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
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

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

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.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Bout of Books 18 Sign Up

It's that time again! (Did you really think I could resist a read-a-thon?)

Bout of Books
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 17th and runs through Sunday, August 23rd in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 18 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team
So that's what's happening. Come. Join. Read things (you know you're going to anyway...)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review: Aerie

Title: Aerie
Author: Maria Dahvana Headley
Series: Magonia
Volume: 2
Genre: Fantasy

A year after she died, woke up on a flying ship, and discovered she wasn't human, Aza Ray is trying to lead a semi-normal life back on Earth. Despite the pull of what she left behind in Magonia, she's making it work- mostly. But Magonia isn't something that can just be put in the past, and Jason's paranoia about her safety results in a mistake that puts Aza back in danger- both from those on the ground and from her mother, who has escaped from prison intent on destroying the world below.

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: Though it didn't wow me quite as much as the first one, I was still pretty wowed by this strange, dreamlike sequel.

Review:I loved Magonia when I read it last year. Like, flat-out, hard-core loved it. There are a lot of books that I really like, and then there are a couple books that I go for like I went for Magonia. So Aerie was a book I was really looking forward to/ anticipating with fear this year.

I didn't love this as much as I loved the first book, but I still really enjoyed it. It was still really good, it just didn't quite dazzle me the same way. Possibly because there was less emphasis on the seed saving and the Svalbard seed vault? Possibly I'm a total nerd? Who knows, it's a mystery. Regardless, it still managed to be a fairly Kelly book, which was nice for me.

Maria Dahvana Headley has a way of telling stories that's very stream-of-consciousness, while simultaneously being quite lyrical, with a tendency toward going on tangents. (Luckily for me, I like tangents.) The characters she crafts are vivid and unique and strange and delightful.

I still really liked both Aza and Jason, despite (because of?) their mistakes and fumbles over the course of the story. They both struggle with their own personal challenges in this one. Both of their points of view have felt familiar to me since the first book, and that didn't change here, which was fantastic. Not so much all of the thoughts as... the way of processing information, maybe? (Especially in Jason's case.)

The world was fantastically imagined in the first book, and it gets bigger and stranger in the sequel, managing to be both whimsical and terrible. There are more creatures! There is a vague, yet menacing, government agency! (Welcome to Night Vale reference, anyone?) Science and magic collide! (This is still very much a Kelly book, as you can see.)

I think the downside of this one for me was also one of the upsides, and it was that this book is really pretty out there. It is one of the strengths of this book (flying ships! bird people! songs as magic! sky whales singing storms!) but it is also the one place this book didn't quite work for me. Because of how little I understood about Ava's magic, it was hard to really fully comprehend her struggle and what was Ava-specific extraordinary, versus just regular extraordinary. When you don't really know what the limits are supposed to be... it's less impressive to watch someone surpass them. I can't tell if this was a worldbuilding thing (which, besides this was really lovely) or a plot thing... it just didn't entirely hold my interest during the climax of the story.

Overall, I really liked this book! It was a good follow-up to Magonia, and just as wonderfully imaginative. While it wasn't quite on the level that this first book was for me, it was still pretty great!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: And I Darken

Title: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Series: The Conquerers Saga
Volume: 1
Release Date: June 28, 2016

Introduction: Lada Dragwyla is heir to Wallachia- or she would be, had she not been born a girl. After years of striving for her father's respect and affection, he abandons her and her brother, Rabu, to the role of hostages for the Ottoman empire. Lada is determined to return to her home and claim what should be her inheritance, while Rabu just wants somewhere he can feel safe. They rapidly find themselves pulled into the dangerous politics of the Ottoman empire, when they, against all odds, find themselves befriending the son of the Sultan.

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: A character-driven and fascinating alternative history with a female Vlad the Impaler.

Review: This was #YAReadAlong's book this month. I'd actually tried to pick it up once before, but I just didn't end up getting into it. I'm really glad that I gave it another try though, because I ended up really enjoying it. There are so many fascinating things about the story.

I don't typically go for books with unlikable main characters... and Lada is arguably an unlikable character in the extreme. She's aggressive, combative, and often cruel- except that watching her struggle to live her life on her terms meant she became a character that I was really invested in, despite her terribleness. I wouldn't say I supported all of her choices, but I definitely understood them. She's constantly in situations where she has to fear for her life, and covers that terror with rage so well that sometime she doesn't even realise what it is.

She and her brother Rabu have a fascinatingly fraught relationship. They both function as more or less the sole constant presence in each other's lives- but both are constantly growing and shifting, changing into people that conflict with each other on some very basic levels. They're mirrors of one another in a lot of ways- Lada has little use for religion; while Rabu beings to find himself when he finds Islam, Lada fights with a direct approach and by making herself feared; Rabu strategies and fights by making himself loved. They're both incredibly interesting characters on their own, and their interactions were intriguing in how their differences stood out sharply. And yet, they care about each other, in their own complicated, messed-up way. It's this push and pull, with a lot of really complicated emotions.

This conflict made more clear by Mehmed, the son of the Sultan to whom the siblings were given as a hostage. He really brings out the contrasting natures of Lada and Rabu. While complicating things by being both the person in love with Lada and the person who Rabu is in love with.

There's a lot of development, both for the characters themselves and with respect to the plot. This books spans year, rather than weeks or months, though it does focus on specific periods of time within those years. So naturally, a lot happens. Readers get to watch Lada and Rabu grow from being children with very few options... to young adults who still have limited options, but are a heck of a lot better at making those work for them. We get to see them carving out places for themselves in a world that isn't at all welcoming to them.

I could write a whole blog post on Lada's relationships: with herself, with her brother, with the world at large. One of the most interesting parts of this book was her complicated relationship with femininity. She's raised in a way that gives her very little respect for women, and often rails against being one herself. She's in possession of a lot of traits that aren't coded as feminine, and lives in a world where a woman isn't always a good thing to be. It's only toward the later half of the book where she meets women that she might respect and I'm interested to see how that plays out on the next two books. Likewise, I'm really hoping to see Rabu's character (and his relationship with his sexual orientation) develop too. I'm so intrigued by all the facets of both of these characters, and I'm so excited to see what's going to happen with them next (and a little concerned, because it's a very stab-y world they live in).

Overall, this one was a pleasant surprise for me. It's strongly character driven, gritty, and intense, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the story continues.

P.S. Nazira is fantastic. I really like the friendship between her and Rabu. Also the friendship between Lada and Nicolae. There are a lot of really wonderful and well-crafted secondary characters, did I mention that. No? Well, here I am, mentioning it in a postscript.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us

Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Series: The Abyss Syrrounds Us
Volume: 1
Genre: Post Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Release Date: February 8, 2016

A Quick Introduction: After rising sea levels reshaped world, the seas became a lawless place. Cassandra Leung has spent her life learning to train Reckoners, genetically engineered sea monsters that protect ships from pirates in the NeoPacific. When, on her first mission, her Reckoner fails, she is taken captive by pirates- who present her with a new Reckoner pup to train, and offer her an ultimatum: as long as the pup lives, so does she.

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: This was a quick, fun read. It contains so many cool things, and I'm really looking forward to the sequel!

Review: I mean, sea monsters, folks, SEA MONSTERS. How cool is that? (Very cool.) The sea monsters in this case a genetically engineered with DNA from different species. In my brain our two main Reckoners look like a combination of sea turtles and plesiosaurs... I would love a picture of what they're meant to look like because I feel like I possibly don't have a perfect imagine my head.

Our main character, Cas, begins the novel at the end of her training, just about ready to be a fully fledged trainer. One of my favourite things about her is how she knows the Reckoners, and also how she applies what she knows from them to her interactions with humans... Also that she's very competent. I mean, obviously she faces some super-tough decisions, (borrowing words from The Winner's Curse here) she plays the game to its end, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what that end is. She's a consistently structured character and I really appreciate that!

While the action isn't non-stop, there is always something happening. If there isn't a high-seas battle going on, there's Cas making her way on the pirate ship, or Cas and Swift's adventure visiting Swift's home. The action scenes were fairly well done, though I think sometimes I did get a bit lost? Mostly, I think, because, as I mentioned I didn't quite have a picture of exactly what the Reckoner looked like.

Now that I've mentioned Cas and Swift, I feel like I should mention them some more... I liked how Swift's character was revealed to the reader, and watching her change in Cas's eyes, while also being a very flawed character. Their relationship was interesting in that it... kind of proceeded in fits and starts, and yet didn't feel stilted? They figured each other out, and I also quite liked how they agreed equal footing was super important for relationships, and didn't wouldn't begin anything romance-wise unless they were able to be equals. (Also points for casually non-straight characters!)

Overall this was a fun, short read. While there were a few moments where I got a bit disengaged from the story, I still had a really good time reading it, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the sequel takes Cas!