate the "worldweb," control ships, change their surroundings, get into other people's heads, feel what could happen in the future, etc. Aisha has this power but doesn't want it, and Rama is from the start a beacon to her because of his own tremendous power. He shields her, helps her, and in a way teaches her how to use it. But even by the end of the book she's still a novice and needs to be trained, which shows that it's not a question of simply having the talent, but knowing how to use it. Science and "magic" are directly related and linked in this book, which I thought was a really interesting way of going about it.

I also loved the incorporation of ethnicity - even though it wasn't the *point* of the book, the fact that the main characters were not white *and it was pointed out as such* made it very interesting. Aisha and her family are from Egypt, and they have darker skin. But even they are shocked by the sheer blackness of Rama, who they assume has been genetically modified to be so dark. His skin is described pretty much as an inorganic black, which surprises everyone he comes into contact with. Personally, I enjoyed picturing how alien that might look (because he's not strictly human really) to someone like me, who is white, and also to someone who has darker skin. But while skin color was a feature of the characters, the universe seems to have accepted just about every skin color anyway, so it ended up just being a curiosity, or an observation, once they set out on their journey. After a while, it didn't get recognized or commented on anymore. But as a reader, I did not forget. I loved it.

The only other thing I really took issue with, and it's not that I had a big problem with it but it just seemed referential, was with the ship that Rama and Aisha pirate. (view spoiler)

This is a really good book and I am only knocking it down one star because I had the difficulties following some of the plot. The blend of science fiction and fantasy (something that is very difficult to do and not a ton of authors can manage it) was very smooth and interesting, and gave me a new way of seeing the two genres.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: World After

World After (Penryn & the End of Days, #2)World After by Susan Ee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley.]

I'm always a bit hesitant to write a full review for a middle book in a series, mostly because if you haven't read the first book I'll either spoil you or you won't know what I'm talking about. But since I received this from NetGalley, the least I can do is at least form an opinion.

I am giving this book four stars because I enjoyed the continuation of the story, even though it was very lacking in Raffe. He mostly showed up in Penryn's brain, and a few scenes here and there, until the end of the book (which made the rest of it worth it). Why on earth am I hopelessly drooling over an angel with an attitude problem?! I usually hate books like this! Chalk it up to good writing, mostly, I guess.

Yet again with the saving of Penryn, though, which still bothered me. She rarely gets out of scrapes herself, and instead throws herself headlong into the fighting or danger and then wonders later how she's going to get herself out of it. Still, she is pretty tough.

One other thing that bothered me - the constant reference to the book's title.  "World After" showed up all over the place in describing the time in which the characters find themselves.  One or two references would not have been amiss, and I understand that's what people are calling it, but the number of times it was said was overkill for me.

For a second book, not bad. It doesn't suffer from middle book syndrome, although now I'm curious how the end will pan out.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Review: Angelfall

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, #1)Angelfall by Susan Ee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley.]

The description on Goodreads is woefully understated, not nearly enough to get a person interested in what this book is all about. To be honest, I think I only requested it because it was a YA post-apocalyptic and I could get the first two books for free. And while it had its issues (the whole "feelings" thing between Penryn and Raffe seemed too close to insta-love for me), and some of the storytelling was a bit overdone, overall I really enjoyed the read.

Penryn, while completely clueless sometimes, is also a pretty strong character. She doesn't wait around for someone to save her or her family, she does it herself. It's only coincidence that someone usually comes along who's stronger and more able to help (which is a little character-defeating, since the only scrape she gets herself out of is when she beats the crap out of a guy who is threatening her). I would have liked to see her a bit more self-sufficient or at least have the opportunity to do some actual saving, instead of rushing into something without much thought, getting stuck, and someone else doing the rescuing. But overall she had a very strong personality and she was loyal to a fault despite her loyalty being divided at times.

Raffe I couldn't quite get a grip on. He's an angel, and we learn more about him in the last 1/4 of the book, but other than that he just seems like a moody pain in the ass who falls in love with a human, all the while denying that he even feels anything but still acting like he's her boyfriend. His character by the end seems more fully fleshed out, and I appreciated his actions more after hearing what he and other characters revealed about his past.

The whole first-person thing is overdone and boring, but since the vast majority of YA is written that way now, I guess I can't fault the author for capitalizing on something that people seem to eat up.

There were some pretty gruesome parts in here, stuff I don't normally like to read - it veered into horror/thriller territory at times and I'm not a big fan of that, but I got through it. It sort of made the book a bit more adult to me.

Overall, this was a quick and easy read, interesting and fast-paced. I didn't have a hard time getting through it, or wanting to get through it, and I'm giving it 4 stars because I enjoyed the ride even if it wasn't perfect.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review: Uprooted

UprootedUprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley.]

I've only ever read one other Naomi Novik book, and that was her first Temeraire book. I loved it. Which is why I jumped at the chance to read this one. She did not let me down. I can't gush over Uprooted enough, it was just so seriously great.

Agnieszka is taken from her home unexpectedly at the choosing, when the Dragon, the territory's wizard, chooses a girl from one of the villages to spend 10 years with him locked up in his tower. No one knows what goes on there, but they all suspect that he has his way with them for ten years, so they all come out "ruined" and end up leaving town for good. Kasia, her best friend, was supposed to be chosen, she was the prettiest, and the smartest, and the most talented. But he looks at Agnieszka and takes her instead. She spends her first few weeks confused, resentful, and scared, and the Dragon doesn't make things any better with his miserable attitude towards everything she does.

But Agnieszka has magic in her, and while it's not the same kind of magic the Dragon has, she is able to learn and grow. She does things he never thought possible, and puts the entire kingdom in an uproar when she goes into the evil Wood to rescue Kasia.

At times the book read almost as YA, but you could tell that it was a genuinely adult fantasy, not one of those frou frou YA "fantasies" that are more love and kissing and hand-holding than real magic. There are fearsome battles, awful creatures, an interesting wild kind of magic, and seemingly hopeless odds. A tiny dash of romance was just enough to make it perfectly tingly.

I was hoping for something awesome and I was not disappointed. Highly recommended to anyone who loves great fantasy. This is one I plan on buying so that I have a hard copy of it!

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Review: The Dream Lover

The Dream Lover: A Novel of George SandThe Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand by Elizabeth Berg
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley.]

I'm afraid I don't have anything good to say about this book. I was bored through almost the entire story. The frequent back-and-forth in time was disruptive, where it could have been a bit more natural. When the two timelines met around 80%, the book started skipping forward vast amounts of time. Some authors make this work (one of my favorite series is told by skipping around in time). With this book, it did not work. It would have been much better in linear format.

I was bored by the story, and by the persona of George Sand herself. I felt it was bordering on the ridiculous, even if it were completely historically accurate, that she fell in love with essentially every man she ever met, and slept with him too. Now I'm not criticizing her for that, a woman is welcome to do whomever she pleases in my book; rather, I disliked the character that was given to her - petulant, irksome, unlikable, and yet every man she met threw himself at her. It made absolutely no sense to me. She was also incredibly inconsistent. I really tried to put this down as an historical rendering of someone who was truly like this, but in the afterword the author mentions that there are so many conflicting accounts of who she really was and what she was really like, that I have to take the character as someone almost entirely fictionalized, picked and chosen from the various accounts and with whom the author did what she would. In that respect, she was not believable at all to me as a character.

Others have said similar things, and I find myself in agreement with many of the one- and two-star reviewers on Goodreads. One person said it felt like more of a daily journal, and in that respect it certainly was. "That day I went there, and had an argument with this person, and then we made love, and then we went out to eat. The next day he left me and I decided to move back to Nohant. And then I was bored at Nohant and decided I didn't like anyone anymore and moved back to Paris to beg him to come back." It was, again, ridiculous.

I have heard only good things about Elizabeth Berg in the past, and was very excited to read this. Some reviewers have said that her other works are much better, however after reading this I am very hesitant to give one of her others a shot. I do not recommend this book.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Review: Emissary

Emissary (Legends of the Realm Book #1)Emissary by Thomas Locke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley.]

While I'm only giving this book three stars, I am going to say that this was one of the better new fantasies I've read in a long time. This book was more rooted in traditional fantasy than a lot of other books I've read lately, that purported to be fantasy but were in actuality just a teen romance. It probably helped that Hyam is 21, not 17, and the romance aspect was very underplayed until right around the end.

First, what I did like. I enjoyed the fact that this was more about defeating an enemy than a character finding himself. At one point, Hyam is told that he had better get over himself and stop being so selfish. His quest to find who he is can wait, but right now there's a threat and he needs to do something. I also appreciated that Hyam isn't "the chosen one," but rather an orphan who goes in search of his history, only to find that he has power to help save the country and decides to do something about it.

BUT, and here are the reasons why I couldn't give this four stars (these are very personal reasons and maybe people think I'm being petty, but aren't reviews personal?):

I hate the word crimson. It's like nails on a chalkboard. And I swear it showed up on like every other page. "The crimson mage" this and "the crimson mage" that. Every time the bad mage showed up, it was the only descriptor used. He was "the crimson mage," and that was it. He's referred to so often I wanted to start striking through the word. While this is a rant about the word crimson, it's also a rant about word choice. If you only have one descriptor for a character, there's a problem.

I really didn't understand why doors were referred to as portals. They are *doors*. They don't transport you anywhere. It just sounded like the author was trying to make the world sound more foreign, but it didn't work, because calling doors "portals" was the only real thing that was so altered.

Hyam's personality seemed to change a lot over the course of the book, and I couldn't keep up with what was going on in his head. I had a very hard time connecting with him as a character. I didn't really understand who he was trying to be. While I am grateful that we didn't really get the chosen one trope in this book, I still needed a bit more of a solid character to identify with. Overall, while he does grow and change and evolve throughout the story, and while this is usually a good thing, for me he sort of fell flat.

I did enjoy the plot, and most of the way the story was told. For me it was more of the descriptors, and some of the character development, that really took away from the book. I still recommend this to fantasy lovers, and I'm very glad I was approved to read it. It's certainly an interesting premise and story.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Review: The Witch of Napoli

The Witch of NapoliThe Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley.]

There was a lot that bothered me about this book. I didn't enjoy the POV the author chose. Tomaso came across callous, unfeeling, and more like a pulp fiction private eye character than a newspaper photographer/reporter recalling events from 1899. The book is told from his POV, 20 years after the events he recounts, so he's speaking from somewhere around 1919. He was 16 at the start of 1899, so he's only ~36 by the end of the book. He sounds like a mid-40s American private eye lounging in his office waiting for a pretty dame to come to him with her problems. It was grating.

Throughout the book, Tomaso offers up articles from various papers that tell part of the story of what was happening. But in the first few chapters, he introduces them by saying "Here, I'll read it to you." He also periodically addresses the reader throughout the book, which I found irritating. I understand that the perspective of the novel was intended to be a sort of conversation between Tomaso and the reader, but it was not effective.

There was also quite a bit of juxtaposition of crass words like "piss" and "shit," appearing in the same sentence as polite terms such as "water closet." I think one of the sentences went something like, "I needed to take a piss, so I went in search of the water closet." I'm paraphrasing, obviously, but that's how a lot of this book went. I felt it was awkward.

There was also frequent reference in the first half of the book to how Tomaso used to be poor but now he's rich and edits a newspaper. A reference or two would not have been amiss, but seeing it throughout a large portion of the book felt repetitive and overdone.

Some of the pacing was also awkward. For example, Nigel Huxley is mentioned in the last sentence of Chapter 19. Chapter 20 begins with a two-paragraph vague explanation, and then we don't see his name until the end of Chapter 20, nearly 3% later (that was a lot of pages, if you're wondering). Why bring him up at the end of Chapter 19 if you weren't going to actually talk about him for another ~30 (Kindle) pages? I spent the entire chapter confused, wondering what the big deal was. At first I thought he was actually on the train with them, which confused me even more.

Lastly, my frustration with Tomaso as a character was partly founded on the fact that he declared several times he was in love with Alessandra, but then didn't act like it at all. He spent a lot of time berating her, a little time comforting her, but most of his time acting like a selfish brat who only went along on the tour so that he could see the sights. His devotion to her was not nearly as deep as I would have expected considering how adamant he was that he loved and supported her.

For all the reasons above and some I did not feel like discussing, I did not particularly enjoy reading this book, and would not recommend it to my friends, although it appears I am in the minority. I spent a lot of time being bored with the writing and the content, and not enough being engaged. I didn't care for any of the characters, not even Alessandra. I pitied her, mostly. But that was about it.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Review: The Witch of Painted Sorrows

The Witch of Painted SorrowsThe Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley.]

I don't even know where to start. This book was far from perfect, but I enjoyed it a lot. I tend to give bad reviews to books that have some holes in them, but this one made up for it in the story. I was completely surprised by the ending, which probably makes me a dunce because looking back it seems like it would be obvious.

There was a lot going on in this book, and I didn't quite understand all of it. The whole side story with Dujols and his occult friends seems almost meaningless by the time the end came around. I still don't know who was willing to help Sandrine, and who only wanted to use her.

The sex scenes were completely unbelievable, but boy were they great even so. They weren't typical romance-novel frequent, but there were enough of them to get the point across. I'm glad this was more of a fantasy-occult-mystery than a romance, even though love was at the center of the story.

I do think there were parts where the story was trying too hard to be something it wasn't, but I can forgive it for the fact that it was simply very entertaining.


I realized reading another review I meant to mention the "sleep rape" scene towards the mid-end of the book. That reviewer is not the only one who noticed it, and the fact that people would defend it as not rape is pretty bad. If the author intended it to be a positive thing, I must seriously question her idea of rape. If Sandrine had actually woken Julien up, and he consented, then cool. But he wasn't awake, not completely, and arousal does not equal consent. End of rant.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Review: Seeker

Seeker (Seeker, #1)Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley.]

**To clarify my own thoughts because I was left feeling so muddled after finishing, I have been skimming other reviews. I had the same opinions as many others so I'm reiterating them here.**

Seeker is a difficult book to review. Overall it was well-written grammatically, pretty well-edited, and not altogether boring. But I didn't find myself engaged with any of the characters, or even the story. I hated the structure of it, where we get a different character's perspective in each chapter (at least the author didn't attempt to write from four different POV's but still). This technique dragged out scenes that should have lasted maybe 10-15 pages to what felt like more than 50. That huge battle at the estate in the first I think 25% of the story bounced between perspectives I don't know how many times, and it took me a good half hour to get through it all. And the way the back story was structured drove me nuts. We'd be getting along with the present story, and BAM we're in the past again. Also, I still have no clear idea of what a Seeker is. And isn't that the entire point of this book? That we're supposed to figure that out? Apparently they're just people who travel through "anomalies" and kill people. But WHY?

The fact that John was so consumed by the promise he made to his mother completely ruined him as a character. He showed zero progression as a character, no true remorse for anything he did. The constant, "Oh I hope no one hurts Quin, I don't want to hurt Quin, but she better help me or I'm going to hurt her!" only reinforced that he's a terrible person.

I think Shinobu is the only character who really evolved in this book. And I didn't even really like him that much.

I couldn't figure out the "when" and "place" of it all either. Some years were mentioned, but they were several hundred years in the past, and whenever the present was discussed it was stated like, "It's been some four hundred or more years since then," or some other such nonsense. I'm thinking the book takes place in some alternate reality, not based on the present but in an alternate steam-punk-wannabe parallel present. But I'm not entirely sure, because while we got some descriptions of the Scottish estate, and Hong Kong, and a few vague ideas about Traveler, there was no real sense of place or world-building to the story. I didn't feel at all that the estate was in Scotland, because the only person who spoke with an accent (and that wasn't even consistent) was Alastair. Hong Kong didn't feel like a real place either, because all I could figure out was that they lived near a bridge at Victoria Harbor. Traveler was barely described, and I didn't even realize it was an airship until the very end of the book.

The book was okay, but I don't think the author could decide whether to make it a young adult fantasy or a new adult romance. (Not that I think new adult romance is a real genre, but bookstores seem to think so.) And the romance was terrible. Quin is stuck choosing between someone she thinks of as a cousin (and who is constantly referred to as her cousin, even though he's barely blood-related to her, which makes this a completely weak plot line), and a full-tilt psychopath who has no qualms about hurting her to get what he wants, all the while protesting that he doesn't want to hurt her. And when he's done hurting her, they can be together!

Lastly, I was super annoyed by the fact that the pronunciation of "athame" was included RIGHT IN THE TEXT. If you need a pronunciation guide, put it at the beginning or end!

All told, I didn't like it all that much. I am willing to admit it was well-written grammatically for the most part, and readable, but I would not recommend this to anyone I know.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Look-Back: Raves

In the last post, I talked about the worst books I read this year.  This post is dedicated to all of my favorites!  These books all received either a four- or five-star rating from me.  Here is why.

Sorcerer's Feud
via Goodreads
Sorcerer's Feud by Katharine Kerr was one of my favorite books of the year.  I got to read it in beta a couple of times, which was exciting enough.  When I finally read the finished product, it was awesome to see how the book had progressed to the completed point.

Granted, this is book two in the series, so I highly recommend reading the first book, Sorcerer's Luck, before you start this one.  The series itself is interesting because it deals with Norse mythology in modern-day San Francisco, and a relationship that begins incredibly quickly but is grounded in past lives.  I loved the exploration of the main characters' past lives, how they connect with what happens to them in their current life, and how they affect the relationships they form with others.

Hollow City
via Goodreads
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs continues the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series wonderfully.  My only problem, and it was completely my own, was that it had been so long since I read the first book I was a little lost in the beginning.  But once I got further into the story and the adventure, I felt like I was in their world running along with them.  The danger was constant, the worry and fear always there in the back of my mind.  I was afraid for all of the children, but also had a lot of faith in their ability to overcome everything thrown at them.  They truly are peculiar children, but they are also remarkable.

This book was nominated for a Goodreads Choice award this year, and I was surprised it didn't win.  At least it came in second!

Three Souls
via Goodreads
Three Souls by Janie Chang was by far the best book I ever received in the Goodreads First Reads program.  It was beautifully written, a wonderful story and one of the best I read this year.  Since I like my own review so much (har har) I'm just going to quote one of the reasons I loved it so much:

I adored the main character, through all her faults and inability to understand she was dealing with things that were much too adult for her. Her character in death was beautifully contemplative and I loved how she was able to see, along with the reader, the impulse of youth contrasted with the reflection of consequences. We all forget, as teenagers, that our actions have repercussions. Even in our adult life it's hard to picture what will happen if we make this decision or that one. In death we are able to see exactly how everything Leiyin did in her youth contributed to the events around her, even without her knowledge or comprehension.

Poison Study
via Goodreads
Poison Study by Maria Snyder only got four stars from me, but that's not to say I didn't adore it.  I took issue with the relationship between the main characters, and the ending.  Both of these issues are expanded on in my review, but I don't want to post spoilers here.  I loved the writing and the story, something I had never read before.  Maybe someone else has written something similar in the past, but to me it was wholly original.

I recommend this book to all fantasy lovers who also like YA fiction.  There is some brutality involved, but I felt it was well-done and inherently relevant to the story.  The continuation in book two was also a great read, and I'm looking forward to finishing the series this year.

I read some pretty awesome books this year, not all included in this retrospective.  I hope that you will enjoy them as much as I did!  And don't forget to set your goals for 2015.  I look forward to seeing how everyone completes their journeys in reading next year!