Monday, February 27, 2017

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

Once again we delve into the steampunked rendition of WWI in Behemoth, the sequel to Westerfeld's Leviathan. After being really impressed with the first book, I went into this book looking forward to what would come next in the story. Will this sequel be on par with the last book, or did hype spoil it for me again? Let's take a look.

Alek and Deryn are together at last aboard the airship Leviathan and working together to stop the treacherous German forces and put an end to the war. The team travels to the Ottoman Empire to appeal to the sultan for his support, despite the Ottomans being strict Clankers much like their German foes. Alek and Deryn soon become entangled in a revolution plot that could turn the tide of the war, all while dealing with their own personal problems of Alek decided what he's to do with his home of Austria-Hungary and Deryn continuing to hide the fact that she's a girl.

The biggest advantage that this book has over it's predecessor is that the two protagonists are together and the point of view shifts between them connect much better than before. Instead of going back and forth between Austria-Hungary and the airship, the story is able to flow more smoothly between the two characters. We also get to see how the two of them work together and, despite being two vastly different people with different lives and motives, they make a really good team. A bond of trust is formed between them, despite the fact that Alek is still oblivious to the fact that Deryn is a girl.

Much like last time, the history is reimagined while trying to keep the most of it intact. Most history buffs will know that things are a bit askew in this story, but it keeps the story interesting and having our protagonists involved in such a huge plot give the story a spy-like edge that the previous book didn't really have. The action remains fast-paced and, while it's still a war and still very dangerous, it never gets too dire, keeping the story fun and exciting.

Once again, the steampunk style of this story is just amazing but thank goodness this thing comes with pictures! The style of these machines and organisms used to create weapons and devices is deeply intricate and even more advanced than ever and made to be just as interesting. Seeing just how these machines can be both ancient and futuristic requires a delicate balance so that the technology doesn't seem too out of place. WWI still feels like WWI, even with these vast creations. Istanbul feels like Istanbul, even if there are huge mechanical walking machines and complicated coffee houses. Making advanced tech seem rustic and natural is the brilliance of steampunk and it blends perfectly with the environment of the story, while taking care not to overshadow the characters and the politics that go into this story.

Final Verdict
Behemoth is definitely one of the most successful sequels I've read. It's a fast-paced and interesting addition to the story of the first book, continuing the story and enriching the plot. While I wouldn't say that this one is better than the first book, it is definitely on par with it and definitely worth your money at our local bookstore.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: The following story has absolutely nothing in common with a certain 1986 Jim Henson film staring a well known rock star as the antagonist. Absolutely Nothing!!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Book Jumper by Mechthild Glaser

While the prospect of jumping into a world built around literature isn't the newest concept I've ever heard (Pagemaster, anyone?) it's always at least worth checking out. Written originally in German, this is Ms. Glaser's first book to be translated into English and shared with us over in the US. How does this literary adventure turn out? Let's dive right in.

Amy Lennox travels to Scotland to visit her grandmother on the mysterious island of Stormsay. It is here that Amy discovers that members of her family have a rare gift: the ability to jump into books  and venture into the world of literature. Here they can witness the story unfold around them and interact with the characters and work with them to keep the story intact. But while the power is amazing, she soon discovers that it is not all fun and games. Amy must contend with an old family feud, secrets, and a mysterious thief who is threatening to destroy the book world forever.

First off, the premise of this story is a very good one. Getting to see all into the worlds of these famous stories (well, stories that are public domain, anyway) is actually very interesting. Each book character has great personality and the atmosphere of the Margin (a Diagon Ally-esque hub where characters can come and take a break from their stories and mingle) is all very well described and makes for a great concept. It builds a sense of community among the book characters, fleshing them out into three dimensional characters beyond their established plots. We get to see well-known characters like Shere Khan the tiger, the witches from Macbeth, and the White Rabbit. We also meet lesser known characters such as The Little Prince and Werther from The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, who becomes a very likable and helpful character.

Outside of the book world also manages to be interesting. The best thing about this book is the mystery and the concept behind the book thief. The mystery is handled very well, with several false leads, different suspects, and possible motives. It's just as a mystery should be. Also, there's the prospect of someone on the island stealing ideas from the book world, essential ideas, and using them to create a new story. That's a really clever idea and also a subtle warning about plagiarism and how it does, indeed, hurt literature. Very smooth, Ms. Glaser. Very smooth indeed.

Now does this book have a downside? Yes. That would be the main character. Now Amy, by far, isn't the worst main character I've seen in a book. She's not an unintentionally horrible person or overly perfect or anything. Ultimately Amy's problem is that she is so unbelievably bland! She has little in the way of genuine personality and, once again, everyone with the exception of the obligatory mean girl instantly loves her. While there are times when I appreciate the author not giving in to typical tropes of brooding and overreacting to every little thing like some characters do, it can sometimes come off like nothing really affects this girl at all. She takes everything with an almost unbelievable ease that nobody would really have. On the other hand, I do like that she and her love interest take time to fall in love. Almost a whole summer before they realize their feelings. She also doesn't find him instantly drop dead gorgeous but discovers his beauty as she gets to know him. This is much better than I've seen recently and I do appreciate it. It just kind of sucks that the story is being told from the perspective of such a meh character. Someone with a bit more depth and this would have been much better, for me at least.

Final Verdict
Summing up this book in one word, it would be: clever. The concept, while not new, is clever. The story is clever. The plot is clever. It just does a great job of setting and build up that, if you can ignore the flaws of the main character, then I'd say this book is definitely worth your money at your local bookstore.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: The Clankers and the Darwinists march to Istanbul...or is it Constantinople?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Shadow Prince by Stacey O' Neale

Y'know...I try to go into these things with an open mind.  I really, really do! But every time I do, I just keep getting the same things over and over again. It's all just Twilight with a different gimmick. Pixies instead of vampires. Demon hunters instead of vampires. Aliens instead of vampires. Angels instead of vampires, and now it seems we have Twilight with Avatar: The Last Airbender instead of vampires...the prequel.

The story is of our hunky supernatural being, Rowan, who is prince of the fire elementals who keep control of nature around the world. His evil mother says she's finally willing to abdicate her throne to him but on one condition: he must assassinate the daughter of a fellow king, who happens to be a teenage girl living in the mortal world and going to high they do. Gaining the throne will mean he'll be able to free his friend from slavery, but killing the daughter of another royal elemental is a serious no-no. On top of all that, he can't help but think his intended victim is really cute.

So, yeah, that's the gist of it. It's just the same painfully cliche type of story that we've seen a thousand times in the last ten years. Despite this not actually being the real novel but a short prequel story, it still checks off all the boxes on the Pretentious Paranormal Romance Checklist. You've got the super overprotective emo hunk boyfriend, werewolves (and I don't care if you call them "Gabriel Hounds" and that look like cats for some reason, it counts!), the "normal" teenage girl who is not only a super-special-something-or-other but is actually an even more super-special-mega-something-or-other. You have the boyfriend being a serious creeper but it's okay because he's just "looking out" for the girl. The list goes on and on.

Now, it's not too hard for someone to write about being a younger version of themselves (something that happens a lot in these types of stories) as your main character. Women writing about being a teenage girl is relatively easy, but women writing about being a teenage boy is a lot more difficult, but it can be done right if you know what you're doing. Unfortunately for this story, I think Ms. O' Neale here doesn't have a lot of experience in writing teenage boys outside of Yaoi fanfiction. I swear, there were a great many times when Rowan and his best friend Marcus are talking and it really sounds like they're flirting! They say things, "sarcastically" of course, like "Oh, honey, you shouldn't have." "I'm ready for my hug now." "I'm right behind you, sweetness."  Yeah, there's way too much romance in your bromance!

Also, the writing in this book is just terrible! Our emo hunk main character's inner dialogue is very stilted and bland and with so many stupid comparisons that I thought my eyes would fall out from rolling them too much! There's way too many instances in which we're told things like, "The tension is very high right now" which breaks one of the first rules of writing: Show, Don't Tell. Also, the use of modern language in this supposed ancient and regal court is just awkward and fits into the story like a square peg in a round hole. If you're going for an ancient feel, do it. If you want to be modern, do it. Don't try to do both. It also really doesn't help that the "modern" language uses phrases like, and I'm not kidding this is a direct quote, "Bringing all the boys to the yard." I was drinking something when I read that. I choked.

Final Verdict
Yeah, the best thing I can say about this book is that it's short. While it didn't make me overwhelmed with anger like some other books like this do, I still can't say much good about it. It's predictable, poorly written, the whole plot is dumb, and it fails in its ultimate mission: making me want to read the actual series. If you're actually into stories that replace Edward Cullen with Prince Zuko with a pierced eyebrow instead of a scar, good for you, but I'm putting this one in the Waste Bin of Despair!

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: You know that feeling when you feel like a book just sucks you in? This girl sure does.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

I've been looking forward to getting to this one. I read the premise on Amazon and got really excited. Something about the idea of three powerful queens, who also happen to be sisters, competing for total dominion really got me interested. Did it meet my expectations or was I a bit overhyped? Well, let's dive right in and see what we got.

This story is of the island of Fennbrin, a powerful nation ruled by inhabitants with amazing gifts. Every generation, triplet queens are born each with one with a different gift. When the triplets come of age, they take part in the Ascension Year where the sisters must use their gifts to kill each other until one remains. But each queen is not alone. Armed with powerful and deadly allies, the queens must prepare themselves for the day they must kill their own sisters or else be killed in the process.

What really drew me into the idea of this book was not only the prospect of competing queens, but also the fact that they all have some kind of special power. Katharine is a poisoner, who has total immunity to all poisons. Arsinoe is a naturalist, who can control plants and animals. Mirabella is an elemental and has the ability to control the fire and create violent storms. Sounds pretty interesting, right? Well, you quickly learn that not all the queens are as talented as they're made out to be. This adds another layer of drama to the story and you see the individual struggles that each queen has to endure. They do a good job at building the queens as characters, each one being someone you would want to have the crown and not want to see win.

Another aspect of the story that I really liked was the politics. Normally these things kind of bore me, but it really adds to the world building in that you see just what kind of savage place would raise three sisters to hate and kill each other. Each queen is raised by powerful guardians who will gain, or lose, their status depending on the outcome of this fight. Devious families, bloodthirsty priestesses, and violent acts of low magic surround the sisters, each trying to make their queen more powerful than the rest. It's not just about the three anymore, the whole island is involved in a constant struggle for dominion. It added it's own level of intrigue, seeing just how far some of these forces will go to insure that their queen is the one who rules. It was vastly interesting and I really enjoyed it.

Now the stuff I didn't like so much. Getting down to it, my biggest complaints can be summed up in two words: Jules and Joseph. I'm sorry, but both these characters really, really annoyed me. Jules is queen Arsinoe's bodyguard, roughly the same age, and a really strong naturalist with a mountain lion as a familiar. She should be interesting but the whole time all I could think was "Why didn't they just make her Arsinoe?" Why did you make the cool character the bodyguard and not the queen? And, for that matter, she is pointless! She affects nothing. Everything she does and feels, Arsinoe does and feels too. There's no reason for her to be here! And, yeah, I get that there is a twist in the end of the book about Arsinoe and why she couldn't take this spot in particular, but it feels like a waste. When Jules is doing absolutely nothing to help Arsinoe, the plot gets distracted by her complicated love life that I quite honestly don't give a flying fig about. We spend way too much time with this girl and if you take Jules completely out of the story and it doesn't miss her. I didn't care for her much.

Much of the problem with Jules, however, is how much dang time we spend with her lousy excuse for a boyfriend, Joseph. I really, really came to hate this character and, again, we spend an unbelievable amount of time on him. Basically he and Jules have had this long history of being childhood sweethearts and wait for each other while he's away from the island. He finally comes back, they rekindle their relationship and proclaim their love for each other...only to have him sleep with a total stranger. More than once. I'm not kidding. The first time you could make the case that he was delirious, which throws consent into the air and makes it really squicky. Then he regains his senses, realizes that he's cheated on the only woman he's ever loved...and goes and cheats on her again fully aware of what he's doing this time. Okay, now you're a pig.  And after this, he feels bad and tries to make it up to Jules except he can't because he's fallen so helplessly in love with this other girl whom he knows nothing about! I want to read about three queens and the world that makes them want to kill each other...and you're making me read about a pig man cheating on his useless girlfriend, all of which has nothing to do with what I picked this book up to read about.  It really got on my nerves.

Lastly, I went into this book and, big mistake, didn't realize that it was a first installment. Yes, this is only the first book in a series. I had hoped for a stand alone for a change, but I was out of luck. Everything I was really hoping I'd get out of this book I now have to wait for the next book. That being said, it does build things up and get me hyped for the next installment. I wanna see where it goes, I just really wish this book had started where it ended. Well, that's just another book I'll have to my add on my ever daunting "To Read" list.

Final Verdict
This one was pretty hot and cold for me. I went in expecting Battle Royal and ended up getting As The World Turns. A bit of a let down? Just a bit. But there was still plenty of good things that I really enjoyed and look forward to seeing in the future...and some things I dread having to see again. Still, I am glad I read the book, though I wish I hadn't paid full price for the thing. If this sounds like a story you might like, learn from my mistake and wait for it on paperback.

Did you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: It's time to review my first novella on this site...and it'll either ignite the flames of love or the fires of my unyielding rage....

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

With two sequels done so far this year, I decided it was time to look at the next installment of The Lunar Chronicles. After being pleasantly surprised by the first book Cinder, I went into this one with optimism. Will we have another successful installment or our first big sequel bomb? Let's dive right in.

Scarlet Benoit's life seems to be falling apart. Her beloved grandmother is missing, her drunk of a father crawls back into her life bringing Lunar soldiers with him, and she finds herself on the run with a mysterious street fighter named Wolf. As they search for the missing woman, Scarlet learns that her grandmother may be part of a dark secret concerning the long lost Lunar princess, whom many believe dead. Meanwhile, cyborg Cinder must escape the clutches of the Lunar court with a stolen ship and another prisoner and save Prince Kai from the clutches of Queen Levana.

First off, it was really easy to get back into this book, even after I took a long break between reading the first installment and then this one. It gets you caught up without going through a long information dump on anything you could have possibly missed in the previous book. The recap is done smoothly while integrating the new characters in a smooth transaction that doesn't feel forced. When meet up with Cinder again, not only is she as good as I remember, but she's better than before. That constant worry of what others will think of her is out the window and replaced by an even better character than before.

What's not so successful? Well, Scarlet. I just couldn't get into this character. While Cinder only occasionally had these boy-centric thoughts, Scarlet has them all the time. Every bit of downtime is shared with her and Wolf  and their instalove that I find boring. When the action picks up, it's good, but the "romance" takes center stage. It also makes the plot a lot more predictable. I mean, a lot. With Cinder's story in the last book, and even her exploits here, I couldn't tell what would happen and actually enjoyed taking the journey with her. With Scarlet? Not so much. With her it's always two things, "I miss my grandma." "Do you think Wolf likes me?" "But I have to find Grandma." "Gosh, Wolf is so hot." You get it. She's annoying.

Also, there just wasn't enough suspense in this book then there was in the last one. The last book was gritty and dark and this one, with the exception of the Cinder parts, is just a romance road trip. And as I mentioned earlier nothing came as a surprise. Nothing. Almost at once, from the very start, I could predict exactly what was going to happen in this book. It's like Meyer used up all the suspense in the first book and lost her touch in the second. They try to do this big plot twist that anyone could see coming and it just left me counting pages until we cut back to Cinder. The problem is that this is supposed to be Scarlet's book, yet Cinder takes the stage. I care about Cinder way more than I do Scarlet and that's a major problem.

Final Verdict
While the writing is still good, this sequel suffers from a less interesting lead and a much less interesting plot than the first book. It has its high points, but also it's very low ones that make this our first big step down. If you want to continue the journey with this book then I suggest you check it out at your local library.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: (singing) We three Queens of Fennbirn....

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Ella the Slayer by A.W. Exley

I don't like zombies much, either. They're gross. Enough said. Still, when I saw a zombie/Cinderella crossover, I couldn't resist and took a look. There's just something about a princess wielding a katana that softens my anti-zombie heart. Was it worth it? Well, let's dive right in.

In the early 1910s, a pandemic of Influenza swept the country of England, killing hundreds...and they didn't stay dead. In the town of Somerset, young Ella has a heavy load to bear. A slave to her stepmother, a servant in her own house, primary caretaker for her nearly comatose father, and village zombie slayer. When she meets the handsome new duke who just arrived in town, she quickly finds herself falling for him. But her wicked stepsister, as well as every girl in town, has their eye on the duke and there is so much of her he doesn't know. Could they possibly be together, or will her gory work and life of servitude keep them apart?

This story definitely has its ups and downs. The ups are that this is actually a pretty good Cinderella retelling. This story has been told so many times with many people clambering to be the ones who do it best, and this one is pretty successful. Ella herself is heroic and brave, but not invulnerable. Even though her job of killing the local zombies (though in the book they call them "vermin"), while necessary, doesn't make her very well received. People think her soul is stained and she's going to hell for what she does, even though it saves lives. Top that off with how she's treated at home, it's amazing that she still manages to be a good person. The stepmother in this story is one of the most despicable that I've read in a really long time. Most evil stepmothers can almost come off cartoonish, but this broad? Pure. Unadulterated. Evil. I hated her, in the good way. You're meant to hate her and, trust me, you will.

The duke, Seth, is also really well done for a Cinderella story. Usually, the "princes" in the story can be bland or just kinda handsome with nothing else to them. But Seth is a complex veteran who has just returned from one war to fight another against the undead back home. We have a chance to spend a lot of time with him and get to see who he is as a person, just as Ella does. Oh, and at the moment in the book when Ella realizes that she loves him, you'll fall in love with him too. It's an awesome moment. The servants, including Ella's best friends Alice and Henry, are fun characters who help lighten the mood and keep the story from being too depressing. Finally, with the stepsisters, they do that thing where one is horrible and the other is actually kinda nice. I keep seeing this a lot and I wouldn't mind so much if the "good" sister would accomplish something, and this one just doesn't. They could have been a bit more developed.

Now the downside of the story? The zombies. Because I don't like them? No, actually, because there wasn't more of them. Yes. I, a zombie hater, wanted more zombies in this book. The scenes where they show up are so few and far in between that you kind of forget they're there until they show up again. There's a defining wall between both the zombie side of the story and the Cinderella side. Every new chapter I started making a mental list. This one's a Cinderella chapter, this one's a zombie chapter, these two are Cinderella chapters, this next one's a zombie chapter, etc. The two don't blend together at all. Heck, the book even tries to have two climaxes, the iconic ball scene and a big gory zombie fight. If you took the zombies out of the story completely, the story wouldn't suffer at all. It's like they're there just for our hero to be able to use a sword. There are also plot lines that go pretty much nowhere, things left unresolved, lots of sequel fodder and it got a bit sloppy near the end. I just wish the story flowed more, that the two defining elements weren't so separate from each other. It's a pretty big flaw in an otherwise pretty good story.

Final Verdict
This book had promise, it really did. Two halves of two good ideas but woven together poorly. It comes together as two stories, while well written, have almost nothing to do with each other. Still, if it sounds up your alley, it's worth a read but you should probably wait for it on paperback.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: Who's afraid of the big bad genetically mutated animalistic super soldier?