Monday, March 17, 2014

Review: Cruel Beauty

Cruel BeautyTitle:Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Release Date: Jan. 28, 2014

A Quick Introduction: Nyx has been prepared since she was a child to marry the bargin-making demon who rules her world. To marry him, and to kill him, bring down his rule and free her people. Her father struck a bargain with the Gentle Lord, with the promise that the Gentle Lord would be granted one of his daughters, and Nyx was chosen to be the bride of the demon. So, on her seventeenth birthday, she leaves behind the only home she's ever know, all be it one that she has more or less resented, as she lives with people who haven't been bothered to try and save her. the castle isn't what she expects, a constantly reforming maze of rooms and locked doors. Neither is her new husband. Nyx finds herself torn between her duty to her world and the possibility of loving her sworn enemy, the only one who has ever understood.

Out of Ten: 6/10

Review at a Glance: A fair fantasy with elements of classic fairytales and Greek mythology.

Review: This was alright. There are aspects of fairytales, it is pitched as having aspects of Beauty and the Beast, and there was a hint of Bluebeard's Wives in there too. There was also strong influences from Ancient Greece, with references to Greek mythology.

Nyx is a bit of a hardened character- she's known since she was young that she is essentially a human sacrifice. Her father doesn't care about her, she's bitter toward her dead mother and her aunt, and, while her sister is sweet to her, she can't help hating her. She even seems to feel guilty for wanting to live, or wishing she was not chosen as the bride. There are a lot of negative emotions, and she mentions a few times that she considers herself a monster, though of a different kind than Ignifex, the demon has.

Truth be told, I didn't really feel this story. Somehow, I didn't sink into the world. There were aspects of the worldbuilding that I enjoyed- how the sky looked, for instance, but I feel like there was something that just didn't pull me into it. I guess that I just really didn't feel what Nyx felt. Her constant brooding on her hatred (and how she feels guilty about her hatred) and how she thinks she is awful wasn't something I particularly enjoyed, and I somehow didn't really feel like she faced that as a character. She doesn't seem to reconcile with herself.

This book is really pitched as a romance. I didn't really find myself feeling it. There didn't seem to be any sort of emotional connection between the participants. I understood the idea that there was meant to be one, but I felt that it wasn't really built as well as it could have been. I feel like there could have been more encounters between the characters- there are times where Nyx mentions that weeks (or months...) have passed, but we are lead to assume that they completely avoided each other during these stretches. I just didn't get the emotional connection, so the sudden desperation toward the end didn't fit for me.

Overall, it was an interesting enough concept, and an enjoyable enough book, but I just didn't feel either the emotions of the characters or the world itself. It just didn't jump off of the page for me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: Landry Park

Landry Park (Landry Park, #1)Title: Landry Park
Author: Bethany Hagen
Series: Landry Park
Volume: 1
Genre: Dystopia
Release Date: Feb. 4, 2014

A Quick Introduction: The future of the United States, it is ruled by the gentry and powered by nuclear charges. Madeline Landry has grown up learning that she was born to lead the gentry, like her father does now. He expects her to marry and run the family estate. But all is not well in the illusion of a perfect world, and Madeline begins to question everything she has been taught. With rumours of a war on the horizon and hints of an uprising from the repressed lower class, Madeline finds herself struggling with choosing what is right and her duty.

Out of Ten: 2/10

Review at a Glance: This dystopian novel lacked sympathetic characters or a truly engaging plot.

Review: Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy this one. Part of it may be that I’m a little tired of this particular brand of dystopian novel.

I found there were a lot of things about the novel that I didn’t like about the book, the first of which was Madeline herself. She bothered me, to be frank. I found there was inconsistency to her character, which I think was intended to be interpreted as indecisiveness, was frustrating to read. She wasn’t that assertive a character, she just came off as dithering a lot, and her compassion, once she found it, still came off as somehow false or shallow. The reader is informed that she is quite intelligent, but there isn’t really much that backs it up. I really didn’t feel much of anything more than annoyance toward her. I also disliked the love interest, David for many of the same reasons. They both just seemed inconsistent and felt two dimensional. I truly didn’t find any of the characters to be very engaging or three dimensional.

The plot shuffled between Madeline having a dilemma about the underclass, dying of radiation poisoning from the nuclear charges that power her world, Madeline trying to figure out who attacked one of her friends, and Madeline having a dilemma about David not fancying her. Honestly, I found it tedious, possibly due to my dislike of the narrator. The action really only picked up in the last fifty pages or so, and died down rather quickly.

As for the writing, I wasn’t thrilled by it. There were a couple of phrases (apple-stained? As far as I am aware, apples do not stain hands- fresh apple juice is pretty clear) that bothered me. The storytelling just didn’t manage to pull me into a plot that I really didn’t have an interest in following. The world itself didn’t interest me much either, and I wasn’t sure how it worked- what exactly are they meant to be doing with all of the dirty nuclear charges? There wasn’t that much of a background for the world that was being created. Why the return to some regency era-esque behaviours?

Overall, I just didn’t enjoy this one. I didn’t like the characters very much, and I didn’t really have any interest in the plot, and I don’t think that I will be continuing this series.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Review: Across a Star-Swept Sea

Across a Star-Swept Sea (For Darkness Shows the Stars, #2)Title: Across a Star-Swept Sea
Author: Diana Peterfreund
Series: For Darkness Shows the Stars
Volume: 2 (companion novel)
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Romance, Retellings (The Scarlet Pimpernel)
Release Date: October 15, 2013

A Quick Introduction: Across a Star-Swept Sea is a companion to For Darkness Shows the Stars, and introduces a new heroine: Persis. Persis is living on the island of Albion, New Pacifica, which stands alone in the world, a on the surface it is a paradise where even the Reduction has receded into memory. But a there is revolution against the aristocracy on the neighbouring island of Galatea, and the revolutionaries are using a drug that damages the brains of their enemies. The only hope for those captured is rescue by the Wild Poppy. Nobody would ever suspect shallow, frivolous teenage aristocrat Persis Blake of being capable of anything more difficult than matching dresses and shoes, much less clandestinely undertaking rescue missions on the other island. But Persis is the Wild Poppy, and her flaky exterior is calculated, her gossip is secret messages and her pet a genetically engineered weapon. Even her highly publicized relationship with Galatean medic Justen Helo, who has more than enough secrets of his own.

Persis knows she plays a dangerous game; if anyone outside of her trusted friends were to find out about her double identity- that she isn't the silly, empty-headed part that she plays, she would become a target. That, if she can't play this fake romance to perfection, there will be consequences- neither can she allow it to become anything more than fake. Especially as secrets come to light and the stakes mount.

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: An enjoyable, adventurous and character-driven companion to For Darkness Shows the Stars.

Review: I really enjoyed this book, though not quite as much as For Darkness Shows the Stars. Persis is a very different heroine than Elliot. Elliot is much quieter, and her version of hard work is very different, though Persis is not stranger to labour. Persis uses her looks as just another weapon in her arsenal- as her mask. While she projects an empty-headed facade within the aristocratic society she was born to, she also fights against a corrupt revolutionary government on the neighbouring island. While the Reduction has been cured on the island, the revolutionaries on Galatea are now using a new drug to destroy the minds of those who oppose them, a drug that is said to imitate the Reduction, but in reality is more brutal. She's a  practiced actor, as well as being intelligent, and usually plays her part well- she does find herself slipping up on occasion, especially when Justen pushes her, but manages to cover for herself. As the Wild Poppy, she risks herself on missions to save the targets of the revolution- those that the revolutionaries have slated for "Reduction". And as herself she deals with the uncertainty of her own future, and the possibility that she may have inherited a debilitating disorder from her mother, a form of dementia that is a side effect to the cure for Reduction.

Now, in addition to her vigilante role as the Wild Poppy, she is faking a relationship with Justen Helo, and trying not to allow herself to become emotionally entangled with a boy she knows she can't trust. As their relationship went, they were excellent foils to each other, even when Persis was doing her best to act empty-headed, she still challenges him and the way he thinks. I think it was harder for her to play that role around him than she usually does, because it bothers her that someone who is so much an intellectual equal thinks she's a shallow socialite, especially when she wants him to appreciate her for herself.

New Pacifica, where Across a Star-Swept Sea is set, is in the area of what is now New Zealand (both books are set in that area, I believe), and I found it to be an enjoyable setting. However, there were some aspects of the setting that were slightly difficult to understand- namely the flutternotes, and how the palmports work. I got the general idea, but I would have liked more background as to what they look like and how they work. It was a just a touch of background information that I would have liked. I enjoyed the location, and would have liked to hear more about it. As a side note, the heroine of the story is a person of colour, presumably descended from the native people from New Zealand, the Maori. The author has mentioned that Elliot's grandfather was also, at least in part, Maori.

As for the plot, I enjoyed it. I found aspects of it to be quite simple, with a main focus on on Persis as a character. A great deal is coming to a head, so to speak. There is a revolution on the neighbouring island, where the descendants of the Reduced, the regs, are attacking the aristocracy, and the young princess regnant of Persis's own island, Isla, is facing a similar threat. Persis's faux romance with Jacen is a way of attempting to diffuse the tensions between her people, the aristocracy and his, the regs. Isla is one of the few people who knows of Persis's double identity, and aids her in her rescue missions, as the revolutionaries on Galatea grow more and more extreme. As Isla and Persis are close, the struggles of the princess, both against the fear of a revolution and with the council are clear to the reader, introducing an element of political drama to the action of the Wild Poppy story line and the romantic and personal elements.

To round off this long review, there are cameos, and I really liked seeing what some of the characters from the first book were up to.

Overall, I enjoyed this as a companion to For Darkness Shows the Stars, and I would have liked to read more set in this world, though as far as I am aware there aren't plans for another book.

My review for For Darkness Shows the Stars can be found here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review: Little Brother

Little Brother (Little Brother, #1)Title: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctrow
Series: Little Brother
Volume: 1
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction, Cyberpunk
Release Date: April 28, 2009

A Quick Introduction: Marcus knows how to work the system- how to sneak passed the surveillance at school. He's smart and tech. savvy. He mostly uses his skills to sneak out of classes. But when he and his friends are caught in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, they are captured by the Department of Homeland Security and brutally interrogated for days. One of Marcus's friends, Darryl, is injured in the attack, and when the DHS releases Marcus and most of his crew, he isn't released. Even when they are released, they aren't free- the city has turned into a police state. Everyone is treated like a potential terrorist, and media is being cracked down on. Marcus knows that nobody would believe him if he told them what had happened, and takes matters into his own hands. If nobody will believe him, he'll have to fight the DHS himself.

Review at a Glance: A thought-provoking, technology-wise story of rebellion.

Review: We live in an internet age, but comparatively know very little about how it works. I have a mediocre knowledge at best (and yes, I feel the shame). So I learned a lot about the internet and security. I think that was something that was a really strong part of this book- it was informative, and that made it engaging for me. Though some of the more complicated security information was confusing, I still learned a lot. This was, for me, more of a thinking book than anything else for me.

Though that's not to say that the story didn't interest me- I did follow the plot, and enjoyed reading about Marcus's tale of rebellion, but it seemed to me to be more of a speculative and informative piece than one driven by plot. The plot itself was a relatively simple one, with all of the hacking and internet security info-dumps aside. Overall, I found it enjoyable enough, and quite exhilarating at times.

I had mixed feelings about the characters. I think that it would be too much to say that I liked them as people, but it wasn't that most of them were poorly written- it was just that I wasn't that fond of them. I didn't really like the protagonist per say. It wasn't that he was unrealistic, just that I wasn't smitten with him as a person, though he isn't without his good qualities. I didn't dislike him all the time, and I didn't like him all the time. I found that Angie felt fell into some character tropes that I'm not terribly fond of as well, but they both seemed very much to be teenagers, if that makes sense. I didn't really feel much of anything about their relationship, again, the story for me was more about the precautionary element of the controlling government. The views of the characters were quite "anti-adult" as one would say (or "anti-over-25" as the case may be), which I have never been fond of because a) I am aware that everyone will grow older and become "the enemy" which makes it a little limiting and b) I believe that each person should be taken on a case-by-case basis. This characteristic put me off a bit on occasion, but it fortunately wasn't too prevalent.

Overall, this book made me more aware of how utterly complicated the internet and technology in general can be, and the importance of freedom in a society that is both focused on security and surprisingly lax. It was certainly different in some ways from most books that I have read before. The greatest strength of this book was that it made me think.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Top Ten Popular Authors I've Never Read

Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly feature created and hosted at The Broke and The Bookish
1. Veronica Roth. Divergent is hugely popular, and I have a couple of friends who've read it, but I somehow just don't think that I would enjoy it. Something about the premise just doesn't interest me, in spite of how incredibly popular the series has been.

2. Lauren Oliver. Again, I went through a major dystopian phase (and I still enjoy them), but the Delirium trilogy just didn't interest me. I'm very weary of dramatic star-crossed love. And love triangles. I may have dodged a bullet, because I know most people were disappointed with the ending of the trilogy. I know she's written other novels, but so far, nothing has caught my eye.

3. Neil Gaiman. I've heard his work is marvelous, and I do mean to pick it up some time, but I haven't done so yet.

4. Elizabeth Wein. I have heard wonderful things about Code Name Verity, but I don't think I could do something that emotionally intense at this point. I might pick it up eventually, but I'm not sure if I can do something heartbreaking right now.

5. Tamora Pierce. I mean to read something of hers at some point. I really do. I have a friend who is a big fan of her work, and I am a big fan of high fantasy.

6. Jennifer L. Armentrout. Again, this is a case of none of her books appealing to me. Partly because I'm a horrible cover judge with an aversion to the "people clinging to each other" brand of cover, and partly because I'm not generally a fan of the sort of romance that it looks like she writes (of the fixation-y variety).

7. Richelle Mead. I have developed a severe vampire-prejudice as time has gone on. I read Twilight, became pretty disillusioned with it, and the only vampire book that I've really read since is The Coldest Girl In Cold Town, by Holly Black. Also because a friend of mine was reading these in elementary school (as in "in the eighth grade") and that somehow put me off of the series (?)

8. Rae Carson.  I haven't read  The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, though I probably should at some point. Once again, I do enjoy high fantasy.

9. Maria V. Snyder. I just somehow haven't gotten around to reading any of her books, though Poison Study has been on my to read list for quite some time now.

10. Orson Scott Card. I know this is kind of considered an essential as science fiction goes, but I haven't read anything that he has written. Part of it is because I don't think I like the author much as a person, though I usually try to separate that out in my reading.