Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Review: THE ONES WE'RE MEANT TO FIND by Joan He

 

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

I was pleasantly surprised by The Ones We’re Meant to Find. I originally thought this book was a YA contemporary based on the cover, but when I finally took the time to pick it up and read the dust jacket, the blurbs on the back mentioned that this was a “futuristic world” and featured “floating cities” among other things, and I was immediately interested. I love dystopian science fiction stories, futuristic technology, floating islands, and climate-centered narratives, so I knew I needed to read this immediately. 

What if human nature is the last disease we have yet to eradicate?

We follow two sisters, Cee and Kasey. Cee’s story is told in first-person POV. She’s stuck on a deserted island with the only company being an android that she built. She lost her ability to see in color, and she has no memories with the exception of the knowledge that she has a sister out there somewhere, who she is searching for. Kasey’s story is told in third-person, and I really enjoyed that the sisters were written from different perspectives. She’s a scientist and lives in one of the floating eco-cities. She is still reeling from the recent disappearance of her sister as she also tries to find a way to protect the people on the planet from Earth’s increasing number of natural disasters. 

In the various eco-cities around the world, people use “holo mode” as a way to live more sustainably and eco-consciously, which I thought was pretty cool. Nonessential activities are done virtually from a stasis pod, which makes it feel like this book had the full-dive technology found in futuristic video games, even though video games weren’t at all present in this story. I always love to see how authors imagine futuristic versions of Earth, especially a world ravaged by unrelenting earthquakes and climate disasters that cause people to completely change the way they live and interact with nature. 

I love Joan He’s writing style in this book. I haven’t read her debut novel, so The Ones We’re Meant to Find is my first experience with her. I love that she is eloquent and intelligent, not talking down to her readers. This novel is one where she throws you into the story with lots of new terminology and big words and let’s you figure it out on your own, and I really enjoyed that because it read as more sophisticated, closer to an adult novel. 

A lot of the twists I guessed ahead of time, but that didn’t hinder my enjoyment watching them come to pass as I read the novel. I thought this book was clever and uniquely interesting, and I definitely recommend it. If you like books featuring a strong sisterly bond, floating cities and deserted islands, a robot companion, full-dive technology, a unique dystopian setting, and exciting twists, then you should absolutely check out The Ones We’re Meant to Find. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Review: HALL OF SMOKE by H. M. Long

 

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Are you tired of reading about female protagonists who tell you they’re strong assassins but don’t actually do anything to prove it? Then you should check out Hall of Smoke! Hessa doesn’t have to spend the whole book pretending to be badass when she shows us from the very first chapter that she is: she will murder, maim, and disembowel those who get in her way. She’s an Eangi, a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, and she has the ability to kill her enemies with a scream. This book is fierce and brutal, but in the best way. 

Hessa was banished for disobeying her goddess, and while she is alone in the mountains seeking forgiveness, raiders come and slaughter her entire village, killing nearly everyone she knows and loves.

Hessa then goes on a quest to track down and kill a certain traveler that her goddess had commanded her to kill, and the book is mostly a story of Hessa’s journey to find this traveler. There is also commentary on who to trust, including if you should trust your own gods, and what happens when gods die.

I did expect to see more “scream magic,” or Eangi Fire as it’s really called, but it wasn’t present in the book as much as I expected. We see it heavy in the first few chapters, and I think that set an unrealistic expectation for the book where I expected the whole novel to be like that, but it wasn’t. Hessa mentions her Fire a lot but doesn’t actually use it that much, and I think part of that is intentional as the god the Fire is tied to is missing for much of the novel. 

One thing I noticed is that there were some flashback scenes, specifically at the beginning, and I had a hard time telling when this was occurring until after the fact. I would be reading and then I’d be like, “when did she get here?” and then later on I’d realize it was a flashback. Those scenes could have been signaled better, in my opinion, to be less confusing to the reader.

Also, I couldn’t tell some of the gods apart. Many of them make on-page appearances and talk with Hessa and other characters, but I struggled at times to distinguish one from another and remember which gods belonged to which culture and what they were gods of. I don’t tend to like books about fantasy gods—I don’t know why, but I always struggle with the concept of what defines a god and why the gods are so fallible, and I feel like that mindset was present here too. There are multiple generations of gods, gods killing gods, gods overpowering other gods, and it all really made me wonder what exactly is a god and how did they get that way. That’s a discussion for another day though.

I also don’t tend to like books based on mythology, but I did like here that the mythos was fake, like it was all invented for this novel. We have inspiration from the Vikings, but the names of the gods are all new and different, so you don’t have to know anything about Norse mythology before starting the book. I really appreciated that because I am super ignorant when it comes to any type of mythology. 

Hall of Smoke had a really strong start, but my enjoyment slowly petered off throughout the novel. I have found through much trial and disappointment that books centered around gods or mythology unfortunately just aren’t my thing. Hessa is a great protagonist, the world-building is nice, the plot is interesting, but the gods and myths part just wasn’t holding my attention, due to no fault of the author or book—that’s just me. Because I was rather emotionally detached from the story, I didn’t feel the full weight of the consequences at the end of the book. I wanted to love this book so much more than I actually did. 

Hall of Smoke was still decent though. I don’t think I’ve read any other books about a lone-wolf warrior priestess, so that aspect really had me interested. This book features gods both good and bad, tribal clans, ancient rune magic, and a fierce female protagonist on a journey of revenge and redemption. This is also a clean book with no bad language or explicit scenes, and the battle scenes weren’t overly gory, which I appreciated. I love that this is a standalone fantasy (because there aren’t enough standalone fantasies out there), but I am also planning to read the standalone companion novel Temple of No God that comes out next year. H. M. Long has a gift for writing and I’m excited to see what stories she comes up with in the future. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Review: INSTRUCTIONS FOR DANCING by Nicola Yoon

 

Rating: 5/5 stars

After loving Nicola Yoon’s first two books, I was excited to hear about her newest release, Instructions for Dancing.

This book is about Evie, who comes across a book called Instructions for Dancing and then becomes able to see visions of a couple’s entire relationship from beginning to end whenever she watches them kiss. She notices a pattern: all relationships eventually come to an end. Although this fact discourages her, she decides to see what she can learn from her newfound ability. 

“The problem with broken hearts isn’t that they kill you; it’s that they don’t.”

I don’t tend to like magical realism in books, but I liked it here; I thought it was done well. The introduction and execution of Evie’s visions felt natural to me.

I ended up really enjoying this book. Young adult contemporary romance is really not my thing anymore, likely because I’m not in high school anymore and I’m not dealing with boy drama since I’m now happily married, so I’m always worried when I read it that I won’t be able to connect with it like I used to. But this book was alright. Evie is about to go to college and the story is more about her experiences dancing and her friendships than anything else. 

I grew up dancing, so I loved that aspect of the story. I did ballet, tap dance, hip hop, Irish dance, and most notably, nearly every kind of ballroom dance. Instructions for Dancing is about various forms of ballroom dancing as Evie goes to classes to learn how to dance and train for a competition. I loved that the instructors gave little snippets of the history of certain dances, like how waltzing was once called “so fatal a contagion” in girls because dancing caused them to scandalously show their ankles. Ha! I learned lots of info I didn’t previously know, and it was really delightful.

This book was wholesome and fun and timely. Even though I don’t tend to reach for YA contemporary anymore, Nicola Yoon is an author whose books I will continue to read because they are enjoyable to me and not filled with petty drama. And this one wasn’t really a romance for most of it anyway; even though it’s wholly about love, at its core it isn’t a love story. 

Instructions for Dancing is my favorite Nicola Yoon book so far. The audiobook narrator was amazing as well, and she really brought each character to life with a distinct voice. This book is human and heartfelt and heart-wrenching, and definitely worth the read, especially if you love dancing. 

“If you get very, very lucky in this life, then you get to love another so hard and so completely that when you lose them, it rips you apart. The pain is the proof of a life well-lived and loved.”

Monday, June 28, 2021

Review: SIX CRIMSON CRANES by Elizabeth Lim

 

Rating: 2/5 stars

Shiori is the only princess of Kiata, but she doesn’t want to do what’s expected of her. One day she dives into the Sacred Lake and meets a dragon, who turns out to be a boy able to transform into a dragon. He tells Shiori that she has the rare ability to wield magic and he promises to teach her how to use it. Shiori uses her magic to enchant a paper crane to make it fly by itself, who she names Kiki. One day she discovers her stepmother, Raikama, is a powerful sorceress. She changes Shiori’s six brothers into cranes and curses Shiori so that with every sound that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

I didn’t really like how both Zairena and Raikama were written as being irredeemably bad. People are not all good or all bad, and their being written that way made them both feel very flat to me. I also got all six of Shiori’s brothers mixed up because there are really no distinguishing factors between them all. One is a little nicer than the others and one is a little meaner than the others, but there’s not much characterization beyond that. Shiori herself was fine, but honestly, none of the characters stood out to me, and I truly just didn’t care about anyone. I did, however, like Shiori and Takkan’s relationship. I liked Takkan the best of all the characters in the book. 

Six Crimson Cranes has a similar feel to Spin the Dawn. It could just be Elizabeth Lim’s writing style, although these two series do take place in the same world. (If you look at both books’ maps though, it’s a little confusing because the maps have some of the same places but not in the same locations.) There are quite a few similarities between the two books, especially in the beginning. For example, Shiori enchants a needle to sew for her, which is uncannily similar to Maia’s enchanted embroidery scissors in Spin the Dawn, and both books even have a walnut with magical properties that can hold items inside it. Also, both books are fairytales. I don’t know if all these crossovers were intentional or not, but it was kind of weird. I almost felt like I was reading the same book, as Shiori and Maia are very similar protagonists and there were lots of references to the Blood of Stars in both books, but I know this is a completely different story.

This book reads rather young to me. I don’t know what it is but I’ve been feeling this way about every young adult book I’ve been reading lately: they all feel like they’re so simply written with a clear good and a clear bad with predictable twists and common plot beats and a protagonist who is special unlike anyone else. I don’t know if this is just the specific books I’m reading or if this is the generic structure for young adult novels, but I’m seeing the pattern repeated over and over. It keeps happening to me and I really am tired of it because I feel like I’m constantly reading the same book that I just read, with just a few differences to the setting and magic. It makes for a lackluster reading experience, unfortunately. 

I wish I could say this book brought something fresh and new to the genre, but it really didn’t. Even though the plot is different from her previous duology and the setting and characters are new, I felt like I was reading Spin the Dawn again. There are so many similarities in writing style and story beats but also in random details throughout the narrative that I couldn’t stop comparing the two novels during my entire time reading Six Crimson Cranes

I liked the Asian influences on the story and I’m always interested in reading more stories with Asian cultures and settings, but that wasn’t enough to make this novel feel new and fresh to me, especially with the huge amount of telling instead of showing. So many scenes were quickly glossed over because there was no depth given to the narrative, which I didn’t enjoy. 

For how much I liked Lim’s Spin the Dawn, I’m really disappointed I didn’t like Six Crimson Cranes better. It’s not that this book was bad, but I just didn’t care about the story whatsoever. I didn’t like the first 30% or the last 20% of the book, but I did enjoy the middle 50% to some extent, mostly because of Takkan. I think this book would be good for teens on the younger side, especially those interested in Asian culture and folklore, or for anyone looking for a quick and easy read that also feels familiar and fun. I also think fans of Spin the Dawn would enjoy this book if they liked Lim’s fairytale-esque writing style.

This book feels pretty forgettable to me and I was glad to be finished once I finally read the last page. I currently don’t have any desire to find out what happens next as it’s pretty easy to guess where the story will go from here, so unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be reading the sequel to Six Crimson Cranes, but I encourage you to check out the series if it sounds like something you’ll enjoy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but it turns out it’s just not quite my type of novel. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Review: BLADE OF SECRETS by Tricia Levenseller

Rating: 3/5 stars

Ziva is a bladesmith with social anxiety. One day she makes a magical blade on commission, but when it turns out to be the most powerful blade in the world and unbeatable, she does whatever she can to make sure it doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

I enjoyed this story, right from the beginning. I picked this up on a whim at 1 a.m. one night and was hooked. This wasn’t in my TBR plans but it looked so dang good and my best friend loved it, and therefore I couldn’t resist.

The magic is pretty cool. It’s kind of a force of its own. Ziva can give magical properties to her weapons, but sometimes a weapon will accidentally become imbued with magic on its own and Ziva then has to figure out what its powers are. In the first chapter she ends up making a mace that can make her opponent stop breathing when held a certain way, and this happened by chance when Ziva was having a panic attack and struggling to breathe herself, so that leads me to believe the weapons’ abilities are tied to Ziva’s emotions at that moment, which is pretty neat.

I loved the anxiety representation in this book. I have both generalized anxiety and social anxiety, sometimes so bad it feels unbearable, so I found Ziva to be very relatable. She doesn’t like to talk to anyone aside from her sister, she doesn’t like to leave the house, and she has occasional panic attacks. I felt very seen in Ziva. Although I will say that at times, the fact that she has anxiety felt like it was forced down our throats. It’s mentioned on nearly every page and thought about during every interaction she has, and that seemed a little over the top to me.

“I hate feeling as though I don’t fit right in my own skin. As though the anxiety takes up too much space, pushing me aside.”

I also loved the relationship between Ziva and her sister, Temra. While Ziva is the bladesmith and makes all the weapons, Temra is the one who commissions them and sells them so Ziva doesn’t have to interact with others. Temra always has Ziva’s back and helps her come down from her anxiety highs, and I loved to see that. It makes me badly wish I had a sister too.

“It’s not that I don’t want to connect with people. I desperately do, but even more than that, I want to feel safe. No one but Temra has ever felt safe.”

The writing in this story felt on the younger side to me. Ziva and Temra are 20 and 18, respectively, but the writing style felt like it was written for the younger side of young adult, like for 12-year-olds. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s just an observation I had while reading that kind of pulled me out of the story. 

For example, the world-building was very surface level, as were the character relationships. I have noticed that, generally, the older the intended audience is for a book, the more time spent will be spent on crafting a rich world with fully fleshed-out characters. Now, this could be because adult books tend to be longer and have more pages to devote to those details, but this is not always the case. More and more these days I am feeling disappointed with young adult fantasy, and unfortunately, this book disappointed me a little bit too. It was exactly fifty percent of the way through the book that my feelings started to change and I started wishing for the book to be over. 

The pacing was too fast, but in a how-much-time-is-actually-passing sort of way. Ziva was supposed to take three months to craft a weapon, and that was on a “tight” schedule, yet when we see her actually making it, it is written as if she crafts the entire thing in one day. Then we’re told that it’s been almost three months, and I just couldn’t believe that. Then when Ziva and her crew are on a journey, it is said to take a month, but it felt like they were on the road for a few days at most. It was very hard for me to gauge the passage of time in this novel because the story was written in a way that felt as if hardly any time was passing at all.

Also while they were on the road, Ziva is said to have developed a close relationship with Kellyn, but their interactions didn’t lead me to believe as much. The romance was very flat to me as Ziva’s attraction to Kellyn is based entirely on his luscious orange hair and not on any real reasons. Whenever they talked, I couldn’t feel her falling for him more and more; it just felt very bland to me. And then it flip-flops between him doing something good and her thinking he’s hot, and him doing something dumb and her instantly thinking he’s ugly instead. (Again why I say this reads really young.)

This is my first Tricia Levenseller book so I can’t compare the writing here to the writing in any of her other books, but I will say that I don’t really have any interest in reading any of her other books, aside from the sequel to Blade of Secrets.

Fun fact: Tricia Levenseller majored in the same degree I did at the same university I went to, so I feel like we have some sort of connection because of that. When I found that out I was very excited and it made me want to read some of her books. I am glad I gave Blade of Secrets a chance because I think it was a fun story and worth the read, but it didn’t stand out to me as much as I hoped it would. 

Overall, I really liked the idea behind Blade of Secrets and I appreciated the anxiety representation, but the story itself was written as mostly telling instead of showing, which led to weird pacing, surface-level world-building, and an unbelievable romance. I intend to read the sequel, Master of Iron, when it comes out next year because I want to know how the story ends (even though the ending of this book makes it pretty clear what the next book will be about and how it will end). Ultimately I think this story was fine but it wasn’t my favorite as it honestly feels rather forgettable and like your typical young adult fantasy narrative. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Review: THE WORLD GIVES WAY by Marissa Levien

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Myrra lives on a spaceship the size of Switzerland, one that’s been shooting through space for over a hundred years. The entire world she knows—the only world her parents and grandparents knew—is this spaceship. And it’s failing.

The World Gives Way is a debut sci-fi dystopian novel, and it’s exactly what I needed right now. I love dystopian stories and I’ve been trying to get more into science fiction, plus with the secretive elements and dramatic irony, this book was right up my alley.

Myrra is an indentured contract worker, has been since she was five, working for the highest bidder. She was most recently working for the Carlyles when she found out the world she lives on is cracked and failing, and there’s no way to fix it. Humanity has only two months left until everything ends. When the Carlyles end up dead, Myrra takes on the responsibility of caring for their now-orphaned daughter, Charlotte. She takes Charlotte and sets out on a journey, which is the bulk of this novel. 

We have another POV, that of Tobias, an employee at the New London Security Bureau. He’s assigned to solve the mystery around a case involving a wealthy government official and his wife found dead, their daughter missing, and their servant on the run after stealing some of the couple’s items. Sound like anyone we know?

I loved the juxtaposition of switching between chapters from the woman on the run and chapters from the man who’s looking for her. This made for lots of good moments when I as the reader knew more than the characters and was excited to see how the story would play out. 

This is a light sci-fi, one that I would recommend for beginners to science fiction. For much of the story, you actually forget it’s science fiction because the story doesn’t focus on that. The spaceship is set up like earth, with simulated seasons and weather and sky patterns. There are mountains and seas and beaches and caves and various cities with a train system that connects them all. It feels like earth for the most part, but then little details pop up here and there to remind the reader that the story doesn’t actually take place on earth. I really liked that because while I do love science fiction, I really struggle to read space-based science fiction, and this didn’t feel like it took place in space at all. 

There’s also the dystopian aspect that earth is no longer habitable so the human population is on its way to a new planet to live, one that will take hundreds of years to get to. We don’t get much detail on what caused the people to emigrate from earth, which is something I would have liked to learn, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment too much. There is also not much detail about the logistics of a spaceship that big being built and how that all came to be, but we do get to see some of the behind-the-scenes workings of the ship, and I did enjoy that part. 

The World Gives Way was unlike anything I’ve read before. I loved it; I loved the setting and the journey and the characters and the non-traditional but inevitable ending. This book is about finding hope in hopeless situations and making the best of it. 

I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in sci-fi or dystopian novels. Marissa Levien wrote a wonderful story and I know I’ll be watching out for other books from her in the future. The audiobook narrator also performed splendidly and really made the story come to life for me. 

I received a copy of the audiobook from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Review: THE SHADOWED SUN by N. K. Jemisin

Rating: 4/5 stars

I’ll be honest, I remembered next to nothing about the first book when I started this book. I read The Killing Moon last July, when I was in the deepest depths of my depression, and I have forgotten most of what was going on in my life during that time, including all the books I read. I remembered there was dream magic, and people who go into other people’s dreams to gather Dreamblood, and lots of fantasy politics, and that’s about it. Can’t remember the main characters, can’t remember the plot, can’t remember how the book ended. But I do remember thinking it was really cool and I should read it again when I’m in a better headspace because that book deserves my full attention.

I finally, almost a year later, started book two. I was nervous jumping in without remembering anything, but it turned out to be okay, and I actually enjoyed The Shadowed Sun more than The Killing Moon. The first book ends as if it’s a standalone, and this book takes place like ten years later and follows a different cast of characters, so it wasn’t as confusing as I was worried it would be. There’s also a very helpful glossary at the back that I read through during the first few chapters to help me get back on board.

Jemisin’s books always have such unique worlds and this was no exception. It’s based on Egyptian culture but the world is still very much its own and rooted in a fantastical setting. It’s also very intense and immersive, and at times I was worried I was getting left behind because I wasn’t catching all the details. Each POV character is part of a different tribe or caste of people in this land, and I did get a bit confused about who was who and where each character was and what was special about their clan. Even though my brain wasn’t smart enough to pick up all the details and connect all the dots, I still really enjoyed this story and understood the gist of it. 

I love the magic in this series. The idea of dream magic alone is amazing, but Jemisin takes it so much further, adding in four different kinds of dream magic that are gathered from different kinds of dreams and each having distinct properties. Then add on top of that the overarching plot in this book: a plague of nightmares. That’s really cool!!

I did struggle during the first new chapters to keep all the characters straight and who was part of what tribe or what political group and who was working with who, etc. For how intricate the world-building and magic are in this book, it’s surprising it’s only a two-book series. Usually with this level of detail and thought put into a story, a series will get more than two books, but I will say that I appreciate it as it is nonetheless.

I really enjoyed the Dreamblood duology, although my favorite series by Jemisin so far is still the Broken Earth trilogy. I definitely want to reread this series in the future and hopefully have a better time understanding who all the characters are and where they come from. I’m sad this series doesn’t have a map because it really would benefit from one, but the story was still good regardless. N. K. Jemisin is a master storyteller, and if you haven’t checked out any of her books yet, you’re missing out. 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Review: A KINGDOM OF FLESH AND FIRE by Jennifer L. Armentrout

 

Rating: 3/5 stars

I was not as drawn in to and invested in this novel as I was during From Blood and Ash. This book took me much longer to read and I felt less attached to the story and the characters.

The book starts with Hawke telling Poppy that she will marry him and that she has no choice in the matter. When she asks him why, Hawke takes 150 pages to get to the point of actually telling her why. This book definitely could have been shorter than it was. 

After around page 250, I became bored and was waiting for the story to end, reading very slowly because I couldn’t really focus on it—this is the total opposite reaction I had to the first book where I couldn’t read the pages fast enough. The first book was slow but interesting and engaging. The second book did not engage me until the last quarter or so, and I struggled to connect to it or enjoy it up until that point. 

A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire can be summed up thusly: boy likes girl but won’t actually admit it; girl likes boy but won’t actually admit it either; boy openly declares he’s selfishly using girl to get his brother back from the enemy; girl openly declares she’s going along with the plan to also get her brother back from the enemy. Neither of them admits they like each other, both of them are using each other, but both of them only care about each other. It’s kind of tiring to see this back and forth, Poppy saying how much she hates Hawke while she’s refusing to admit to herself that she actually does want to be with him. This book tried to play on that whole trope of neither one admits they like each other, but I honestly found it to be a bit unbelievable, especially in the beginning. Hawke is just so mean to Poppy and he’s manipulative and controlling. I don’t understand why Poppy likes him when he’s using her against her will, and when he’s finally manipulated her into agreeing with him, he claims he will let her go if she wants, only for her to say no because she actually wants to stay, but she only wants to stay because Hawke manipulated her into it. It’s so messed up. 

I’ve never been fully on board with the romance in this series; after feeling very conflicted about Hawke at the end of book one, I went into book two with my guard up and didn’t trust a word Hawke said as he’s known to be a habitual liar toward Poppy. Hawke shows us once again in this book that he is abusive and controlling. He kidnaps Poppy, locks her up in a cell, and demands her to marry him despite her wishes not to. Then he tells her he’s only using her as bait and is going to trade her back to the very people who abused and lied to her during her whole life in exchange for his brother. Then he makes fun of her for wanting to go back anyway, but she’s supposed to believe he actually cares about her? I’m sorry but what?? Literally not a single one of his actions tells me that he actually cares for her. He’s so manipulative. Poppy questions him and he constantly lies. He’s so arrogant as well. I seriously don’t understand how people think he’s sexy when he’s extremely problematic. I really dislike and distrust Hawke. Or Casteel. Or Douchebag, or whatever else you want to call him. He had tried to redeem himself to Poppy but I just don’t buy it. I’m sure we’ll get a “happily ever after” with them in the next book, but I still don’t like Casteel as a person and I personally don’t find him to be a desirable love interest. 

One thing I did like about the romance aspect, however, is that this book isn’t as spicy as the first book. Casteel and Poppy spend most of the book playing “pretend” and won’t admit that they do actually like each other. Of course there’s still some spice, but it’s less frequent than in the first book, and I skimmed over those scenes anyway because I just didn’t care to read about it. Eventually, Casteel and Poppy finally got their crap together and admitted their feelings to each other, and I started enjoying the story a lot more after that because Casteel shared a lot of information with Poppy that she needed and deserved to know. 

One aspect I really enjoyed about From Blood and Ash that we didn’t see as much in the sequel is Poppy’s fierceness. She still threatens Casteel and defends herself, but she was so much more hardcore in the first book, so I wish that trait had been carried over. 

I enjoyed A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire, but I also couldn’t wait for it to be over. It took me almost a full month to read this book, which kind of frustrated me, but I just wasn’t in the mood to read it very often and then I would get bored or distracted and put it down. The first 200 pages were engaging, and the last 200 pages were exciting, but the middle 200-ish pages were where I really struggled to remain interested in the story. The entire novel is a journey from Masadonia to Atlantia, and a lot of the content in the middle was just them trekking along on their journey, and I personally feel like a lot of it could have been cut out as it was the slowest and least interesting portion of the story. I also really disliked and was distracted by the plethora of editing errors that plague this novel. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t at least point that out. 

I’m still looking forward to continuing on to the third book in the near future as the ending—while not as mindblowing to me as it seems to be to some—has me questioning what will happen next. I’m mostly just interested in the fantasy politics in this series and the entertaining time I have while reading it, so hopefully that continues in The Crown of Gilded Bones

Below I have updated my glossary of terms for this book (first presented in my review of From Blood and Ash) as I think this series needs a glossary. It contains minor spoilers. 


~GLOSSARY~

Ascended: Another name for a vampry. They were originally created by the Atlantians by accident by draining a mortal of blood and replacing their blood with Atlantian blood; consuming large quantities of Atlantian blood can turn one into an Ascended during a process called the Ascension. They are basically immortal and live for a long time but can ultimately still be killed. 

Atlantian: Beings of an ancient race created by the gods. Basically they’re sophisticated vampires. They have fangs and are pretty much immortal but can still be killed. They age very slowly and their blood has healing properties. 

Changeling: A certain Atlantian bloodline that can shift between two forms. Believed to be offspring of a deity and a wolven.

Craven: Dangerous beings that are a mix of vampires, werewolves, and zombies. If bitten by one, humans will turn into one. When a Vampry drains a mortal of blood, it turns into a Craven. The Ascended tell the people that the Dark One controls the Craven but this is not true as they are not even created by him. Instead, the Ascended use the Craven to control the people through fear. 

Culling: The process when an Atlantian reaches a state of maturity and goes through physical changes when abilities sometimes begin to manifest, such as growing fangs. 

Dark One: Prince Casteel / Hawke. He is the heir to the Atlantian throne, although he has a brother named Prince Malik, who is the true heir to the throne. 

Descenters: The group that follows the Dark One. They believe the Solis gods are false and the Dark One, AKA Prince Casteel, is the true Prince. They are followers but are not directly led by him and sometimes act on their own.

Joining: When an elemental Atlantian bonded to a wolven takes on a partner, there is an exchange of blood between the three individuals (or four, if the partner is also bonded to a wolven), causing the bond to be extended to the other person. This ceremony is sometimes done by way of sexual intercourse. The partner will then live as long as the wolven, even if they are half-mortal (it won’t work on full mortals though).

Rise: Mountainous walls constructed from limestone and iron mined from the Elysium Peaks. A Rise surrounds each city.

Soul Eater: A derogatory name for the Empath bloodline of Atlantians, named such because they can sense and manipulate people’s emotions and actions. Poppy is currently believed by some to belong to this bloodline. 

Vampry: Basically vampires. Another name for the Ascended. They feed on mortals.

Wolven: Basically werewolves. Some Wolven can bond with certain Atlantians. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Review: WARBREAKER by Brandon Sanderson (reread)

 

Rating: 5/5 stars

After finishing Words of Radiance and completing missing the reference to Nightblood at the end, I realized I needed to reread Warbreaker before continuing on to Oathbringer. And I am so glad I did!! Not only did I realize that I had forgotten 90% of this book, but I had the absolute best time rereading this book, so much so that Warbreaker is now my favorite novel by Brandon Sanderson. 

I decided to listen to the Graphic Audio version, which is 10/10 amazing and I would highly recommend it. The performance, storytelling, and background music were all so acutely tailored to this story that it made for a fabulous experience. 

It’s interesting in my original review of Warbreaker I said I liked Elantris better, and while I haven’t reread Elantris yet, I now firmly stand by that I like Warbreaker better. Siri and Susebron are amazing! Vivenna’s character arc is so in-depth. Vasher and Nightblood are super cool. Literally there is no one that I dislike in this story, even the bad guys. They are all morally grey and so well written that I can feel for even them at times, which I think is the mark of a good writer and quality storytelling.

My number one favorite character in this book, however, has to be Lightsong. He is hilarious and sarcastic and always a joy to read about. Plus I absolutely love that he is a god who doesn’t believe in his own religion. That is such a unique concept to me and I really enjoyed watching him struggle with his reality. He reminded me at times of Sazed from Mistborn. Plus I also enjoyed watching him try to discover who and what he was in his past life. Lightsong’s character is so dynamic, and the end of the book was very bittersweet for him, but ultimately I did enjoy how his story wrapped up.

I loved all the political intrigue in this novel. The more fantasy books I read, the more I realize that the kind of books I enjoy the most have lots of layers of intrigue and betrayal, lots of focus on character development and decisions, unexpected twists and turns, and few action or fighting scenes. Warbreaker checks all those boxes except for the action scenes: it has quite a few, but they’re spaced out and not too long-winded, plus listening to them instead of visually reading them was way more enjoyable for me.

I cannot express how much I loved Warbreaker upon reread. I would definitely recommend reading this book before Words of Radiance (or you’ll miss a gasp-worthy reveal at the end). It’s currently slated to get a sequel in like five-ish years, and I can’t wait!! While this story’s arc wrapped up, the ending definitely does still set up for more story to come. I really hope it picks up right where this book left off because I really want to see where Susebron and Siri and Vasher and Vivenna go from here.

If you read fantasy, you have to pick up this book! Warbreaker has something for everyone: romance, great characters, cool fight scenes, mysteries, humor, religion, political intrigue, a unique magic system, war, betrayal, friendship, mercenaries, two strong sister protagonists, suspense, and of course Sanderson’s excellent writing style. I’ll be rereading this book again right before the sequel comes out and then likely every few years after that because I love it that much. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Review: BETTER TOGETHER by Christine Riccio

 

Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF at 30%. 

I’m very sad to have to say this, but this book is not good. In fact, it’s barely readable at times. 

Better Together is a story in the vein of The Parent Trap. It’s about two sisters—Siri, a ballerina who just sustained a career-ending back injury, and Jamie, a wannabe stand-up comedian who’s struggling to come up with new set ideas—who were separated at a young age by divorcing parents. Now 18 and 20 and living on opposite coasts, the girls both happen to attend the same Rediscover Yourself retreat camp in Colorado, where they rediscover each other as well.

I love The Parent Trap, so a retelling of it sounded like so much fun. I also watch Christine’s YouTube channel and enjoy her outgoing personality, so after reading her first book, Again, but Better, which I thought was just fine but nothing special, I wanted to give her another chance. But oh boy, this book was actually worse than the first one. 

To start with, I was irritated right off the bat when I realized that Siri uses ridiculous words in place of swear words. When I first read, “You’ve never broken up with your dream, no matter how excrement it made things,” I thought for sure I had read a typo. I reread that sentence four times, trying to figure out what word Christine had meant to type instead but ultimately concluded it was a mistake because I was reading an ARC and that it would get fixed later. 

But then I got to this sentence a few pages later: “Don’t do excrement like that without telling me! What the underworld?” And it was then I realized that what I had read before was in fact not a typo. No, instead the word “excrement” is used in place of the S-word, “underworld” is used in place of Hell, and then I later discovered that “intercourse” is used in place of the F-word! There are more examples too, for other curse words, but I can’t be bothered to type them out; I’m already cringing so much. I appreciate the intent to create a character that doesn’t swear, but the way this is done is not working. It makes Siri sound so immature and it honestly makes the story laughable. I couldn’t take it seriously the whole time I was reading. I myself do not swear, but no way am I going to walk around saying, “Are you intercoursing kidding me?” or “You’re such a gluteus maximus trench.” 

Another problem with the words Christine chose to replace swear words is their connotation. For example, whenever you hear the word “shit,” you don’t automatically think of poop because that word has lots of meanings and circumstances in which it is used. But there is never a moment when the word “excrement” is used that it doesn’t make me think of poop; that is its only meaning. So anytime “excrement” was used in this book, I immediately imagined poop (which I guess only goes to reflect my feelings on this book as a whole). Like what’s wrong with using frick, heck, dang, shoot, or crap as fake curse words? Too mainstream, I guess. 

The writing in this book was just plain bad. I hate making such a bold, negative statement like that, but it’s unfortunately true. There’s a difference between objectively bad and subjectively not my taste, and this book is the former, somehow even worse than her debut novel. This book feels like it was written by an elementary-schooler, someone with no experience reading or writing whatsoever. I’m not an author myself, but I feel like I could write a better story than this just based on the fact that I’ve read a lot of books so I know what works and what doesn’t work in storytelling. We all know Christine is a reader, so I don’t understand why she’s choosing to make certain writing decisions that most seasoned readers often dislike and criticize. 

The tone and writing style feel very forced. Written English and spoken English are actually quite different, with the former being much more formal even in a lighthearted and casual context. Speaking a joke to your friend and writing that same joke to your friend come across completely differently. Slang and colloquialisms work better in spoken English than they do in written English. The writing in this book reads like spoken English, and it just doesn’t flow right. It’s very cringey. I get that Christine was trying to use modern phrases and relate to the current growing generation, but it doesn’t work the way she likely intended it to work. The jokes are not funny. The constant pop culture references are grating and unoriginal. The drama is way too over-the-top and unrealistic and eye-roll-inducing. 

After the rough first couple of chapters, I debated whether or not I would actually finish this book. If I could barely make it through the first chapter without getting irritated at the characters, I didn’t know how I’d make it through the whole book. But I told myself, with it being a Parent Trap retelling, I had to at least get to the part where the sisters decide to swap places. Only 7% of the way in, though, I just couldn’t handle it. I started skimming then, something I never do, reading just the dialogue and key moments between the sisters. I made it to 30%, just past when the sisters finally decide to swap, before finally deciding to quit. I knew this book wasn’t for me after the first few pages but I still wanted to give it a chance, and I ultimately ended up not enjoying anything that I read. 

The main problem is that nothing in Better Together works—the writing, the characterization, the fake swearing, the constant pop culture references, or the random magical element thrown into an otherwise contemporary book (which I’m not getting into because of spoilers but it’s infuriatingly confusing and out of place in this story). Then there’s the fact that our main characters Jamie and Siri are both adults in this book marketed for a young adult audience but written as if it’s for children. None of it works and none of it was enjoyable. 

The best thing about this book is the cover. It’s actually pretty cute. 

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.