The Stone Sky, N.K. Jemisin

Well, I can’t believe it’s come to this. I so dearly loved The Fifth Season. It was the best book I’d read in years. The Obelisk Gate was ALSO pretty frigging good– they both have five star ratings from me. Regrettably…. I did not finish The Stone Sky. I read The Obelisk Gate in five days or something over Christmas last year, and started The Stone Sky shortly after in January. Well, it’s Christmas again. After picking this book up multiple times, putting it down, forcing myself to pick it back up, putting it down again (etc), I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never make it past page 159, and that’s ok.

To be quite frank with you all, this book is boring as shit. At the 1/3 mark, we’d walked through the woods, walked down some roads, walked toward a desert, chatted, and had flash backs. Not only do I LOATHE flashbacks normally, but when they are super boring intricately detailed flashbacks about obscure metaphysical theories, then I DOUBLE LOATHE them. Anyway I have to be honest, I read a summary online about the rest of this book since I was SO torn on giving up on it (I tried for a WHOLE YEAR!!!!!), and even reading the summary was super boring??? The summary (past where I had gotten so far in the book) was 2 paragraphs and one full paragraph was detailing flashbacks… COME ON!

Suffice it to say if you are like me and can’t stand slow-paced books, this isn’t the one for you. It was chock full of infodumps via conversation and flashback. If you are REALLY a true lover of worldbuilding who doesn’t mind a lack of action, and you enjoyed the first two, hit this book up. If you can’t stand being bored until your eyes rot out of your skull, read the summary.

We are the Ants, Shaun David Hutchison

We Are the Ants was brought to my attention because it sits at the intersection of two of my great loves: gay stuff and aliens. Henry Denton has been getting abducted since he was 13 years old. Suddenly the aliens switch things up and offer him a choice: The world is gonna end, but if he pushes a big red button he can save it. Problem: his boyfriend hanged himself last year, he gets bullied at school, his life sucks and he’s not so sure the world is worth saving.

Truth be told this book is pretty light on the aliens. They’re really just part of the premise, but I wouldn’t even call this book a sci-fi. It’s a high school drama with some aliens backdrop. Normally I wouldn’t have touched it if I realized that, but having come out of the other side… I really liked it? I pretty much devoured it in 2 days. Henry is a delight of a narrator, his emotional problems didn’t piss me off because they were believable and legit, and the occasional alien appearance probably soothed me a little when the drama got too much.

The characters are what makes this book wonderful. Henry, Diego, Audrey, his family, I loved ALL of them. Zooey is a presh lil’ angel. Folks even the high school bully had me rooting for him at times (I’ll be honest, I think Hutchinson did Marcus dirty toward the end and disservices his character by kinda making him too evil?). The author has a way of turning characters into stories. In particular, Henry’s grandmother Nana, who has Alzheimer’s, has a really beautiful journey for readers to follow.

This book also has chapter breaks/filler chapters. Y’all know I usually hate those. In this case, it’s different scenarios of how the world could end and I LOVED THEM. There were times they had me laughing out loud! This book has really surprised me. I never would have expected to get such joy from teen angst, and yet here we are. I rate this book: cat surprised by its own reflection but delighted to make a new friend in it.

Artemis, Andy Weir

Andy Weir’s Artemis was pretty much on a roll before I picked it up. People raved about The Martian and Artemis seemed to be getting similar attention. It won Goodreads’ 2017 Sci-Fi Choice. Several of my friends said they were reading it. I was excited! I am finished reading it now. I am…. Disappointed? I think? Artemis takes the reader on a rollicking adventure, following moon-resident Jazz Bashara as she accidentally becomes involved in a crime syndicate plot to take over the moon’s only city, Artemis– and its barely-traceable “currency”. But there are undoubted issues that hold Weir’s work back.

The first thing I want to address is something that I had heard people talking of before I even picked up Artemis: this book has a problem with gender. It’s not that Weir is painfully offensive, it’s just that… there’s definitely times where you can tell a dude is writing the book, and he really must believe Jazz belongs on the moon because it seems like he thinks girls are aliens. To be truthful, once I read it I decided for myself that it wasn’t as bad as some had made it sound in reviews, but it’s definitely noticeable. Like…. There’s this scene where Jazz has an exchange with a guy who likes her and calls him buddy, he says “don’t call me buddy,” and she asks why not (!?!?) and he says he will have to give her “man lessons” because she apparently doesn’t understand… AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM GIRLS EVERYWHERE TO ANDY WEIR: WE DO THAT ON PURPOSE DUDE!!! The idea that literally any girl ever wouldn’t understand that men don’t like to be put in the “buddy zone” is laughable at best and terrifying at worst because it means that something we regularly use as a defense to keep creepazoids at an arms’ length is something men think actually just needs to be explained to us so then we’ll let them have sex with us?? I guess?? Ugh. Again, it’s not like it ruins the book, but it’s obvious that there’s some things men like Weir just don’t grasp, and it definitely took me out of the zone as I was reading.

The characterization in general was pretty weak to be honest. The main personality traits that made other characters stand apart from one another were shallow. This guy sucks with women. That guy’s gay. They’re all jerks. There aren’t really many characters to like in this book, you know? And while I liked Jazz because I, too, am a crude-spoken woman who nobody likes, I can definitely sense that many people will not enjoy being in this main character’s headspace.

On the other hand, I did really like the sci-fi aspects of this book. Weir is really great at writing technical, science-y sounding stuff. Is any of it legit? I don’t know, but it seemed pretty believable to me when I was in the midst of it. I also really appreciated the simplicity of the plot. The book is kind of overburdened with like… science, so the fact that Weir kept the story itself fairly easy to follow definitely helped to make it a lighter read. I also want to give kudos to Weir for being one of the few authors whose intermittent letters/plot-breakers were actually interesting. I read them instead of skipping them and was equally interested to follow the storyline of the past that was revealed through the letters as I was to read the stuff happening in present.

The strengths of Artemis are its simplistic and technology focused plot. But it’s not the book for readers who really care about there being any depth of characterization whatsoever. Ultimately it’s still worth the read, but it’s not memorable. I rate this book: hairless cat. I’ll still pet him, but I’d rather be petting another cat.

Boy Robot, Simon Curtis

I gave this book a 3/5 on goodreads because I DNF it and I don’t believe I can really give a true “rating” for a book I didn’t finish. Giving it an “average” rating seems fair, as I strongly suspect if I pushed through to the end that I would give it a 1/5 but still it probably deserves the benefit of the doubt. I made it about 50% through this book.

Boy Robot has a decent premise; there’s robot children whose powers manifest at age 18 and shadowy government conspiracies about using them as weapons. Some scary branch of gov’t hunts down those robots who are living free in the world. Supposedly it has some LGBT representation. I could probably guess which characters that applies to but at my 50% mark saw nothing definitive.

This book suffers from the same issues several other books that border YA/Adult fiction written by men suffer from: rape is added for seemingly nothing other than shock factor and has no bearing on the plot, but readers are just supposed to blink past it. What is the point of the rape scenes in this book? To show me the people working for the EVIL GOVT ORGANIZATION are bad? Yeah dude. I fucking know they’re bad. You didn’t need to throw in a rape for me to figure that out. If characters aren’t being raped they’re otherwise being tortured, abused by their parents, etc., etc. It’s not that I have an issue with these things in a book. It’s just that it’s exhausting to read constantly. The book is steeped in this never-ending, unavoidable cloud of negativity because everything is bad and awful and it’s like… I shouldn’t feel emotionally drained trying to slog through all the BS in this book. Can’t I just like… enjoy the book?

On top of that this book makes heavy use of flashbacks/filler chapters which anyone who reads my reviews know I find unbearably dull. Like, I’ve spent maybe 6 chapters with the main character and it feels like a billion others with random people I don’t know and won’t ever be important again. On top of that, like nobody’s got names so I can’t even frigging tell if I’ve read a chapter in this person’s POV before. All in all, pretty much impossible to read. Hugely disappointing, especially because I was gonna use this book for my AI square on fantasy bingo, but it is what it is.

La Belle Sauvage, Phillip Pullman

La Belle Sauvage the first book in a new series by Philip Pullman and a prequel to his super popular and awesome His Dark Materials trilogy. I understand that The Book of Dust will also be a trilogy. The first book follows a boy who gets drawn into some shadowy underworld stuff because a sweet little infant, Lyra, is living at the priory near his parent’s pub/inn, and he gets caught up in the adventure or whatever.

Disclaimer: I found this book super boring and the characters uninteresting. And following that, confession: I don’t remember the main character’s name . LOL. Martin maybe? John? I dunno, he had a boring little boy name because he was a boring little boy. This book isn’t ultimately awful, it just doesn’t intrigue the way the first series does. Perhaps my hopes were set too high. The most exciting parts of this book are parts when characters we recognize make small appearances, such as Lord Asriel (aka love of 12 year old Heather’s life). Otherwise, none of the new characters really inspired me to care about them much, except maybe the old nuns who were so sweet. There’s an interesting villain dude, who’s super insane and beats his own daemon (!?!?!), but because this is a YA book, Pullman doesn’t really go full-dark on us. Instead we get merely a glimpse of this dude’s true depravity. It’s like, go hard or go home, you know? And it kinda feels as though Mr. Pullman just wanted to go home.

Plot-wise, this book suffers from being split into two distinct plots, but not really being clear on that front. We spend an ETERNITY slumming it around whatever little podunk English suburb our main character lives in, and then by the time we are finally like, adventuring, the adventure takes TOO goddamn long and is SO boring. Like, are we going to London or not? Why have we stopped at every small island along the way and had inane and stupid adventures? You really spend a LOT of time in a boat with these characters, which might be bearable if the characters were likable or interesting, but as I’ve previously established, they aren’t.

What this book does WELL is the sort of political maneuvering that was awesome in His Dark Materials. There are little children-led spy organizations wherein children rat out their friend’s parents for certain behaviours, beliefs, etc, which is a super sinister way of monitoring the citizenship. I mean… they’re kids. They’re everywhere.

Ultimately I give this book a cat-sleeping-all-day: pretty much what the cat was gonna do anyway. Not good, not bad.

City of Lost Fortunes, Bryan Camp

THIS BOOK… my people, this book is what urban fantasy is all about. City of Lost Fortunes follows Jude, whose uncanny gift for finding lost things gets him tangled up in a high stakes game played by the gods. I definitely recommend people keep a watch out for this book, set to release April 17. It’s Bryan Camp’s debut novel as well, which means I am gonna be keeping an eye out for whatever he has coming next.

Something I can’t gush enough about is how perfectly the urban part of urban fantasy is emphasized in this book. New Orleans is basically a character in and of itself, struggling to recover after the devastation of Katrina six years prior to the start of the novel. I loved that the New Orleans itself, its history, its vibe, was so prominent both in the lore and the plot of this book. It matters that it takes place in New Orleans. Katrina is a constant shadow over the characters and the story. It’s obvious that Camp is a New Orleans native—you can see it in the little details and the offhanded way the characters knew the vibe of the different parts of the city.

Camp writes a really vibrant and exciting fantasy culture too—gods and demigods make up the cast, with the occasional human thrown in. What I liked best about the cast is that Camp strikes a perfect balance between all-powerful terrifying gods and simply fun to read characters who it’s not uncomfortable for other characters to interact with. Of course Haitian Vodou was a significant aspect of the lore, but there were whole other pantheons of gods and demigods as well, and they intermingle pretty seamlessly.

I have literally only ONE complaint with this book, and that would be Camp’s insistence on starting every chapter with a couple of super vague paragraphs that I think are meant to be deep/insightful but mostly just annoyed me because it takes you out of the plot a bit. I did have to muscle my way past those, especially in the beginning before I was really into the book, but I am so SO glad I did.

Despite that this book continues to rack up the points in other areas: cool lady characters who don’t bone our scallywag protagonist (even though I was kinda cheering him on at some points…); no End of World Prophecies—just a dude trying to save his city and his own ass; definitely could be standalone; talking dogs (!!!); AND, importantly, villains who are just… gross. And creepy. It makes a huge difference in a novel if the reader is genuinely creeped out by the villains, and I WAS.

Honestly, set your alarms for April 17. This book earns the rarely seen 5 paws up. Find it for pre-order on Amazon.

**I received an advanced reviewers copy of this book. The contents of this review are my honest opinion.

Carry On, Rainbow Rowell

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a novel in possession of a YA plot, must be in want of a Chosen One. Unfortunately for Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, Simon is like, the Worst Chosen One Ever. This is good news for us readers though because it makes for a really hilarious and entertaining book.

So Carry On can kinda be summed up as gay Harry Potter if Harry was actually pretty crap at being a wizard and Harry/Draco was a thing outside the world of fanfiction. The fact that it’s a HP spoof doesn’t take away from the novel though. Some spoofs you can’t read without constantly thinking of the original, but despite the obvious similarities in setup, I found it very easy to immerse myself in this world and not constantly be thinking of how X or Y thing relates to the source text. There were only two real exceptions. There’s at least one character who is basically just a HP character with her name changed (but since it’s Hermione who is one of the best HP characters it is nice to spend more time with her). Some of the plot twists were a little predictable, not so much because they were unoriginal as because I could kind of figure out exactly which Harry Potter tropes were going to be subverted. Still, I really liked the story that evolved and I wouldn’t have wanted the plot to go a less predictable way because I appreciated the message that came out of it.

The relationships (platonic, romantic, and familial) and characterizations in this novel were beautifully done. Simon is definitely a teenage boy, but even when he was doing stupid teenage boy stuff it felt very honest and justifiable. I didn’t have the usual YA reading experience of being like “OH, MY, GOD, I know you’re a teenager but you can’t be THAT stupid!!” I genuinely got where Simon was coming from and appreciated the ride watching him grow along the way, which I think is indicative of masterful writing. The romance was cute and ultimately believable since I can totally buy that two teenage boys would actually be that dense in their romantic approach to one another.

Really enjoyable read for people who like easy, quirky YA fantasy and good LGBTQ+ rep! I rate this book sunbathing kitten slowly moving across the floor to stay in the light through the window because that’s what I was for the bulk of the afternoon refusing to put this book down.

Interested? Find Carry On on Amazon.

 

Caraval, Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber’s Caraval is the story of Scarlett, who enters a dangerous, confusing game– the Caraval– in order to find her missing sister. Along the way there’s some intrigue, romance, and even a little bit of magic. I heard so many good things about this book. It was one of the finalists for the GoodReads Choice Awards, and it’s been all over most of the book blogs I enjoy. I can see why people love Caraval, but for me, it didn’t live up to the hype.

I love the concept behind Caraval. The game itself was a delight to read. The contestants follow clues to lead them to the final prize, but the world of Caraval works in strange ways and it’s difficult to know who can be trusted, since some players will do whatever it takes to win. On top of that, the mystery of the Caraval’s master, a man named Legend, keeps you guessing throughout the novel.

What sucks most about the novel is the same thing that sucks about most YA novels: the romance. I’m super over novels where young girls fall for dark, mysterious, brooding guysHoney, he’s just a douchebag, and revealing alternative explanations for someone’s crappy behaviour after the fact doesn’t justify those behaviours or make them any less crappy. “Cool motive, still murder,” right? On top of that, the romance– or lack thereof– was super dull. There is literally zero genuine chemistry between Scarlett and Julian. The moments where Scarlett questions whether or not she likes him come at you out of left field because there’s literally nothing preceeding them that would give her reason to like him, other than his pretty face.

The ending of Caraval left a lot to be desired for me, as well. There were a ton of twists and reveals which is normally cool, but multiple times I felt like, “wow she really went there! gutsy!” and then Garber pops up and she’s all “nyeaahhh! psych!!” The ending we get is ultimately too safe and too boring for me, considering what we could have had.

Caraval will definitely remain a hit with certain types of readers. If you like your romance steamy if not necessarily with much substance, if you’re into intrigue and puzzles, or if you’re a sucker for happy endings, this may be the book for you. A fun and fast read, definitely, but a little too on the light side for me. I rate this book: poolside-lounging cat…. 3 and half stars.

Have a poolside snooze with Caraval, on Amazon.

Moroda, L.L. McNeil book review

 

Moroda is L.L. McNeil’s self-published debut. In Moroda we have a high fantasy novel that essentially follows a ragtag band of travellers who’ve come together by accident, swept into a war that pits races and nations against one another. While McNeil has all the most basic elements of an excellent fantasy here—vivid world-building, a strong cast of characters, and a decent story to tell—it is obvious from the start what this novel is missing: a good editor. I think 90% of the complaints I have for this book could be solved if McNeil found herself a professional editor.

The strengths of this novel lie in the foundation McNeil has laid down. The world she’s built is expansive, and she’s accounted for culture and history that influences the current climate our characters exist in. There’s some incredibly interesting lore especially DRAGON GODS (well… kind of…). Anyone who has read my reviews know I appreciate a good dragon tale, and Moroda does not disappoint in that regard. There’s an extremely interesting cast of characters. It’s an ensemble cast, with one main character and several “supporting mains.” I have a tendency to gravitate toward characters who are persecuted, so I immediately took to Kohl and Sapora as my favourites.

Another thing I really want to draw positive attention to about this novel is that it was unpredictable. There’s an obvious enemy set up, but the solutions the characters used to fight him weren’t ones that I would have guessed, which can be hard to find in a fantasy novel nowadays. Additionally, the different political styles and cultural norms of the different races made for a lot of seemingly “wildcard” events, because we are looking at very different groups of people interacting with one another.

The big issues I have with this book are almost all technical, and most of it, I feel, would be solved if the author invested in an editor with a good grasp on characters/characterization. The pacing needs tightening up; in particular, there are times where there’s excessive exposition done through dialogue, and I think it would be better if the author were to let the characters discover some things on their own rather than having other characters explain it to them. Because of the ensemble cast, it sometimes is hard to really determine who’s narrating, i.e. it switches very suddenly from one character’s POV to another to the point where it feels like the author didn’t want to do the work of having character A guess/develop insight regarding character B’s motives, so she simply switched POVs and described what’s going through character B’s head. Character motives also aren’t always clear, or the author hints at them but doesn’t actually convince me that the character’s actions make sense given the explained motive, especially with Moroda and Eryn’s initial involvement in the whole thing. The motive is there– there’s nothing left for them in their hometown, they’re desperate and alone– but instead of further developing this meaningful, deeper motive (which would be far more convincing), the author kind of falls back on having them chase after a few coins. Some characters are also just under-developed, but this I think is because McNeil is grappling with a large cast of central characters. I’m excited to see that one of the characters I consider under-developed is the lead of the next novel, so hopefully we will get to know him better then.

Ultimately this book was definitely worth the read, despite the technical issues.  I think McNeil is a very creative and promising author and I’m looking forward to the next installment in this series, though I’d like to see her grow as an author and put forward a more polished product next time. Verdict: one cautiously optimistic kitten waiting on the next book.

 

Interested? Moroda is available on Amazon.