Showing posts with label bookreview. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bookreview. Show all posts

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Review: The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson

*The Rosewater Insurrection will be available Tuesday, March 12th from Orbit!*

The Rosewater Insurrection
The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson
Orbit, 2019
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Paperback. 416 pages.

About The Rosewater Insurrection:

"The Rosewater Insurrection continues the award-winning, cutting edge Wormwood trilogy, set in Nigeria, by one of science fiction's most engaging new voices. 

All is quiet in the city of Rosewater as it expands on the back of the gargantuan alien Wormwood. Those who know the truth of the invasion keep the secret. 

The government agent Aminat, the lover of the retired sensitive Kaaro, is at the forefront of the cold, silent conflict. She must capture a woman who is the key to the survival of the human race. But Aminat is stymied by the machinations of the Mayor of Rosewater and the emergence of an old enemy of Wormwood...'"

I read and reviewed Rosewater back in November and absolutely loved it for its inventiveness and fresh take on the sci-fi genre. I was excited to read this sequel because I knew it would follow more of Aminat's character, and on that count this book absolutely delivered. The Rosewater Insurrection picks up pretty quickly after the events of the first book, which made it easy to jump right back into it. 

I can't go into any specifics in this review because I don't want to give anything away, but the premise mainly focuses on Aminat as she is set to track down a woman who has proven to be vitally important to the survival of the human race itself. In addition to Aminat's storyline, we also largely follow Jack Jacques (a tongue-twister of a name for me), mayor of Rosewater, who is fighting to make Rosewater independent from Nigeria and thus angering the Nigerian president in the process.

The simple, matter-of-fact writing style that was present in Rosewater was just as strong here in the sequel and it also continued to keep be a style that kept me engaged. There's something about the clear cut style that helps me follow along an otherwise potentially complex plotline with many components to explore. Thompson does a wonderful job of examining the human vs. alien dynamic and how this sort of 'invasion' onto Earth could occur and what the ramifications of that could be. There are a lot of thoughtful themes to explore on this matter and that is also what makes these books so incredible. I also think the way that Thompson created his alien species was really inventive and had so many possibilities attached to it that kept me wanting to know more about them.

As mentioned, The Rosewater Insurrection follows both Aminat and Jack as its main protagonists, but it also occasionally jumps to a man named Eric's POV. Eric is the only POV that jumps between various time periods, so if the back and forth POVs of the first book were frustrating for you then you'll appreciate this book's much more linear storytelling. There are one or two other characters that pop up throughout the book, but these are also minimal and add some interesting extra elements. Aminat continues to be an awesome character who I really enjoy following. She's tough and not someone I'd want to mess with, but she's certainly not heartless or without care for others, both of which are traits that make her a well-rounded and engaging character.

The only less than positive thing I have to say about this book is that I felt slightly disassociated with the actions of the story at times. I've been trying to determine whether this was a personal issue since I read this during a couple of anxiety/stress-heavy days or whether there was something about the narrative that held me at a bit of an arm's length. There was just something about this book that didn't pull me in or make me feel quite as invested as I was with the first book. Things seemed to happen too quickly and I think part of it might simply be that I never had a chance to really ingratiate myself into the world since everyone was constantly on the move. A slight slowing of the pacing might have benefited this book.

Overall, I've given The Rosewater Insurrection four stars! If you enjoyed Rosewater, then I highly recommend you pick up the sequel if you weren't already planning to do so. If you didn't like Rosewater due to the POV and time shifts, then I still recommend you pick this one up and give it another chance! The alien/human aspect of this book is fascinating and totally worth the read.

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Monday, March 4, 2019

Review: Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko

Vita Nostra
Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko, trans. Julia Hersey
Harper Voyager, 2018
Hardcover. 416 pages.

About Vita Nostra:

"Our life is brief . . .

Sasha Samokhina has been accepted to the Institute of Special Technologies. 

Or, more precisely, she’s been chosen. 

Situated in a tiny village, she finds the students are bizarre, and the curriculum even more so. The books are impossible to read, the lessons obscure to the point of maddening, and the work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead, it is their families that pay a terrible price. Yet despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of . . . and suddenly all she could ever want. 

A complex blend of adventure, magic, science, and philosophy that probes the mysteries of existence, filtered through a distinct Russian sensibility, this astonishing work of speculative fiction—brilliantly translated by Julia Meitov Hersey—is reminiscent of modern classics such as Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Max Barry’s Lexicon, and Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, but will transport them to a place far beyond those fantastical worlds."

Vita Nostra is an unassumingly ambitious novel with unpredictable developments that makes for a truly engrossing read. In all honestly, this review is probably going to be on the shorter side because I'm not entirely sure how to talk about it or explain it without going too deeply into the plot, something that I wanted to avoid as much as possible so as not to give away too much. This is absolutely a book that I think is best enjoyed when read without knowing more than the basics of the plot. 

This was a novel that genuinely felt unlike anything I've read in the past. There are some familiar core trope elements, such as a boarding school setting, but the story itself is so unconventional that it feels entirely its own. There are instructors that give the students a lot of work, there are some minor rivalries within the school, but it's the method of teaching and the way the students handle this 'education' that is what sets it apart and makes it such a compelling story.

I really liked how much we were able to get into the head of Sasha, the protagonist and the only POV that the story follows. Sasha undergoes so much internal stress, both emotionally-induced and school-induced, which is displayed in such a personal and open manner that I was able to have an extremely close connection to her character and understand her struggles and decisions. It was a compelling experience to follow along as she slowly learned more and more about what was happening while also navigating her attempts to maintain her familial and personal relationships. There are a few other characters that play prominent roles in the book that I also found myself extremely invested in and I'm impressed how well that authors created so many interesting characters. 

Another strong point of Vita Nostra was that the pacing was very steady throughout, and it was only in the latter middle half of the book that it seemed slightly slower than the rest of the book. However, this slower pacing almost acts as a plot/story enhancement in how it matches the mood of Sasha's current situation and the tone of the book perfectly. 

Vita Nostra is the sort of book that doesn't give the reader an overtly obvious plot destination to start with, which ended up being a major part of its charm for me. The reader is left just as unsure and in the dark as Sasha and the other students that end up at the Institute of Special Technologies. The authors crafted this setup masterfully and somehow managed to create a story that pulled me in almost immediately and left me glued to each and every page. There is a constant sense of foreboding, a mixture of hopelessness and desperate curiosity; this book feels like a masterpiece. It's an incredible addictive atmosphere that made me unable to stop thinking about this book and constantly want to learn more about everything that was going on.

 Overall, I can't help but give Vita Nostra five stars. I considered 4.75, but this book really went above and beyond for me and I feel it deserves that full five. 

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Review: No Way by S.J. Morden

*No Way will be published Tuesday, February 26th!* 

No Way
No Way by S.J. Morden (Frank Kitteridge #2)
Orbit, 2019
Paperback. 416 pages.

Note: This is the sequel to the first book, One Way, and although I will have no spoilers from this book, there will be things mentioned that may act as inadvertent spoilers for the first book. I never give specific spoilers, but I just want to give a head's up if you haven't read the first book.

About No Way:

"'In the sequel to the terrifying science fiction thriller, One Way, returning home from Mars may mean striking a deal with the very people who abandoned him. 

They were sent to build a utopia, but all they found on Mars was death. 

Frank Kitteridge has been abandoned. But XO, the greedy--and ultimately murderous--corporate architects of humanity's first Mars base made a costly mistake when they left him there: they left him alive. Using his skills and his wits, he's going to find a way back home even if it kills him. 

Little does he know that Mars isn't completely empty. Just over the mountain, there's another XO base where things are going terribly, catastrophically wrong. And when the survivors of that mission find Frank, they're going to want to take even the little he has away from him. 

If there's anything in Frank's favor, it's this: he's always been prepared to go to the extremes to get the job done. That's how he ended up on Mars in the first place. It just might be his ticket back."

No Way picks up almost immediately after the events of One Way and I would want it no other way. The intensity and the excitement are just as high as they were at the end of One Way, although this time Frank has some new high stakes to deal with that are vastly different than what he death with before--though they are just as deadly.

Frank is now alone on Mars--or so he initially thinks--and must take on all of the responsibilities around the base in order to keep himself alive for NASA's arrival in order for him to potentially go back to Earth one day. This, of course, includes cleaning up all of the mess leftover from the violent events that occurred at the end of the first book in order to keep XO happy and to ensure Frank is able to safely leave Mars. Predictably, nothing can possibly go smoothly on this dry, lonely planet, and Frank is suddenly dealing with even more stress than he already was.

Frank remains the same 'too-old-for-this-shit' sort of man that he was in One Way, and I appreciate how consistent Morden has kept his personality. Frank has definitely had major character development throughout both books, but the core things that make him who he is, such as his somewhat standoff-ish nature and his lack of a charismatic presence, continue to shine and make him an oddly and uniquely compelling character. I also enjoyed seeing Frank's interactions with the NASA crew that arrives, as it really put him in an uncomfortable position, what with XO still essentially controlling what he can say and Frank's own moral dilemmas with the information he holds onto. I liked that Morden took into account that Frank, who had spent months alone on Mars, would have some issues being suddenly inundated with an entire crew of new people, along with his trauma from the events of the previous book. I liked that Morden focused on the mental components of the entire ordeal in addition to the rest of the plot.

I mentioned in my review for the first book that the author trained as a planetary geologist, and his passion and dedication to the more technical aspects related to this story continue to shine in this book. I'm no rocket scientist myself and I can't say I have much knowledge of the specifics of how surviving on Mars would work so I can't professionally comment on it, but it appears his research is really well done and it adds so many layers of authenticity and realism that make this book all the more compelling. When something feels real, the stakes always feel higher and more personal and that's exactly what happened here. I think one of the things hat makes these books so captivating and chilling is that it all feels eerily believable. I do believe that there are people who would create companies that have such little compassion for human beings and would put them in dangerous situations.

No Way is the sort of book that you can't put down. Morden has true skill in knowing how to craft each chapter and event in such a way that makes the reader fully engaged with what's happening in the present, while also constantly yearning to find out what is going to happen next. He has a simple yet sophisticated prose that is filled with foreshadowing and excellent descriptions.

Overall, I've given No Way 4.75 stars (rounded up to five on Goodreads, etc.)! This is such an exciting series and I haven't been able to tear myself from the pages. I don't know if there is a third book in the works, but I desperately hope that there is because I will absolutely read it! 

*I received a review copy of No Way courtesy of Orbit books in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Monday, February 18, 2019

Review: The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

The City in the Middle of the Night
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Tor, 2019
Hardcover. 368 pages.

About The City in the Middle of the Night:

"''If you control our sleep, then you can own our dreams... And from there, it's easy to control our entire lives.' 

Set on a planet that has fully definitive, never-changing zones of day and night, with ensuing extreme climates of endless, frigid darkness and blinding, relentless light, humankind has somehow continued apace -- though the perils outside the built cities are rife with danger as much as the streets below. 

But in a world where time means only what the ruling government proclaims, and the levels of light available are artificially imposed to great consequence, lost souls and disappeared bodies are shadow-bound and savage, and as common as grains of sand. And one such pariah, sacrificed to the night, but borne up by time and a mysterious bond with an enigmatic beast, will rise to take on the entire planet--before it can crumble beneath the weight of human existence."

It's been a hard time trying to collect my thoughts around this book. On the one hand, it's a really fascinating look at a new planet and what it means to be human and a majority female cast, but on the other hand... it's at times a dry, uninteresting story about some highly unlikable characters. 

The world-building in The City in the Middle of the Night is one of the most interesting parts of the book. I actually wish that there had been more of it because although there is a good amount of explanation, there were still some pretty big gaps in my understanding of the world, and I wish I could have explored it further. Despite that, I still found it extremely intelligent and well-crafted and I certainly commend Anders on creating such a fascinating world.

The second most interesting aspect of this book are the 'crocodiles' that most people are frightened of, but that Sophie befriends and the subsequent events that follow. I think this exploration of humanity and the desire to advance society and technology is a truly captivating topic and I wish this book had spent more time on this area than it did on some of the characters and their relationships.

If this book was to be judged solely on the two above things I mentioned, it would probably get close to five stars from me, but unfortunately I didn't enjoy other aspects of this book, such as with the characters and their storylines. In general, as I've mentioned in numerous reviews, I have no problems with unlikable characters or narrators. I actually love some books with unlikable characters because, for me, there's something extra special about being engaged in a book and story when you don't even like the protagonist, but you still want to know what they will do and what will happen to them. Sadly, the unlikable characters in this book had very few redeeming factors and were instead rather bland, frustrating, and altogether uninteresting.

Before I jump into specifics about some of the characters, I do want to point out that the main characters in this book are all women, and I think that's something worth noting because it's rare when male characters are in such a small role that they aren't even part of the core cast, so I really appreciated that aspect. However, my biggest issues with the characters was their frustrating relationships with one another and their actions. The characters with the biggest roles are Sophie (the first POV we follow), Mouth (the second POV we follow), Bianca, and Alyssa. Sophie acts as one of the main protagonists and is exceptionally difficult to connect with. There are plenty of moments when I can mostly follow her thought process and understand her choices, but there are just as many--if not more--where I cannot for the life of me grasp what she could possibly be thinking when she makes the most horrible decisions. I know characters make dumb decisions sometimes--half the books out there wouldn't exist without that--but Sophie is too unpredictable and hard to follow. 

The next character is Mouth, who I would say is probably the most relatable and potentially likable character of the bunch. I don't have a lot of frustrations with her overall, but in spite of that I still didn't feel overly connected to her. I cared about what happened to her, but not that much. Still, I appreciated her strength and no-nonsense attitude when it came to some things she did or did not want to do. Mouth's closest friend--who could also potentially be her lesbian partner though it's never explicitly stated--Alyssa, is a character whose strong loyalty to Mouth is something I admire. However, she also seemed very flighty in other regards and her opinions and actions seemed to flip easily. 

The last brief character I want to mention is Bianca, and that's mainly to say that I couldn't stand her. To be fair, I don't particularly think we're supposed to like her, but since Sophie was so obsessed with her it made it almost unbearable to follow someone so insufferable, ignorant, and selfish. There are other characters in this book that range quite a bit in personality, and some that I liked more than others, such as Barney and Ahmad, but otherwise the remaining characters do not particularly stand out.

Overall, my conflicted feelings over this book continue. Parts I genuinely loved and parts I couldn't stand. Because of this, I've ended up somewhere between three and four stars, though probably closer to the three. If you enjoy big themes and the exploration unprecedented worlds, then this might be worth a look for you. I only wish the characters' and their storylines were more interesting.

*I received an ARC of The City in the Middle of the Night courtesy of Tor Books in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the book.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy, #3)
The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) 
Del Rey, 2019
Hardcover. 384 pages.

About The Winter of the Witch:

"'Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen. 

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all."

*Although I will have no spoilers for this book itself, this review will have potential spoilers for the previous two books in the trilogy. 

I've been struggling a little to write this review because all I want to do is gush and ramble all over this book, but I'll do my best to be coherent. Hands down, this is one of the best trilogies I've read in a long, long time and it will stay with me for a long time. It will be one I recommend to anyone and everyone and that I will continue to re-read over the years (probably during the winter months, of course).

The Winter of the Witch is heart-breaking in every sense of the word, in both positive and devastating ways, and it's full of captivating prose and such a tight plot that it's impossible not to be completely sucked into the story. Arden's world-building is phenomenal and it seems as though just when I think I've seen as much as I can about this world or the magical aspects, there's always more and I'm constantly learning about the lore and hidden magical elements and characters at play. I honestly could not put this book down. The action is incredible and written in such a way that I was never bored or weary of the more excitement-driven parts of the book.

I love Vasya more than I've loved a character in a long time. It initially surprised me at times by how much I was drawn to her because she has a lot of qualities that I generally become tired of in books--impulsive, makes rash decisions, etc.--and yet I wanted nothing more than to keep her safe and happy. Vasya is incredibly impulsive and consistently does things that seem completely irrational and unsafe, but the reason she does all of these things is due to her own strong morals, which is what truly cements her character. She has a strong will that refuses to be pulled into darkness or evil; she has a desire to protect people and to instill justice and goodness into the areas she visits. It's not that she's someone who is steadfast and follows the rules, because she certainly does not follow the rules, but rather she will do whatever is necessary to follow the things that she feels are right and just. I have loved watching her grow from this awkward, unhappy child that saw no future for herself  because she didn't want to get married and into her own independent person and who refuses to let anyone take away her freedom and values.

Morozko continues to be a fascinating figure, and his relationship with Vasya has been one of the most compelling and unpredictable ones I've read in some time. There are so many different components to their relationship, and Vasya and Morzoko's own personalities even have a very basic trope element at their core, but somehow this ends up being so much more developed than one could hope for. Morozko himself is a very complex figure that constantly tugged at my attention and I loved that I was still able to explore more about him, even in the last book. We also get to see more of Vasya's brother, Sasha, and I appreciated his character arc so much in this book. Arden made me go back and forth between liking, disliking, and being unsure of him at so many moments, but by the end of it he stayed as true to character as I always expected of him and I was immensely pleased with that.

A minor thing that I also want to comment on is the dialogue, which I've found particularly well done throughout the entire trilogy. The historical tone is consistent at all times--something that many authors tend to struggle with--and it still remained fresh and captivating at the same time. Arden's usage of Russian terms also felt natural and expected and never felt as though it was forced just for effect as some books tend to do.

Arden's writing is something so rare and so deceptively perfect. She is not overt or obvious in her descriptions or prose, but there is an elegance and quiet beauty that accompany each and every line of the story. The themes that are interwoven throughout the events of this book are thought-provoking and carefully done, from dealing with the struggle of figuring out who you are to more contemporary themes and those associated with traditional folklore. The blend of true historical fact with the magical is something that I love.

Also, I need to talk about the horses. Solovey is everything to me and my heart was in such an emotional state throughout this book because of events surrounding him. I also love Pozhar and am so pleased that Arden never turned her into something she isn't, which also speaks to the respect that Arden has for all of her characters and their desires.

Overall, it's an obvious five stars from me. I could continue reading about these characters and this world forever, but I'm more than satisfied with this trilogy and cannot recommend it highly enough. If you haven't yet started it, be sure to do so! It's a perfect winter read.

*I received a copy of The Winter of the Witch courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Monday, February 11, 2019

Review: Golden State by Ben H. Winters

Golden State
Golden State by Ben H. Winters
Mulholland Books, 2019
Hardcover. 319 pages.

About Golden State:

"'A shocking vision of our future that is one part Minority Report and one part Chinatown. 

Lazlo Ratesic is 54, a 19-year veteran of the Speculative Service, from a family of law enforcement and in a strange alternate society that values law and truth above all else. This is how Laz must, by law, introduce himself, lest he fail to disclose his true purpose or nature, and by doing so, be guilty of a lie. 

Laz is a resident of The Golden State, a nation resembling California, where like-minded Americans retreated after the erosion of truth and the spread of lies made public life, and governance, increasingly impossible. There, surrounded by the high walls of compulsory truth-telling, knowingly contradicting the truth--the Objectively So--is the greatest possible crime. Stopping those crimes, punishing them, is Laz's job. In its service, he is one of the few individuals permitted to harbor untruths--to "speculate" on what might have happened in the commission of a crime. 

But the Golden State is far less a paradise than its name might suggest. To monitor, verify, and enforce the Objectively So requires a veritable panopticon of surveillance, recording, and record-keeping. And when those in control of the truth twist it for nefarious means, the Speculators may be the only ones with the power to fight back."

I am sincerely sad to say that this book was a huge disappointment for me. If we're being honest, I'm not entirely sure I understand all of what I just read and it definitely not in a good way. Golden State started out promising enough with a thought-provoking and expansive dystopian idea, but after about the halfway mark something went a little haywire and the entire plot thread started to unravel in incoherent and confusing ways. But let's start back at the beginning, shall we?

Golden State started out with a page-turning opener that gave me high hopes. Information about the world was sparse, but I just assumed Winters' style was going to be of the 'slow reveal' variety. We're introduced to the two main protagonists, Laszlo and Aysa, fairly early on, Laszlo being a more unlikable character and Aysa being someone that the reader could really come to root for. There were small problems in this first half concerning too fast pacing and not properly setting the scene for the world we're exploring, but things still mostly worked. The story was still enjoyable, and I could attribute the lack of explanation about the world to it being a first person narration from Laszo who things we, the readers, already know what's going on. Unfortunately, more of the world was not introduced. And look, I get that the background for the Golden State is supposed to be unknown to some of the inhabitants too, but it didn't work for me.

In order for me to really get on board with dystopian novels, I need some explanation on the 'how' and 'why' the world got to where it was, and as mentioned above, that was never fully explained. Winters seemed too eager to tell his story and therefore pushed things forward too quickly without enough expansion into the world and allowing the reader to fully follow it. I was waiting the entire book to finally have some moment of enlightenment where I would realize what I was missing--I already knew this wasn't going to be a five-star book, but I thought maybe it would redeem itself and be at least a high three or four. That didn't happen.

The only potentially redeeming factor of this book was with the characters and the overarching themes of the book. Although our protagonist Laszlo wasn't the nicest person, I held some respect for him and was curious to see where his character arc would go. I also though Aysa was a fascinating person who would bring a lot to the story since she was such a foil to Laszlo and had extra skill. Because of this, I was extra frustrated with the lack of world-building and coherent plot.

As mentioned, once the novel hit the halfway mark things went downhill quickly. I was already getting weary, frustrated, and confused in events leading up to one of the bigger plot twists, and then when it happened, I was lost. From that point, it was a struggle to finish this book. There were so many things I didn't follow and the characters lost much of the potential multi-dimensional aspects that they had; things just didn't move in a clear manner. There seemed to be a lot of things left for the reader to infer, and I just didn't get them. One of my biggest peeves, though, was something that's a bit of a spoiler, so I'm including it here under a spoiler tag (only highlight if you have read the book and/or don't mind being spoiled):I was so upset that Winters killed off the best character that also had the most potential of any of them. Especially since it was for what seemed to me to be absolutely no reason at all. If characters are going to die, I need good reasons that affect the plot, and I get there Winters was going with this, but it mainly frustrated me. End spoiler.

It's hard for me to rate this book because I really do love the concept of an attempt to keep absolute truths and eradicate 'untruths,' and I genuinely believe Winters has some great ideas to explore. A society attempting to prevent anyone from lying is a huge task and it was really interesting to see how this society attempted to do so (and, you know, a little creepy). Unfortunately, it was his execution that took away from those and left me feeling confused and unsure what to make of it all.

If you want a dystopian novel with an interesting concept that's quick to get through, go ahead and pick up Golden State, but otherwise I'd perhaps advise you to pick up another dystopian to fill that niche. I've seen some people really love this book, and I'm really happy to see that it clicked with other people, but it just did not at all with me. Overall, I've given Golden State 2.75-3 stars. 

*I received a copy of Golden State courtesy of the publishers in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Review: The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan

The Gutter Prayer
The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan 
Orbit, 2019
Paperback. 560 pages.

About The Gutter Prayer:

"A group of three young thieves are pulled into a centuries old magical war between ancient beings, mages, and humanity in this wildly original debut epic fantasy. 

Enter a city of saints and thieves . . . 

The city of Guerdon stands eternal. A refuge from the war that rages beyond its borders. But in the ancient tunnels deep beneath its streets, a malevolent power has begun to stir. The fate of the city rests in the hands of three thieves. They alone stand against the coming darkness. As conspiracies unfold and secrets are revealed, their friendship will be tested to the limit. If they fail, all will be lost, and the streets of Guerdon will run with blood. 

The Gutter Prayer is an epic tale of sorcerers and thieves, treachery and revenge, from a remarkable new voice in fantasy'"

The Gutter Prayer is a remarkably inventive, unpredictable book that was as incredible as I anticipated. This is a book that has such depth and intricacies to its world-building that you truly never know just what to expect from it. On a basic level, there are familiar elements int his book that can be found in many fantasy books, such as a gritty city, intrigue everywhere, nonhuman characters, etc., but that's where the similarities seem to stop. There is so much more than I ever expected in regards to the types of nonhuman characters, the gods and magic systems, and the underground politics of this world. Despite these many positive elements, there were still a few things that bothered me and prevented me from giving it a full five stars and which I will mention later in the review.

Guerdon, the main city setting, is a very grimdark-inspired city that I can easily say I do not want to find myself lost in, ever. It's dark, dirty, and full of random, horrifying dangers and I was so impressed by Hanrahan's ability to create such a unique and wholly unparalleled world in a genre that already has so many different worlds out there. The Tallowmen in particular were fascinating and I would love to see some sort of illustration of what they would actually look like. There is also something called the Stone Plague that is rampant within the city that was such a unique sort of disease that I really enjoyed learning about. It's hard to talk about the magic system for me because there didn't really seem to be an overly defined one, but the magical components were extremely interesting and I loved learning about the types of gods in the book, although I would have enjoyed learning even more about them.

The main band of thieves in The Gutter Prayer consist of a young woman named Cari, a ghoul named Rat, and a Stone Man known as Spar. I loved how different each character was from one another and that they all had very different backgrounds and outlooks on life. It keeps the story interesting when the three main characters--and POVs in this case--have enough things that are different about their story to keep my attention. There are quite a few supporting characters as well to explore and I think Hanrahan did a good job of building up characters to make this world feel full of life.

The Gutter Prayer is a busy book. There is a lot going on all the time and a lot of different history, magical components, characters, plots, and other events going on simultaneously, which does make it a little difficult to keep up with things. I felt a little overwhelmed at times, and I found that the ending was a bit overstuffed with content. That being said and despite the abundance of constant information, Hanrahan did manage to rather eloquently and tightly bring together all of the different threads occurring in the story into a final conclusion that seemed to wrap everything up in a satisfying way.

The few other areas that I had issues were mainly with the characters and a some of the plot. The characters themselves seemed like interesting people and for the most part I enjoyed following them, however, there was something off about all of them. I felt like I was being held at a distance from all three of the main protagonists, and although we get a bit more in depth into the nature of those such as Spar and Cari, there was always some sort of wall between myself and the characters. Rat in particular was a character that had so many interesting elements (you know, being a ghoul and all) and I was enamored with, and yet we didn't gt to spend nearly as much in-depth time with him as I expected. Additionally, the book is pitched as being about a crew of three young thieves and yet we rarely ever saw them all in one place working together. In fact, Rat seemed rather emotionless and uncaring towards a lot, so if the group's bond hadn't been emphasized so much in the beginning I'm not sure how much I would believe it was there.

And lastly, in regards to plot, I thought it seemed slightly meandering in some places and that the ending, although I enjoyed it, was a bit confusing. I kept forgetting what the main plot goal was supposed to be while reading a lot of this book, which isn't necessarily something that should happen. As mentioned, this is a busy book with a lot going on and sometimes I felt that there was just a bit too much going on.

Overall, I've still (as of now) given The Gutter Prayer 4.25 stars! The imaginative elements and entertaining aspects kept me fully engaged and I look forward to see what Hanrahan does next.

*I received a copy of The Gutter Prayer courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the book.*

Monday, December 24, 2018

Double Mini-Reviews: Rule by Ellen Goodlett & Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd

Rule (Rule, #1)Rule by Ellen Goodlett
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Hardcover. 376 pages.

About Rule:
"Three girls with three deadly secrets. Only one can wear the crown. 

The king is dying, his heir has just been murdered, and rebellion brews in the east. But the kingdom of Kolonya and the outer Reaches has one last option before it descends into leaderless chaos. 

Or rather, three unexpected options. 

Zofi has spent her entire life trekking through the outer Reaches with her band of Travelers. She would do anything to protect the band, her family. But no one can ever find out how far she's already gone. 

Akeylah was raised in the Eastern Reach, surrounded by whispers of rebellion and abused by her father. Desperate to escape, she makes a decision that threatens the whole kingdom. 

Ren grew up in Kolonya, serving as a lady's maid and scheming her way out of the servants' chambers. But one such plot could get her hung for treason if anyone ever discovers what she's done. 

When the king summons the girls, they arrive expecting arrest or even execution. Instead they learn the truth: they are his illegitimate daughters, and one must become his new heir. But someone in Kolonya knows their secrets, and that someone will stop at nothing to keep the sisters from their destiny... to rule. 

Magic, mystery, and blackmail abound in this sensational and striking fantasy debut."

LIKES: Ren, Zofi, and Akeylah were all wonderfully strong in their own unique way that stood out so much. Each girl was very different from the others, but they come together so well and learn to use their weakness as strengths, as well allowing their minds to be opened and consider new ideas. I think she did that beautifully. There was unnecessary hatred among them at first, but Goodlett did a wonderful job of having the girls mature and realize that hating each other was not going to solve anything. I also loved the handling of systemic racism and prejudice, discrimination, and other social issues, all of which I think were thoughtfully considered and also rather thought-provoking. I enjoyed the overall mystery and getting to know each of the girls through both their positive and negative decisions in life, as it really helped them become well-rounded figures.

DISLIKES: Honestly, I'm not sure why this has so many negative reviews. One reason could be because the magic system requires an individual to essentially cut into their arm/leg/etc., which could be found triggering for self-harm. That's totally valid and if that is something that would bother you, then do keep that in mind before reading this book. That being said, I thought it worked well as a magic system because by cutting into oneself for blood, it shows an immediate consequence of using your power and how it is limited. I would have liked more detailed world-building, as it did feel fairly limited at times and left me wondering. My main dislike is the cliffhanger ending. Look, I don't mind a bit of a cliffhanger--it keeps us excited!--but when it's literally akin to someone hanging off a cliff, it's almost cheap and feels like I'm being taken advantage of as a reader. Maybe I overreact, but it still bothers me.

Overall, I've decided to give Rule four stars!

*I received an ARC of Rule courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Grim Lovelies (Grim Lovelies, #1)
Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd 
HMH Books for Young Readers
Hardcover. 376 pages.

About Grim Lovelies:
"Seventeen-year-old Anouk envies the human world, where people known as Pretties lavish themselves in fast cars, high fashion, and have the freedom to fall in love. But Anouk can never have those things, because she is not really human. Enchanted from animal to human girl and forbidden to venture beyond her familiar Parisian prison, Anouk is a Beastie: destined for a life surrounded by dust bunnies and cinders serving Mada Vittora, the evil witch who spelled her into existence. That is, until one day she finds her mistress murdered in a pool of blood—and Anouk is accused of the crime. 

Now, the world she always dreamed of is rife with danger. Pursued through Paris by the underground magical society known as the Haute, Anouk and her fellow Beasties only have three days to find the real killer before the spell keeping them human fades away. If they fail, they will lose the only lives they’ve ever known…but if they succeed, they could be more powerful than anyone ever bargained for. 

From New York Times bestselling author Megan Shepherd, Grim Lovelies is an epic and glittering YA fantasy. Prepare to be spellbound by the world of Grim Lovelies, where secrets have been long buried, friends can become enemies, and everything—especially humanity—comes at a price."

LIKES: I loved Shepherd's The Madman's Daughter, so I was pretty excited to check this book out and see what else she could do.  I thought that the general concept of the beasties, the witches, and how the magic system worked was pretty interesting. There is a time limit placed on the events of this book, which lent to a quick pace that kept the story moving at all times. This book also went darker than I expected at times, though the darker aspects were more told as a past event rather than something currently happening, though there is still some violence in this book. I was also rather shocked and impressed by the last quarter or so of the book, including the ending--it definitely wasn't how I expected Shepherd to end this tale. I also love the Goblin characters and their carefree, tricky nature, and I can't wait to see more of them in the sequel.

DISLIKES: As much as I enjoyed the beasties and the magic system, I would have liked a little more explanation of various histories related to it. Everything is fully explained, but it still felt rushed and I had to digest it all very quickly. In addition, the entire story felt a bit rushed. I'm not sure we spent quite enough time at the original house and with the characters before the big life-changing event occurs, and I think it would have helped with the development of the characters. I feel like we got to know the characters decently well, but they needed more depth to their personalities. The romance was also something I could have done without.

Overall, I ended up realizing I had a fun time reading this book and the plot was an interesting one, so I've given Grim Lovelies four stars! I would say a younger YA reader might be more drawn to this one, though it was a certainly an entertaining read no matter what one's age.

Buy the book:  Amazon | Book Depository

And as I won't be posting tomorrow for the holiday, I just want to wish everyone a very happy holiday! I  hope you all have a wonderful time with whatever your plans are! 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Review: Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

Muse of Nightmares (Strange the Dreamer, #2)
Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018
Hardcover. 514 pages.

About Muse of Nightmares:

"'Sarai has lived and breathed nightmares since she was six years old. 

She believed she knew every horror and was beyond surprise. 

She was wrong. 

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep. 

Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the Muse of Nightmares, has not yet discovered what she's capable of. 

As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel's near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?"

I absolutely loved Strange the Dreamer, so Muse of Nightmares was easily one of my most anticipated 2018 releases. Of course, I also worried about how this could possibly live up to the beauty of Strange the Dreamer.... and I now feel so ashamed for ever doubting Laini Taylor because this was truly phenomenal. This book is also one of the reasons that I don't do my 'best of' list until the last week of December, because this is definitely going to be on it. 

Also--just as a head's up before going in, I don't plan on going into too much plot detail, but this is a sequel so if you haven't read Strange the Dreamer there may be some soft spoilers within--beware!

Muse of Nightmares picks up pretty much right after the cliffhanger that was the ending of Strange the Dreamer and we are immediately thrown back into everything, which I appreciated because I was desperate to know how things would work out. I think my favorite things about this book is Taylor's balance of action and non-action scenes. This isn't really what I would consider a fast-paced, high-action story, yet I couldn't turn those pages fast enough. There are some more fast-paced scenes, but there's also much that focuses on other components and really adds a nice balance to the pacing. If you didn't like the slower pace as much in Strange the Dreamer, then you will probably like this one a bit more because there is not quite as much meandering as the first book had, but it still has Taylor's vivid writing that breathes life into each page.

Although we spend plenty of time in Lazlo's head, this book does branch out a bit more and we seem to spend more time in Sara's head (which is why I assume this one is titled Muse of Nightmares), as well as some in Minya's and Thyon's, and a few others. Lazlo is still perfectly adorable and innocent, as well as passionate about what he knows he wants, and Sarai is still determined and as selfless as Lazlo. These two are beautiful together and I'm not sure the last time I rooted for two people are much as I did for these two.

As much as I love the worldbuilding of this duology, the rest of the characters are easily one of my other favorite components. They are all such an eclectic, mixed variety of people that bring so much life and enjoyment to the story. Some of our favorite supporting cast return such as Eril-Fane, Tizerkane, Ruza, Thyon, Feral, Ruby, Sparrow, Calixte, and so many more. Thyon and Minya were two that had rather prominent roles in this installment, and I loved how Taylor portrayed their personalities and sentiments. Both undergo momentous changes throughout this book, some of which were initiated in the first book, and Taylor did this in an understandable and steady pace. She didn't make either character undergo unnecessary changes or have abnormally quick changes of heart, but she instead made it a gradual process that makes sense. I particularly liked that we got know more about Minya's backstory and why she is the way she is now, as it shed so much like on the general backdrop of the plot as well.

In addition to our beloved returning characters, we also meet two new characters, Kova and Nova. I don't really want to tell you how we know these characters or why they are important, but they end up being pivotal to the events of Muse of Nightmares and I found they added a really interesting dynamic and storyline. 

I really can't go into detail about the major plot twist (?) direction this story took, but my god was I not expecting this book to go in the direction it did! As soon as I realized what might be happening, I was so blown away and impressed by what Taylor made this book. It's brilliant and truly momentous and I am still excited just thinking about it. I definitely plan to re-read Strange the Dreamer sometime in the semi-near future to see what I can pick up in that book that may have hinted at what happened in this book. 

I desperately need more from this world and these characters. I have so many new questions that I want to explore and I will sacrifice anything (and look, I'm willing to make my morals a little grey, so honestly, anything) needed in order to get more from Taylor. It's not that things aren't wrapped up, because they definitely are; Taylor answers all of the main plot questions and wraps up everything we've wondered, but because of what happens and how big this world gets, there's just so much more that my imagination wants to explore. 

Overall, I've given Muse of Nightmares a well-deserved five stars. I honestly can't put into words how much I have loved this duology. I just love these books.

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Monday, December 17, 2018

Double Reviews: Katherine Arden Edition! The Bear and the Nightingale & Small Space

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Del Rey Books, 2017
Hardcover. 323 pages.

About The Bear and the Nightingale:
"At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn't mind--she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse's fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil. 

After Vasilisa's mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa's new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. 

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa's stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent. 

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed--this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse's most frightening tales."

I have been wanting to read The Bear and the Nightingale since I first saw it was coming out in 2017, but somehow, because I who I am, I've just now gotten around to reading it. This is partially because I wanted to read it in December or January, so my timing was always limited. All that aside, I'm so glad I finally read this book!

I had extremely high expectations for this book which did make me nervous about whether it'd actually be able to live up to them. I think it took me a little while to get into this book as well, as there seemed to be quite a few different things going on at once. The very first chapters drew me in, but then there was a brief portion in the beginning where I felt uncertain about the direction the story was headed in. And then something shifted the story hit it's stride.

I can't place where it was in this book that my enjoyment really took off, but before I knew it I was glued to the pages and absolutely falling in love with the story, the setting, and the characters. The protagonist, Vasilisa (Vasya), really grew on me throughout the story, much as she grew and developed into her own personality. From the very beginning, Vasya is a strong, powerful girl, but as she grows she somewhat hones this trait and is still just as outspoken, but in a more direct, determined way. I loved watching her start to grow up and following her on this journey.

And then we have Morozko, aka "Frost," "the demon of winter," and a character that I desperately want to know more about. I can't really tell you much about this figure because of the crucial role he plays in this story, but he is definitely one of the most intriguing characters. Other characters include Vasya's father, brothers, stepmother and stepsister, and their nurse who helped raised them, Dunya (and of course a few others that I'll let you discover). I really think Arden created some truly interesting characters that really felt multi-layered. It was really apparent when they were conflicted or when they were struggling with themselves and dealing with those around them, so I appreciated this effort into all of the supporting characters to make them multi-dimensional.

I also loved the setting of this small village sort of sequestered away near the forest. There was a general cold and bleak atmosphere that permeated most of the book, which is something I really do love in books like these, as I feel that they fit the magical qualities and influences perfectly. The historical Russian backdrop that mixed fantasy with reality was also perfectly on target and really added to the depth of the setting. Also, as an added point--after a certain point Vasya is able to communicate with some of the horses, and let me just say, if you put any form of talking animal into a book--I'm in love.

Since this is a Russian-influenced book, you do have to pay close attention to the names, as there are often multiple iterations given to each character name. There are also times when it feels like a lot of different places, names, etc. are thrown at the reader, but none of this majorly infringes on the storytelling experience.

Overall, I've given The Bear and the Nightingale a well-earned five stars!

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

You might also like:
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Small Spaces (Small Spaces #1)Mini-Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2018
Hardcover. 218 pages.

About Small Spaces:
"After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn't think--she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with "the smiling man," a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price. 

Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she's been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn't have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: "Best get moving. At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you." Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie's previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN."

I read Small Spaces back in October because it seemed like a perfect atmospheric and spooky read for the fall/Halloween season. Plus, there are a bunch of creepy scarecrows on the cover and what screams fall more than scarecrows?

Small Spaces is a book with some really interesting ideas and a particularly unique plot. Without going into too many details, it's safe to say this book has made me completely hesitant and wary of scarecrows--I'll probably never look at them in quite the same way. You've been warned. 

Our main character is a young girl named Ollie, a somewhat stubborn, independent, and thoughtful person. Her mom has recently died, so there is a good showcase of how her and her father have been dealing with with this struggle. I thought Arden displayed this dynamic particularly well, as Ollie didn't have the general 'we're sad, but everything's' fine,' sort of display common in middle grade books, but she instead has some sharp edges as a result of this tragedy and she lets them show to both her father and the kids at school. She's not always necessarily the nicest to others at times, but she has a good heart and that always wins out at the end of the day. This is really what made me love her as a character, as she's not perfect or a perfect example, but she's a real kid. The way Arden handled her depression was really carefully and beautifully done. There are some of other main kids that accompany Ollie on her journey that I also thought Arden portrayed well, with unique personalities and interesting contributions.

I've decided to keep this a brief mini-review because anticipation, the unknown, and discovery are some of the best elements in any spooky book, so I'd like to leave the rest up to you to find out. If you enjoy mature middle grade, a unique plot involving a creepy farm, a watch that's oddly helpful, and an unpredictable journey, then this one's for you!

Overall, I've given Small Spaces four stars!

Buy the book:  Amazon | Book Depository

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Review: The Sea Was a Fair Master by Calvin Demmer

The Sea Was a Fair Master
The Sea Was a Fair Master by Calvin Demmer
Self-published, 2018
Ebook. 83 pages.

About The Sea Was a Fair Master:

"'The world’s fate lies with a comatose young girl; an android wants to remember a human she once knew under Martian skies; men at sea learn that the ocean is a realm far different from land, where an unforgiving god rules; a school security guard discovers extreme English class; and a man understands what the behemoth beneath the sea commands of him. 

The Sea Was a Fair Master is a collection of 23 stories, riding the currents of fantasy, science fiction, crime, and horror. There are tales of murder, death, loss, revenge, greed, and hate. There are also tales of hope, survival, and love. 

For the sea was a fair master."

I've only recently started reading more flash fiction, and with each collection of stories I read, the more I seem to enjoy it! The Sea Was a Fair Master is an exceptionally dark collection of flash fiction, which, as you might expect, I was immediately drawn to and loved. 

Each story is, of course, very short, but that doesn't take anything away from the intensity, the setup, or the twists in each one. A few twists here and there were somewhat predictable, but I didn't really mind at all because I still enjoyed reading the build-up that Demmer created. I'm also incredibly impressed by how much style and distinct voice Demmer was able to fill into such short bursts of fiction, and it really leaves me wanting to read more and see what else he has up his sleeve.

There's  a little bit of everything in this book, from crime, horror, science fiction, some fantasy--if you like variety, you'll love it. Some stories start off seemingly innocent, some throw you right into knowing that something is wrong, and that versatility is something that I really liked about Demmer's style. I can't go into too much depth about the individual stories, but a few standouts for me were:

"On the Seventh Day": This is the first story and it set the tone for the rest of the collection perfectly.

"The Sea Was a Fair Master": Being stationed in the middle of the ocean can get boring, so some men partake in an...unusual... hobby to pass the time.

"Sea Ate Nine": A story with unexpected twists the entire way through-- I was surprised by the ending, but I also loved it.

"Trashcan Sam": A dark take on the hobbies of garbage collectors... This one was a delight.

"Like a Spanish Guitar": A couple decides to take a nice picnic near a lake... and it becomes completely unexpected, yet brilliantly executed.

Overall, I've given The Sea Was a Fair Master 4.25 stars. If the idea of some short, twisty, and dark flash fiction appeals to you or intrigues, then pick this one up! I believe it's only $2.99 for the ebook right now, so you can't go wrong there.

*I received a copy of The Sea Was a Fair Master courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Buy the book: Amazon