Friday, September 30, 2016

#YAReadAlong: The Dark Days Club

I know I've been semi-absent from the blog recently, but I have been doing things! Look, a thing! (A thing using Microsoft Paint, don't judge.)

I'm helping coordinate a read-a-long on Twitter, starting this October (aka tomorrow, how time flies). It isn't something I've done before, so it ought to be an adventure! If you're interested i joining us, please feel free to tweet along using the hashtag #YAReadAlong... let's see how this goes!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review: The Swan Riders

Title: The Swan Riders
Author: Erin Bow
Series: Prisoners of Peace Duology
Volume: 2
Genre: Post Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Release Date: September 20, 2016
eARC recieved through NetGalley

A Quick Introduction: Greta Stuart has become and AI. Following the traumatic operation, she travels with Talis and two Swan Riders to the seat of the AI's power in post-apocalyptic Saskatchewan. However, her fate has triggered a rebellion against the AIs maintain peace through fear- AIs with no compunction about blowing up a few cities to make a  point.

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: A funny and stimulating companion to The Scorpion Rules explores humanity against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic Saskatchewan.

Review: First of all, let us acknowledge the cover. I liked the cover of The Scorpion Rules, but these new covers? Wow. Beautiful. (I know mid-series cover changes are the worst. But look how beautiful the new covers are!) (I digress.)

I always have a bit of difficult time reviewing Erin Bow's books, and I find this duology especially challenging, because there's something about them that feels like they shouldn't work. Except that they kind of do.

It took me a little while to really get into this book- I found that with The Scorpion Rules as well- Erin Bow's writing is not the sort that you launch right into. It takes time to build. The setting interests me because 1) I'm Canadian, and it takes place in post-apocalypic Saskachewan (which for the most part looks a lot like pre-apocalyptic Saskachewan) (if I can't make fun of Saskachewan, what can I make fun of?), and 2) I'm an enironmental science student, so there are aspects that are frighteningly plausible.

Where The Scorpion Rules stumbled for me, The Swan Riders was stronger. The sense of character was stronger. Greta remains a very internally strong character- having survived the AI upload, she's now basically struggling to hold herself together, and to hold onto the human parts of her. She's got a lot going on, but there's sometimes this strange feeling that, while she's the narrator, she's not always the main character. Even more strangely, that didn't bother me much... she's a character who is both an active participant and a more passive narrator, and it made for an interesting combination.

Talis gets a lot more focus during this book, as do The Swan Riders (who would've guessed that, based on the title?) Talis has always been a challenging character to understand, simply because he's so many things at once, and it was intriguing seeing those parts shift and change, and form more of a cohesive whole. In The Scorpion Rules, he was an interesting character because he's this combination of terrifyingly amoral and charismatically funny, but he didn't change much. In The Swan Riders he actually has a character arc, which was great to explore.

The thing about both The Scorpion Rules and The Swan Riders is that they're very much stories being told, in a way that renders the action not very action-y. It's not that it's terribly written, so much as that the action isn't the focus- the effects are, because these books are, in a lot of ways, ruminations on humanity and human nature that just so happen to contain characters and a plot. It's done in such an interesting way!

The humour in these books really works for me. It's alternatingly clever, morbid, and truly, truly bizarre, which fits my own sense of humour to a T. I do wish there'd been more of it, but that probably would have upset the balance!

Overall, I really enjoy The Swan Riders. It took me a while to get into, but I loved the humour and the thought-provoking aspects, and continued to be intrigued by the setting.. This sequel did a good job of wrapping up the story, in a way that was both fitting and somewhat bittersweet, and I'm really glad I read it!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Review: Every Hidden Thing

Title: Every Hidden Thing
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Release Date: September 20, 2016
ARC recieved through HarperCollins Canada's First Look program.

A Quick Introduction: Legends of a massive dinosaur skeleton take Samuel Bolt and his struggling paleontologist father to the Badlands when they recieve a black, fossilized tooth in the mail. Also on the trail of "Black Beauty" is Samuel's father's long time rival, Professor Cartland and his daughter, Rachel- who hopes finding the skeleton will be her key to her university dreams and life as a paleontologist. Despite their fathers' enmity, and the fact that they're both chasing the same fossil, Samuel and Rachel are drawn to each other. When the truth of their relationship comes out, they have to decide whether or not to allow old prejudices and family rivalries to pull them apart.

Out of Ten: 7/10

Review at a Glance: An engaging novel featuring flawed but human characters and an unusual (and very interesting) setting.

Review: Here it is, my review for one of my most anticipated novels for this year!

Okay, a little background. Kenneth Oppel has been one of my favourite authors for a long time. He was kind of my introduction to YA? Airborn remains one of my favourite trilogies ever, so when I heard about this I was SUPER excited. Because I am also a dinosaur nut. I have been since I was about six, when I somehow managed to pronounce impossibly long dinosaur names, while still unable to spell the word because. So be warned, at least part of this is going to be me nerding out about paleontology... I promise I'll fit the review in somewhere, though.

Kenneth Oppel continues to impress me with his crafting of characters that feel very real. Samuel and Rachel are both very flawed people, but they still ended up being characters who I very much wanted to succeed. They're both driven, ambitious, and also quite selfish... so their relationship definitely had it's challenges. Their entire relationship had a bit of "unstoppable force meets immovable object" going on, with a side of feeling like it was rather abrupt. It wasn't necessarily unbelievable, it just felt like they were rushing into things and acting on impulse... which I suppose is a part of the story.

I think I understood Rachel better than Samuel, and I'm always happy to see female YA characters in science- there just aren't enough of them! It was nice to meet a character who also didn't outgrow her dinosaur obsession, and I quite liked her way of looking at the world. Samuel was a bit harder for me to like, but his motivations generally made sense to me (which is something that I think is sometimes more important than liking a character...)

I really liked the time period in which this was set- dinosaurs were still kind of a "new" thing, they were a sensation and fossil hunting was something alternately grueling and glamourous. The science of paleontology was just getting its start. Academics of all sorts are known to have long-reaching rivalries- ones that were known to end in property damage, physical altercations, and careers left in tatters. Or, at least, some very sarcastic peer-reviewed articles.

This book was completely devoid of action, either. The Badlands were a dangerous place at the start of the 19th century- a rough, forbidding landscape with poisonous creatures unfamiliar to visitors, and with the risk of conflict with indigenous peoples who (rightly) felt that their lands were being invaded and their rights disrespected (like, a lot, and we definitely see some of that in this book). The main conflict in this book, though, was that between Professors Bolt and Cartland, and their children's struggle to find a way to be together despite their family prejudices.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this, and really like the portrait of fossil hunting in it's fairly early day. The setting and time period were well crafted, as were the characters. While the impulsive relationship between the two main characters wasn't necessarily something I'd want for myself, it wasn't totally unbelievable, and it definitely moved the story along and set them both on their path. I'm just going to go ahead an recommend this to more mature YA readers (there is sex, sex happens, we do not fade to black, consider yourselves warned) who didn't manage to outgrow their dinosaur phase.