Wednesday, April 26, 2017
You never know what you're going to find in a used book section at a Goodwill, but sometimes you find gold. I haven't read a book like this in a long time, one that just focuses on an adventure and creative world building that deals with both fantasy and dystopia elements at the same time. Let's dive right in.
Finn is a prisoner of Incarceron, a vast world of a prison full of brutality and cruelty that sees your every move and from which there is no Escape. But Finn is a Starseer, who sees visions of the world beyond Incarceron and is convinced that he doesn't belong and will find the way out. When he comes across a mysterious crystal Key, he soon comes in contact with Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. Claudia seeks out the Prison, thinking that within it is the only person who can save her from her impending arranged marriage. As Finn and his band of (not so) trustworthy companions race through the vast world of Incarceron, Claudia does everything she can from the Outside to help set them free.
Starting off, the characters in this thing are just awesome. Everyone is memorable and, as you might sometimes get with a wide array of characters, nobody gets left out or underused. Everyone has a purpose and place in this story and you remember each one of them. Finn's group in particular is an interesting bunch. Finn's oathbrother, Keiro, for instance, is the kind of character who could either be loved or hated by fans, but manages to be complex and interesting. He's the kind of person you want to trust, but aren't sure you can. While Incarceron is the place supposedly full of criminals, the Outside world is almost just as suspicious and deadly. You get the feel that everyone is putting on a play in the Outside and that nobody is really showing their true emotions and it's all described really well.
As I said earlier, the world-building in this is just great. The different areas within the prison are wonderfully imaginative, vast cities to forests made entirely out of metal and mountains made of diamond. You almost forget that this is supposed to be a prison when it could very well be its own world, but then you remember that there's no real sky, glowing red Eyes are everywhere, and dawn and dusk are replaced with Lightson and Lightsoff. That's actually really clever. The real sense of dystopia comes from the Outside however, which is designed to resemble a rather Victorian Era-esque time period, yet also possesses technologies far beyond what that time period should allow. The book takes its time before it tells you just how the Outside world came to be what it is and how it came to be. As a result, I did feel a little lost in the beginning of the book, but the answers to just what happened to the world became clear as the story moved on.
If I had to nitpick, I would say that both Finn and Claudia's stories don't always mesh together very well. This is mostly because they're very different, as Finn's side of the story is a daring escape through a dangerous world while Claudia's is more of a suspenseful political intrigue story. Both stories are good, don't get me wrong, but they could almost be two different books fixed into one. It's easy to get caught up in one side of the story and then remember, "Oh, yeah! Those other guys were doing this other thing over here." However, it does come together in the end. It wraps up in a pretty intense climax with twists that, I admit, I couldn't have predicted. It smoothed itself out nicely in the end.
I've been needing a book like this for awhile now. Fast-paced, intriguing, well thought out, and full of great character and imagination, I'm glad to say that 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. Have a book you want me to review or just want to recommend a book you'd like to see featured here? Then find me on goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/65448711-michelle-beer as well as on Twitter @Michelle_Beer88.
Next Time: I've been sitting on this one for while and now I've just gotta do it. It's Retrospective time again people and we're going over a series that actually does justice to Greek mythology...excluding those movies, of course.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
Well, everybody, I hope you really like baking references and sexual innuendos because we're in for a lot of them. This is a strange little tale set in a world where humans and supernatural creatures live...well, not exactly in peace but within the same land mass and how one woman tries to survive in such a world. I got this one thinking that it might either be something interesting...or something to rant about. Let's take a look.
Alena is having a really, really rough go. Not only has she been stricken by the fatal Aegrus virus that's slowly killing her, but her husband is selling everything she loves and getting into business (and bed) with a blonde bimbo literally named Barbie before she's even in the grave. Then a man from the supernatural world comes to her a second chance at live...as a supernatural creature. Alena ultimately accepts and soon discovers that she got more than she bargained for. Soon, Alena is caught up in a twisted game of gods and men, friends and foes, and baking analogies galore.
Now, this book has...issues. Nothing particularly bad but...it has its problems. Most of what's wrong with this book can be examined by just looking at the main character herself. Alena was raised in the fake religion of the Firstamentalists, a conservative faith with seriously high standards and a hatred for the supernaturals. Therefore, Alena is very much a prudish character who doesn't swear and is deeply afraid for her soul. Her transformation throughout the book leads to some genuinely good growth, as well as questions about the soul and whether or not it can be hurt by what's been happening and whether or not Alena is still a good person. However, these traits also cause Alena to be naive near to the point of stupidity. I grew up in a religious household too and even I know more than this broad. She blathers on about how she can just "talk" to the people trying to hurt/kill her, everything will be okay and insists (constantly) that she's still a married woman despite her husband being an adulterous pig and having it explained to her that her transformation makes their marriage null and void several times. She's a nice person and not a bad character but she could really try one's patience.
Also, it's kind of hard to figure out the target audience for this thing. One minute Alena is baking baklava with her adorable sidekick Cupid and the next she's marching into a gay BDSM club. It throws out lame puns and jokes, as well as Alena's cutesy swearword substitutes but at the same time everyone else is using crude language far beyond what anyone under the age of 18 should be using. The book is written pretty simply and never really goes too far (even the scene in the BDSM club is pretty tame for what it could have been) but it's certainly more than one would expect when first going into this thing. It's just too tame and cutesy and simple for adult readers to take seriously, but at the same time too mature for younger readers as well. Not really a flaw, the style of this book mostly just left me scratching my head.
Once again, the Greek mythology buff in me is having a hard time with this one. True, it's considerably better than the twitter found in The Gatekeeper's Sons, but there are still problems. For instance, Zeus working in a retail store. Way to suck the dignity out of a deity, people. Also, because of Alena's transformation, all of a sudden skirt-wearing heroes come right the frig out of nowhere and try to kill her and all of this is questioned by...nobody. This hero trying to kill her than takes hostages and threatens them in front of a live audience of hundreds of people and the whole world is just...cool with this. 'Kay, sure. Still, all through this story, Alena could have just floated easily through it and have the answers to everything and just be perfect with her new powers, but thankfully this isn't the case. Granted she probably does have a little too easy a time with some of the things thrown her way, but the story keeps it's focus on her internal struggle, where the actual good stuff in the story is. She's a whole new person, she's caught between who she was and who she is, who far can she go and still maintain her humanity? These are all serious questions and the real deal with the story. Sure, there's a big climax with fighting and a monologuing villain but, again, it could have been worse.
Ultimately, I just don't think this story is for me. It has its problems and its perks, but it just didn't impress me very much or leave much of an impact. I'm not dying to get my hands on the next installment or anything. However, if you think you can get past these types of things and still enjoy it okay, I'd say check it out at your local library.
Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts. Also find me on goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/65448711-michelle-beer and Twitter @Michelle_Beer88
Next time: Is it possible to escape when the prison is alive?
Monday, April 17, 2017
This one is a bit different from my normal choice in books, but I have to say I'm really glad I took this one up. Set between the late 1300s and early 1400s in China, this is a unique look into a world way beyond ours (or my own American Pacific Northwest world, anyway) and how the lowest person can become the heart and soul of an entire family.
Chi Lin was arranged to marry Master Wu Hung-lin, head of the Wu household, as his fourth wife. However, when Wu Hung-lin meets an untimely death, Chi Lin is given a choice: either be shipped off to a nunnery or become Wu Hung-lin's ghost bride, married to his spirit and least of all his wives. Chi Lin accepts her fate as a ghost bride and becomes Mistress Purple Sage. She is sent to live in the Wu household, where it's clear she isn't entirely welcome. She's given a rundown pavilion to live in, hand-me-downs to wear, ancient and half-blind servants, and is made to do chores under the watchful eye of the Old Lady of the House and the shrewd First Wife. However, little by little, Chi Lin starts to make a name for herself and become a great influence in the House of Wu until she becomes the heart and soul of the family, never acknowledged but necessary and loved.
This story takes a very interesting dive into what it is to be a woman in ancient China, or really any woman in any time period when women's rights are scarce, if not nonexistent. They could very easily have gone the Cinderella route with this story, making her treated like a slave until a new life is just offered on a silver platter and whisks her way from hardship, but it doesn't do that. Chi Lin never gets whisked away, but makes the best of what she has and with hard work and a great attitude, she becomes a source of major change, all while staying incredibly humble. Though this world doesn't give her a lot of say or rights, she does everything she can within what rights she has and makes an impact.
Chi Lin, herself, is a really good character. She's kind, sympathetic, and almost never gets frustrated or angry (there's only one time in the book that she's frustrated and that's saying a lot). She's a dutiful ghost bride who does what she's told, even if it's at her expense, but never complains and adapts well. Through these quiet acts of duty and obedience, you can see how she's able to also impact the world that she's not supposed to touch. It's her job to oversee the operations of the salt business and she knows how to fix problems, but merely offers suggestions rather than demands things be done. At first, she's ignored but the suggestions stay in the minds of those in charge and are remembered and then acted upon. However, she's by far not a perfect character and can make mistakes, including one that could have been catastrophically bad, but uses her head to think things through and turn things in her favor. She's quick and clever and just a delight.
Sometimes, however, I felt things might have been resolved a little too well in some regards. That big mistake I mentioned earlier is resolved in a very convenient way and maybe a little too easily, but its impact is still a big deal in the story and emotions are remembered and felt throughout the book. It doesn't magically go away and there are consequences for the actions of those involved so, in that case, I guess it's okay. Also, when I checked this book out originally, it set up the First Wife to be this really nasty character and...yeah, she's definitely trouble for Chi Lin, but not quite to the degree I was expecting. I was thinking it'd be closer to "wicked stepmother" territory, with beatings and scoldings and messing up her work on purpose and getting her in trouble and that kind of thing. However, the First Wife never does anything like that. She and Chi Lin definitely don't get along and she certainly does her best to keep Chi Lin in a defeated state and at the bottom of the totem pole where (she feels) she belongs, but she doesn't go near as far as I was imagining. As such, she comes off as more of a nuisance than a downright antagonist. But these are nitpicks, really, and not necessarily flaws so they don't hurt the story.
The overall story is very laid back and taking in the wonder of Chinese traditions and how they work. There are some tense moments in the story, some really, really tense ones, but they're few and far in between. Again, it's just about the life of this one wife. It's how she deals with her servants, her nieces and nephews, the other wives, her in-laws and how each interaction brings her further into the life of this house and how she's able to use those interactions to her advantage. It's making the best with what you've got and life slowly returning the favor. There's a lot of Chinese terminology used throughout the book, but in a manner that even ignorant Americans like myself can figure out with little difficulty. It was simple, it was elegant, it told its story with great care to great effect.
By the time I was done with this book, I was beaming. It's a great story with a great lead, with marvelous setting and plenty of intrigue. I have another Edward Patterson book on my To-Read list and, if it's anything like this one, I'm looking forward to it. All in all, I'd say that this book is a welcome addition to the Shelf of Recommendation!
Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts. Find me on goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/65448711-michelle-beer and Follow me on Twitter @Michelle_Beer88
Next Time: Note to self. Refrain from buying cakes from a bakery run by a snake lady....
Thursday, April 13, 2017
The second installment of Maas' widely popular Throne of Glass chronicles...and I still don't know what to make of them. Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate this book but I wasn't crazy about the first and I'm not sure this one improved my opinion or not. Let's just dive right in.
Celaena Sardothien is now the King's Champion, spending her days out on missions and doing his bidding. But she's anything but loyal. She waits for the day when she's able to earn her freedom from her hated enemy and leave the kingdom of Adarlan far behind. But strange things start happening throughout the castle, an ancient magic is on the rise, and Celaena's best friend, the princess Nehemia, is urging her to join the rebellion against Adarlan's king. Celaena's soon caught up in plots and learns forbidden secrets and she's going to have to decide her fate once and for all.
One thing I liked about the previous installment in this series is that Celaena, as a character, is a delicate balance of both masculine and feminine characteristics. She'll kill people and chop up bodies but she also likes to dress up and be girly. While that's still here in this book, it starts to become and issue. The biggest problem this book seems to have is tone and Celaena herself is the reason why. One minute she's on dangerous missions and chopping up body parts and faking deaths and the next it's date night and honest-to-goodness shopping spree days! This rather random behavior adds to the overall indecisive feel that this book has. Celaena is the star here, it's her story, and so when she's being wishy washy and whining, the story suffers. The story has built up how she's this powerful person and yet she complains about wanting to be a normal girl. Now, Celaena is only eighteen years old, so a little angst is normal in a character like this but when you've gone on and on about how amazingly awesome this character is, you just want to smack her upside the head and tell her to get over herself.
Just when I thought this book had lost me, however, it started to pull me back in. Whenever I felt like, "I can't take it anymore. I'm done with this book. It's dumb and I don't want to read it anymore," the story picks itself back up and gets better. Half way into the book, things greatly improve. The action is faster, the mysteries start to become interesting, and things are actually starting to get accomplished. Sadly, there's no end to Celaena's moping (you could argue it gets worse up until the last ten chapters of the book) but there's enough going on to where they don't focus on it as much. The plot of the story really managed to surprise me. There are two big reveals near the end and (keeping this spoiler free) only one of them really surprised me. The one that got me, however, was really well done.
While the story is Celaena's, I do wish they'd do a bit more with the others. The only character with significant growth in this book is Dorian, who struggles with both losing Celaena's affections to his best friend (which is handled beautifully, by the way) and developing magical powers that could very well get him killed by his own father. There's real conflict here and it helps that Dorian is such a good character, down-to-earth and genuinely caring. His parts helped to pick the story up just when I was getting tired of it. Chaol, the captain, is also a good character and the interactions between him and Celaena in the first half are okay but in the second half? It is just a mess. It's the ever-so-overused cliche about how one "lied" to the other and it's all a big misunderstanding and they have to mope and...urgh! It was painful. Apart from them, there are no real characters that leave a lot of impact. It tries with Dorian's cousin Roland, who is just kind of forgotten as the story goes on, and Finnick Odair...I mean...Archer Finn, who is a bit better and does contribute to the plot but doesn't seem to have much in the way of personality, at least until the end.
As I said before, I wasn't crazy about this book but it didn't lose me completely as I was afraid it would at one point. There are still three books in this series to go and I'm honestly up in the air about continuing or not. Maybe I will, one day, but it's not a priority based on what I just read. In the end, I'll say that, if you're going to read this book, wait for it on paperback!
Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts. Find me on goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/65448711-michelle-beer and Follow me on Twitter @Michelle_Beer88 for updates.
Next Time: You think your relationship is complicated? Try being married to a dead guy.
Saturday, April 8, 2017
One day, I swear, I will find one of these stories that doesn't kill me. But this is not that day! Greek mythology is something that I've been into since I was a kid. I used to love reading books on the subject and learning about the ancient heroes and stories. Therefore, when I see Greek mythology represented poorly, I get just a little miffed. When I see tripe like this, I get REALLY miffed. Let's just start already.
Therese Mills is a rich girl in Colorado. When her parents are suddenly killed brutally, Therese has a chance encounter with Thanatos, the Greek god of Death. Thanatos is instantly infatuated with Therese and so he takes a break from his duties and spends time on earth to woo her and make her his queen. Therese soon falls for him too and together they find a way for Therese to become a god by finding her parents' killer. But this stirs up tons of trouble and Therese soon finds herself at the center of a great conflict between the Olympians.
Let me just start off with this main character, shall I? Or rather this bland, irritating, perfectly perfect MARY-SUE of a character. She has no flaws, none! She has no personality outside of "I love nature, I love animals, I love everyone and everything so very, very much". ARRGH! This broad is engineered to be the most perfect human being who ever lived so that she can appeal to all the Olympians so that they all just love her to pieces and go out of their way to help her. Nothing ever, EVER phases her. Even the traumatic death of her parents she treats like a bad day or a broken nail or something. The climax of the book has her in a fight where this nature-loving, merciful girl knows how to fight and thinks up these brilliant traps and schemes all on her own without any former knowledge on the subject of any kind. There is nothing human about her. She's too perfect and that's just the problem!
Also, the writing in this book is just asinine. The same person is described more than once, it can't stay on track for more than five seconds, and the language and phrases are just so contrived it's laughable. It uses phrases like "He looks like a god" and "splendid good looks" and "His smile could kill". This isn't clever, it's contrived and it's painful to read. It often loses track of time on itself, as in one minute Therese is about to go to bed and her aunt suddenly decides that its dinnertime. I also had a hard time knowing exactly when in time the story is meant to take place, since people still use dial phones with no caller ID and dance the waltz (in a club mind you), yet they listen to Lady Gaga and have cell phones they never use. It also does this thing where they bring up things that are totally out of left field that and kind of uncomfortable, like comparing her parents' death to Colombine and this really random and tasteless suicide that comes straight out of nowhere and impacts nothing. It's like a little kid who doesn't know what they're talking about trying to sound smart and it's just painful.
Here's the part where the Greek mythology lover in me just feels ill. In short, the Olympians are just there to make Therese's already pretty easy life even easier! Automatically, since she already possesses all the traits necessary to please each and every one of them, they all give her lavish gifts like making her annoying dog immortal and, by the end, each and everyone of them is giving her stuff and pampering the crap out of her. I'm serious, this is such pandering that it's almost hilariously bad. They're all like, "you can have my pillow", "you can have my blanket", "you can have my sleeping mask", and I was half expecting Gimli to show up offering her his axe! The worst offender, naturally, is Thanatos...oh, I'm sorry, Than (*insert Sideshow Bob groan of misery*). Now, I don't mind that they made him handsome or young, as he can sometimes be portrayed. That's fine. What's not fine is that he exists, like all the others, to spoil the crap out of Therese. She can summon him on demand, he bends over backwards for her, takes her on this ridiculous trip around the world where everyone speaks English (yeah, try and figure that one out) and has this attitude of a lovesick puppy who would do anything for her. You're the GOD of DEATH! Have a little dignity! Oh and he gets heartbroken, devastated, absolutely traumatized because...a horse gets put down. A HORSE!
So when it's not being pandering or uncomfortable, this book is so BORING! Long, long, stretches of absolute nothing happen for the longest time and when things finally do happen, our main character treats them all so lightheartedly that it leaves no impact. We go into every tiny detail of her pampered, monotonous life, day after day, and it just puts you to sleep! I don't need to hear her and her BFF talk about boobs! I don't need to hear, over and over again, the process of brushing a horse! Every little thing that happens in every day just goes on and on and it took way too much effort to try and stay awake and focused on this endless, brainless twitter. And the "exciting" bits are just so easy for this girl and she puts so little thought into any of it that you can't get sucked in either. When faced with death, she's all "oh, that'll be okay. I don't really mind. That's fine." Then, when it seems like she's lost her boyfriend forever she's like "I'm so glad I'm back in my bed with my pets. I've missed them. I just know everything's going to be okay. I'm so glad my aunt's getting married." FEEL SOMETHING! I beg of you!
You know this is coming. I'm sure if you're the kind of person who just wants to read and unchallenging story where you can self-insert yourself into the life of a perfect, pampered person, you'll like this...maybe. But as for me, this thing can go straight into the Waste Bin of Despair!
Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts. Also find me at goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/65448711-michelle-beer and on Twitter @Michelle_Beer88
Next Time: I'm in the mood for some violence. Let's see what Adarlan's Assassin is up to....
Monday, April 3, 2017
The second of three Peregrine novels (excluding the Tales of the Peculiar) expands upon the otherworldly nature of Rigg's unique universe. The little island of the first book is left far behind as we follow Jacob and Miss Peregrine's wards as they journey forth into the dark and scary world that would very much like to see them dead. Is it a successful follow up to the first book? Let's take a look.
Jacob, Emma, and the rest of Miss Peregrine's children have left their home loop in search of another ymbryne to save their beloved matron, who is trapped in the form of a bird. But the world is not kind to peculiar children. Not only do the children risk aging forward a hundred years and dying on the spot, but there's a slew of evil Hollowghasts and their vicious evolved masters called wights and, if that wasn't enough, the children may have to enter into a punishment loop (a loop set up in a violent and dangerous time in history) in order to save Miss Peregrine.
Certainly more action-packed than its predecessor, which focused more on mystery, Hollow City is an intense and far more nerve-wracking installment in the Miss Peregrine trilogy. These poor kids can't catch a break in this book and you're constantly feeling the danger that surrounds them. However, it does give the kids more time to shine. Outside of Jacob and Emma, the last book didn't have much time to give a lot of development to the remaining peculiars but here everyone gets a time to shine. The kids really feel like a team and are able to work together despite some who only seem to want to cause trouble (*cough*Enoch*cough). Still, the characters are deeply improved in this book.
While also serving as an adventure, the book also acts as a kind of world guide and you see just how the peculiar world works and what it's like. We spend most of the book in the past, so it manages to tell you how peculiars live and how the world either accepts or despises them. The idea of punishment loops are a very interesting idea and gives insight into how the peculiar world is managed. You also meet peculiar animals, such as a dog that can talk and the very curious creation called the emu-raffe. Once again, the black-and-white photographs are put to good use. The give exact setting and descriptions of the characters and what's going on with them, unlike the previous book where people had to sometimes stop the story entirely and run off to find a photo to explain themselves. Here, the photos are used just like any other type of illustration, which I think is a bit better than before.
Going into nitpick mode for a second there are a couple of things that kind of bothered me. The ending, for instance, kinda comes right out of nowhere. We're given no hint as to what's actually going on and it would have been a bit more fun if there were clues leading up to the big reveal, instead of it just coming right out of nowhere. While there are blissfully little to no annoying parents in this book, a couple of the wards kind of get shafted at the beginning, which I felt was a bit of a shame. Also the most convenient cosplay convention ever! You just wanted to fit Ash from The Evil Dead 2 into this story somehow, didn't you Riggs!
It seems we've found another on the list of successful sequels as this book is not only as good as the first, but actually improves on some of the first book's flaws. Is it perfect? No. But still a great installment and a very exciting story and it bumps this series up a notch to the Shelf of Recommendation! Well worth the read.
Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts. Find me at goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/65448711-michelle-beer and on Twitter at @Michelle_Beer88
Next Time: This God of Death can come for me at anytime...to save me from this book....