Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

Title: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Series: Untitled, but a companion novel starring Felicity is in the works
Volume: 1
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Goodreads

Monty's Grand Tour of Europe was supposed to be the last hurrah- his last chance for his wild lifestyle, last chance for drinking and gambling, last chance to flirt with his best friend Percy- before returning home to take over the running of the the family estate. He's going to make everything of it that he can, even with his bookish younger sister in tow. But when one of Monty's impulsive decisions turns the Tour into a manhunt across Europe, Monty finds himself reevaluating everything- his future, his relationship with Percy, and himself.

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: A fun historical fantasy adventure with a whirlwind plot featuring bold and diverse characters- including a fantastic narrator!

Review: A couple of my friends went into Toronto for Pride this year, and one of them picked this one up from the Glad Day Bookshop for me! This was one of the titles that I'd been anticipating, but that I hadn't thought to pre-order because I am excellent at planning, so I'm really glad she was able to snag a copy- especially because I had a lot of fun reading it!

I went into this mostly hoping for fun Victorian road-trip shenanigans with LGBTQIAP+ characters, and I definitely got that, but this book also touches quite a bit on a variety of more serious topics and issues. The combination of silly and serious made for an interesting, and sometimes slightly discordant, reading experience. It wasn't something I necessarily disliked, but it was just a little strange, I guess? I'm not even sure what I'm getting at with this observation... (great reviewing there, Kelly, 10/10 points for you).

This books somehow felt both well-researched and very fictional, at the same time- the adventure part kind of turns things up to 11. Historical fantasy, in terms of the overarching plot of the story? It actually wound up getting a little bit more fantasy there toward the end, which was unexpected, after spending the first half of the book in what came of as a non-fantasy world. It wound up a bit heavier on the fantasy-adventure component than I was expecting (silly me), and that was really enjoyable! (I mean, speculative fiction is my favourite genre, so... bonus for me, really.)

The strongest and most dynamic part of this book for me was the characters. Our main character comes off as a bit larger-than-life, in keeping with the plot of the story. Like, if this plot was going to happen of course it was going to happen to someone like him. Monty's a very ...amplified, maybe? person, both in terms of his good and bad personality traits, and it was fantastic seeing his character develop. He's someone who is doing his best, while struggling with quite a few things, and sometimes screwing up in a kind of spectacular way. He's vivid, multi-faceted, very funny, and also very dramatic, and made him both a fantastic character and a great narrator.

I also really liked how both Percy and Felicity were vivid characters in their own right, and I really liked both of them. They're both really strong personalities as well, living their own lives and facing their own challenges. (I'm pretty excited to see that Felicity is getting a book focused on her, because I have a strong personal preference for ladies of science!)  Over the course of the book, Monty really finds himself evaluating is relationships with and his assumptions about both of them. Those relationships both wind up changing a lot over the course of the book- especially the relationship between Monty and Percy, which was fantastic to see grow! They have such a great dynamic from the start, and the way their romance unfolded fit really well with the story itself.

Overall, I had such a fun time reading this book. I was impressed by the number of tougher subjects this book touches on, while still being a really funny, enjoyable read, and I'm delighted that there's a companion novel!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Review: Ash and Quill


Title: Ash and Quill
Author:
Series: The Great Library
Volume: 3
Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk
Release Date: July 11, 2017
Goodreads

Jess and his group have fled from London to the Burner-held Philadelphia, where they immediately find themselves imprisoned for being members of the Library, albeit rebellious ones set on changing the system. Their only bargaining is the plans for a printing press, which will free the distribution of information from the Library's stranglehold.

eARC received through NetGalley

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: A fast-paced and complex continuation of a series with a great premise and fantastic characters.

Review: I feel like I start a lot of my reviews like this, but look at this cover. Isn't it beautiful? This series is really upping it's game in the cover department- the first book was okay, the second book was lovely, but this one is really great. Okay. Now onward to the actual review part.

There is one thing I'd like to mention in terms of content going in. A main/predominant secondary character (not sure how to describe her character-status, but she's kind of my favourite, so main character to me, probably secondary character narratively?) in this book wears a hijab, and in this book, when the group are violently searched, the scarf is momentarily torn off. While this is clearly emphasized within the book to be a bad thing, and all of our lead characters are horrified and angered, it does still happen- something that may be upsetting for some people to read, especially in the world's current social climate of people being awful to Muslim people for no good reason.

This is the third book in what is to be a five-book series, and it dives right back into the action, essentially carrying on from where the second book ended. They've fled to a Burner-held city, where they're really not safe- one thing we see is the degree to which they aren't really safe anywhere. The enemy of their enemy, in this case, is not their friend, but more of another enemy. This book starts off fast, and doesn't let up- there's a lot of action, and, even when there isn't an actual action scene, Rachel Caine does a good job of maintaining the tension.

It's still impressive to me how BIG this world is. There's a lot going on, and things just keep happening. Last book demonstrated that the Library isn't a monolith, and many of the characters who are currently resisting the Library aren't doing so because they feel that it is 100% evil- sometimes the motivation is the opposite. In this book we also get to see more of that grey area- especially given that quite a few of the main characters are also somewhat grey, including Jess himself. I definitely found myself cringing a little at some of his choices in this book, but they were still totally understandable, especially given his character and history.

There are also A LOT of characters, and Rachel Caine does a good job of juggling her constantly expanding cast and making them distinct. Something that I find I really appreciate about this series is that there are adult characters who really do respect the autonomy and abilities of the main cast, most of whom are teens. (Wolfe and Santi have been two of my favourite characters since book one, so I've been delighted by their continued presence. And also concerned for their safety. Also that.) There's such a wealth of characters that I'm not great at picking favourites- you'll notice I've kind of already mentioned three favourites... The cast is also fairly diverse, as well- there are a few points where I think the author it's possible may have stumbled a bit in terms of representation, but overall seems to have done a fairly good job, especially in terms of making her characters individuals. (I can't speak to all of the representation of course, and am mostly speaking from an outsider's perspective. I'm hoping to read some reviews from those in the communities represented in these books to see how they felt, now that I'm done the book and don't have to fear spoilers!)

Similar to how a lot of the stronger parts are evident in the first two books, something that I disliked is also a carry-over: Jess and Morgan as a couple still... is kind of boring to me? I know it should have emotional resonance, especially as it was given more time in this book, but I still kind of feel like there's more nuance to Jess's relationships with basically everyone else- I think I just wish they felt more like he and Morgan were friends as well as the romantic component? So that still kind of interrupted the flow for me, but it's something I've kind of accepted is going to be something I might not really get.

Overall, this was a great contribution to an excellent series, and I'm really looking forward to the next book- especially with that cliffhanger, which was, frankly, stressful. I am stressed. I'm also really curious where the story is going from here, both from plot and character perspectives, but also from a storytelling perspective.


My reviews of the rest of the series so far:

      


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

You Know That Feeling When You Descend Into a Four Week Long Funk?

Or: An Apology, In Three Parts, and Where I'm Going to Go From Here

The Apology:

Part 1: I'm sorry about how catastrophically I failed at AsianLitBingo. I just. Didn't want to pick up basically any new books. I mostly reread for a large part of the month of May as a result, with the exception of the new Riordan book, which is a writing style and world so familiar, it kind of felt reread-y.

Part 2: I'm sorry to my co-blogger over at Paper Boulevard Lit Fae (look, it has a new name!) for not posting new review. I haven't read any new books, so new review are hard to come by. Sorry, Yani! I'm working on it!

LITFAE

Part 3: I'm sorry for the egregious blog-neglect. Sorry, blog. It's just that blogging has been feeling more and more like a chore, and it hasn't been getting done and I really hate the feeling of losing interest in something that I used to like so much, so I'm trying to find a way to keep that from happening. I mean, I've been doing this for... well, five years on this blog, longer if you count blogging prior.

Where to From Here:

1. I'm going to try to really give Instagram a proper try, because I've been neglecting it, even more than the blog, and it seems like it would be fun.

2. Find a challenge I can do! Just any challenge really of some variety! And probably someone to remind me to do it because I am the worst!

3. Maybe do something other than reviews?

4. Speaking of reviews, READ THE ARCS KELLY REVIEW THE ARCS


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: Dove Arising


Title: Dove Arising
Author: Karen Bao
Genre: Science Fiction
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Goodreads

Living in a colony on the moon, Phaet knows her path- keep working in the greenhouse, do well in school, eventually get a job in biochemistry. She'll stay as quiet as she's been since her father's death and let her best friend keep filling in the blanks.

Then her mother is arrested, and, in order to keep her family safe, Phaet must join the militia. The plan is to rank high and make enough to fund her mother's release and keep her family fed and safe, but things rapidly start to spin out of control. 

Out of Ten: 5/10

Review at a Glance: A really interesting setting, but suffered from poorly fleshed out characters and a dependence on tired tropes.

Review: Okay. Here's the thing. I wanted to like this one, but I from the start was concerned that I wouldn't. I just wanted to say that from the start because I might have had a weird bias going in or something. Anyway, onto the review. I think I mostly didn't pick this up earlier because I'm a terrible cover-judge, but also because so much of the plot sounded like it was more of the same. I wish that hadn't held true, but it kind of did.

This book did prompt me to randomly start researching moonquakes, which I hadn't realised were a thing because conventional wisdom when I went through my childhood "learning about the moon phase" (what, people don't have those?) was that the moon was tectonically dead. (That is to say, has zero tectonic activity.) Apparently, like most conventional wisdom, this isn't totally true. For one thing the moon has thermal quakes whenever the sun warms it's surface. For another it also just randomly has quakes measuring 5.5 or higher (on the Richter scale, which isn't really used anymore). Here's details on moonquakes, if anyone's curious. Also apparently the moon is simultaneously shrinking and being pulled apart, so that's fun.

Unfortunately the research this book prompted me to do on lunar geology was the most interesting part of this book for me. It just didn't grab me. Part of it was how much there was in terms of telling rather than showing. It made the story lag. The story also wound up feeling kind of forced- the characters felt like they had abilities or skills specifically to move the story along, rather than as an organic part of their personalities and histories. Despite the fact that they were ostensibly different, they all had a very similar feeling, which, I think, came from how forced their construction felt.

Other than being set on the moon, this felt kind of like just any other dystopia- I don't think it's really the book's fault that I've experienced a lot of that particular kind of dystopia, but the writing and characters weren't really strong enough to carry a story with a plot as formulaic as this one was. In the end I kind of felt like I was dragging myself through the story.

In all, I really wish I'd like this book better, but it just didn't pan out for me. The plot felt too formula and the characters just didn't pull the story along. I don't think I'll be continuing the series, especially with the direction that I see the story going.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

#AsianLitBingo: Update #1





I'm going to try to post about once a week with updates on how I'm doing with this reading challenge! So far I've finished two books and I'm about 2/3 of the way through a third. I'm going to try to get five in a row, but I'm likely to also just choose some randomly scattered ones too, just because.



To All The Boys I've Loved Before
Jenny Han

I enjoyed this, but it also felt like a lot of the reasons why my main strategy in high school one
of was non-engagement. All of the things that Laura Jean was experiencing and enjoying were things I very much didn't want to experience in high school. But, you know, Laura Jean and I are very different people, so to each their own, I suppose- it's more that it limited the degree to which I related to some of her experiences.

I did really enjoy the family aspect, though! Laura Jean's relationships with the members of her family are some of the most important ones she has, which was something I really appreciated, as well as how the girls made an effort to hold on to aspects of their Korean heritage.



The Ship Beyond Time

Heidi Heilig

I was kind of on the fence about picking this up. It wasn't that I hated The Girl from Everywhere or something, but I just... wasn't particularly drawn to continuing the story. In the end, I'm glad I picked this up, though, because I wound up quite enjoy this one! 

I really enjoying execution of the idea in The Ship Beyond Time- either because having read the first book I have fully wrapped my head around the concept, or just because if flowed better this time, I'm not sure. 

There were still a few things in the plot and execution that I didn't love, but I overall really enjoyed the story, and really appreciated Nix as a character this time around- she goes through an interesting arc and I enjoyed her journey! It's a very open-ended story, I do kind of feel like there could have been more...




Friday, May 5, 2017

#AsianLitBingo Sign-Up

Which I am making late because I am a terrible, terrible blogger.

This challenge, put together by a team of bloggers of Asian heritage, occurs over the month of May (which is Asian-American Heritage month in the States), focusing on reading books written by authors with Asian backgrounds starring Asian characters.

You can find the masterpost here.


AsianLitBingo


I'm planning to read at least five books for this, but I'll probably be aiming for more. I always need to push myself to diversify my reading, so this is a good opportunity to do that, and hopefully to discover some new favourite books!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Review: A Crown of Wishes

Title: A Crown of Wishes
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Series: The Star-Touched Queen
Volume: 2 (companion novel)
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: March 28, 2017
Goodreads

Gauri is princess of Baharta, but, after a failed coup against her brother, she finds herself imprisoned in a neighbouring kingdom, pending execution. When last minute reprieve comes in the form of Vikram, an enemy prince who offers her her freedom in exchange for the use of her combat skills- in a magical tournament hosted by the Lord of Wealth that promises a wish to the victors. 

Out of Ten: 9/10

Review at a Glance: A fantastic return to the dazzling world of The Star-Touched Queen, with an intriguing plot and strongly crafted characters.

Review: I was so enchanted by this book. The world is breathtaking, and Roshani Chokshi's writing was even more dazzling in this that in The Star-Touched Queen. Where the first book faltered a bit for me, this one didn't miss a beat. The characters and plot both pulled the story along.

One of the marvelous things about this book is that Roshani Chokshi manages to craft a beautiful world and make if feel full, while also giving the impression that what the reader is experiencing is only the tip of the iceberg. The world was my favourite part of The Star-Touched Queen, and remained among my favourite things as I read A Crown of Wishes.

The characters were stronger for me in this one than the first book- they were both vivid and compelling, and weren't overshadowed by the stunning backdrop that the world provided. They're interesting in that their goals aren't unrelated and they have a lot of shared character traits, despite being very different people. This story is told from multiple points of view: Gauri's first person POV, and a third person viewpoint. I enjoyed reading both their personal journeys and the development of their relationship.

Overall, this was wonderful read! The world Roshani Chokshi describes is vivid and magical, and I was thrilled to see it again, especially through the eyes of an intriguing cast of characters.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: The Edge of the Abyss

Title: The Edge of the Abyss
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Series: The Abyss Surrounds Us Duology
Volume: 2
Genre: Science fiction
Release Date: April 18, 2017
Goodreads
eARC received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Three weeks after turning her back on everything she was raised to believe and pledging her allegiance to Pirate Queen Santa Elena, Cas is confronted with a threat the scale of which dwarfs everything she's faced to date. When she released Bao, the Reckoner she trained, she thought he was the only one, but they soon discover that many of the Reckoner pups illegally sold to pirates have escaped over the years and are now a threat to the ocean ecosystem. 

Rating: 7/10

Review at a Glance: An overall engaging and fast-paced and action-packed sequel that I wish had been a bit longer and had a bit more development!

Review: I still really like the idea of this duology (genetically engineered sea monsters! pirates!) Anyway. Onto the actual review-y bits of the review, rather than just me talking about sea monsters. This was quite a quick read, and an enjoyable conclusion to the story that started in The Abyss Surrounds Us. When we left Cas, she'd just sworn her loyalty to a fairly ruthless pirate, released Bao, and found out that Swift was responsible for Durga's death. She's just trying to get her feet under her- between her new duties and avoiding Swift, she's got enough work cut out for her.

Cas was a kind of confusing character for me this time around, it took me at least 50% of the book to really get back into her head space. I'm not really sure why, it might just have been my mood, but her thought and decision-making processes weren't really something I followed. Part of it, I think was that this was such a quick read and it took me a while to start connecting with her again... so by the time that happened, it felt like the book was almost over. She works through a lot (shifting loyalties, Santa Elena making things difficult, Swift, the whole ocean being in danger...), and I overall found myself really appreciating her character arc, especially once I did succeed in getting back into her head!

Her relationship with Swift was complicated in this book, and not in a way I particularly enjoyed... I'm not a fan of back-and-forth, hot-and-cold kind of relationships so it was for me frustrating to read, even though I understood why it was the way it was. Swift wasn't someone that I always liked, and I wish we'd been able to see her grow a bit more as a person (not that she's not allowed to be flawed... I just wish that we'd seen her do a little bit of work on those flaws). I think that their relationship was another thing that might have benefited from having a bit more time (ex. 100 more pages) to develop.

I did really appreciate the action in this one- there's pretty much always something going on! For such a short book, there are a lot of settings and characters that the readers are introduced to, which lends the book a slightly rushed feeling (something that fits well with the fact that things are a little frantic a lot of the time). All of this leads to a pretty fantastic and high-stakes climax (one that felt pretty cinematic, if that makes sense).

Overall, I really enjoyed this conclusion! The plot was strong and the action was great, though I feel that more character-driven aspects of the story would have benefited from a little more time to develop.




Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: The Bone Witch

Title: The Bone Witch
Author: Rin Chupeco
Series: The Bone Witch
Volume: 1
Genres: Fantasy
Release Date: March 3, 2017
Goodreads

When Tea accidentally raises her brother from the dead, she discovers that she is a dark asha or bone witch. She soon leaves her home- undead brother in tow- to train in her new role. The rarity of dark asha means that Tea's special skills will be in high demand- and as one part of her new role is making sure corpses of ancient monsters stay dead, will also be entirely vital- especially with unrest and possible war on the horizon.

Rating: 6/10

Review at a Glance: Despite an interesting concept, there were parts of this story that made if falter for me.

Review: Okay, so this review is kind of late for the usual reasons (school, I am the worst, school, and also, school), but also because it took me a little longer to finish this book than I was expecting. I struggled a bit to get into this one- I kept finding myself wandering off and picking up other things.

The most challenging part of this book for me was the missing feeling of movement. The way the story is told makes if somewhat passive, which ended up reducing my engagement. There wasn't really a flow that pulled me along, and the characters weren't quite strong enough to make up for a lack of action and flow like that. I did like how it flipped back and forth -from an exiled Tea telling the story in the present of the story, to the past, where Tea is learning to be a dark asha- an unusual type of asha whose powers include necromancy. While the past makes up the majority of the novel, I found the bits in the present far more compelling. While some parts were layered together quite well, so reveals weren't timed optimally, and the plot set in the past didn't have enough in terms of set up for the reveal of the person behind it.

The magic system was interesting, even if it was one I didn't fully understand, as was the role that the asha played in society. They're entertainers, healers, scholars, and warrior, and it was really interesting to see how they occupied these spheres.

Another thing that made this book a little challenging for me to read was that it didn't really have a strong sense of place. While it is clearly not set in modern times, the amount of modern slang jolted me out of the moment somewhat. I never entirely felt like I could really feel or picture the setting entirely. Likewise, a lot the character relationship didn't quite feel true, though there were a lot of interesting characters, which contributed to an overall feeling that this novel was a set up for a story to come than a strong story independently.

Overall, this book had a strong concept, and there were definitely some aspects-like the role of the asha in society- that really interested me, but it the execution wasn't strong enough to really pull me into the world or story.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Review: Dreadnought

Title: Dreadnought
Author: April Daniels
Series: Nemesis
Volume: 1
Genres: Action, Superheroes
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Goodreads

When dying superhero Dreadnought passes on his powers to Danny, she gains more than just super-strength and the ability to fly- she also gets the body she's always wanted. Before she has a chance to get used to her powers or finally having a body that fits with her gender identity, she's cast into the complicated world of heroes and villains- where the heroes aren't always good people, and nothing is as black-and-white as she was led to believe. She has to find her feet quickly because a sinister new force is rising- one she'll need all her new abilities and determination to face.

Out of Ten: 7/10

Review at a Glance: While it struggled slightly with flow, this first book in a series featuring a transgender superheroine found it's feet and juggled it's multiple themes and combined them well.

Review: This was a pretty fast read, and had moments where it faltered while it found it's feet- while the plot was straight forward enough, the flip-flop between the larger plot and the more personal fallout of Danny's transition took a little getting used to and sometimes made things feel a touch abrupt. That said, once I got used to it, it didn't end up detracting hugely from my enjoyment.

It was interesting to see the superhero politics that happened behind the scenes, and seeing how, despite their public image some of them really weren't very kind people. As people, some of them were kind of awful, and it was frustrating to have to watch Danny have to struggle to be accepted by them, as well as by her parents, who should have supported her. It's a terrible thing that too many members of the LGBT+ community have to face and is a tough part of representation to see sometimes (though obviously that aspect of the LGBT+ experience that should be shared).

Danny goes through a lot of character growth as she struggles to decide whether to embrace the mantel of Dreadnought, and especially as she begins working with a vigilante named Calamity and sees the complexity of the underworld for those with superpowers. She also grows in that she's finally able to publicly embrace being a girl, and having to face the backlash and some pretty awful treatment for simply being who she is. She was really brave in the face of all of that, and it was fantastic to see her character grow, and I'm looking forward to seeing that continue!

Overall, I enjoyed this one, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next! There's clearly a bigger story here, and I'm curious which direction it's going to go in. I'm hoping to see the plot grow more complex, as the action-plot of the story in Dreadnought was fairly standard, I'd really like to see some unexpected twists.