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.

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.

Another win for dragons: The Sky is Yours, Chandler Klang Smith review

Chandler Klang Smith’s The Sky is Yours (see on Amazon \\ see on GoodReadsis a bizarre, almost genre-bending novel set in a abandoned city set perpetually ablaze by the two dragons overhead who never leave and never sleep. We follow three young people thrown together by a series of machinations, tragedies, and coincidence as they journey deeper into the city. I am not entirely sure what genre I would call this book. I’m also unsure what the message is supposed to be. I’m also not sure whether I liked it.

There are undoubted strengths to this book:  I really enjoy Chandler Klang Smith’s writing style, so much so that I was reading this book on my phone on the elliptical at the gym, which no doubt made me look like a crazy person. Her style is at once insightful and full of beautiful imagery, which is great for things like setting up novels or chapters, but not so great for like… scenes of every day life. Unfortunately, because of this, the pacing of this book for the first half is almost unbearably slow. This is my biggest complaint about this book, hands down. If you are someone who really likes action, this is probably not the book for you, because it feels as though we spend way too much time getting to know the setting and the characters. I like that she immerses us in the world and culture, but sometimes it’s like… I just wanna know what happens next, ok? I don’t really care about this boring history crap that doesn’t really affect my understanding of the characters’ situation, like… at all. It does pick up toward the end once our protagonists make it into the city but it’s a long haul getting there.

On that note, the world-building is vivid and unique, at least insofar as the combination of previously seen ideas is new. The dragons appeared out of the sea and perpetually terrorize/burninate the city, in particular the ghetto where criminals are segregated to, creating a very strange urban landscape and culture shaped by fire.

the sky is yours

The context is somewhat futuristic and I think that the author is attempting to make some sort of commentary on technology and society, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what that commentary is.

The other major issue I have with this book is that almost none of the characters are likeable. In fact I would classify our main character, Duncan, as being downright abhorrent. I get that it’s intentional and part of the novel is supposed to be him learning not to be a misogynist piece of garbage. But unfortunately, it kind of feels like… he doesn’t? At least not enough that I would ever be able to relate to him or like him. Of the other characters, the one I found the most interesting is Katya Ripple, Duncan’s mother who doesn’t really get enough screen time for me to form any opinions on her other than I wish I had seen more.

I feel like Chandler Klang Smith has a lot of really great ideas with The Sky is Yours, but fails to execute them in a way that does them justice. The storyline that develops around Abby in the latter half of the book should have been introduced far sooner, as it’s the most interesting portion of the plot and is that bit that’s most relevant to the world, in my opinion. Instead the reader is kind of dragged along for pages focusing on things like Duncan’s TV show or interminably boring family politics. Ultimately I’d call this book good, but certainly not great and certainly not as good as it could have been. Final rating: dollar store cat toy you spent 3 bucks on and your cat did play with it, but like… not for a very long time, and only half-heartedly.

 

I received a copy of this book through Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

Updraft, Fran Wilde

So Updraft by Fran Wilde (see on Amazon || see on Goodreads) follows a young girl, Kirit, through her initiation into a powerful… agency? group? I dunno– the Singers, who supposedly keeps her people safe. This is a novel, so obviously she uncovers an Evil Plot, and we the readers are dragged along for the merry ride. I enjoyed this book, actually a fair bit more than I expected.

Wilde crafts a brilliant world here, and since it should be obvious to anyone who reads these dumb reviews that worldbuilding is something I put a lot of stake in, this book gets major points for that alone. Our characters live high in the sky, in bone towers that can be grown taller using the magic of the Singers. They fly using wings that they strap to their backs. The city has a complex culture, each tower specializing in different things. This is not so well-developed as other aspects, mostly because Kirit spends the bulk of her time in the center of the city, rather than out in it. The worldbuilding is without a doubt the best part of this novel, because I can honestly say a lot of the other aspects are kind of mediocre.

None of the characters are particularly compelling or, erm… well-characterized, as it were, except maybe Kirit herself and one or two others. A lot of the characters are sort of two-dimensional and dull, and there were very few characters that I was really rooting for or would have been really devastated to see die. Those character deaths that did occur mostly got a “huh, ok” from me.

The pacing is, at the beginning of the book, dreadfully boring. You have to read a lot of shit you can just tell isn’t really going to factor into the main plot later, and it’s mostly an exercise in frustration. However, once we get into the action things become a lot more interesting. The main outline of the mystery of this book is easily solved from about 3 miles away, if not all the little details like how exactly things happened in the past. But the major revelation about the Singers’ most awful deed is one I literally spotted within the first chapter, like genuinely within the first few pages of the books. And that’s the big reveal so like… that kinda sucked, but I also felt really satisfied with myself and super smart so. Win/lose I guess.

I think I’m making this book sound worse than it is, because I want it to be clear that this was definitely an enjoyable read, even if it’s not one of my favourites ever. This book is what a teacher of mine once called “a poolside read”. You’re just chilling by the pool, kinda reading, kinda sunbathing, you don’t have to think too much, y’know? Twilight stuff. Pulp fiction, as it were. It’s the first of a series but can be read as a standalone, which always leads me to give a book a little more respect. I also have to say that this book has something really unique that is so hard to find in fantasy novels: this book ain’t about saving the world. Kirit doesn’t have a mythical quest of epic proportions. She’s just a girl with a talent that made her useful to the Singers, and she wants to do right by the people of her city. It’s low-key fantasy, which is so hard to find and so refreshing to read.

While technically lacking in elements like characterization and pacing, I do ultimately think this book deserves 4/5 cats because it’s easy to read and enjoyable, and because the worldbuilding is spot on and nobody’s gotta save the world or fulfill any prophecies.

Bird Box, Josh Malerman

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (see on Amazon || see on Goodreads ) is suspenseful AF. As shameful as it is to admit, I had to google the ending and spoil myself before reading on because I couldn’t keep reading as I was too on edge! I have absolutely NO FUCKING clue what exactly the creatures in this book are supposed to be, but I guess that makes sense because the characters never truly learn either. I have my theories though.

This book is super incredible because there’s a huge bulk of scenes without visual descriptions. It’s unnerving as a reader to realize how much you can guess about a story by reading character descriptions of what’s around them, and this book is an exercise in that because you are acutely aware of how much you DON’T KNOW. On top of that, there is a decent swatch of time in which our characters are confined in a pretty small space without many options, and the sense of doom is totally palpable.

Somehow Malerman managed to make constant switches between present and past events actually interesting, and I was always as eager to find out what had happened in the past as I was to find out what was happening in the current time. I also really appreciated the way Malerman wrote the characters in this book. Some of them were batshit crazy and I loved it. ALSO I love the moment in a book when the title makes sense and this book had an excellent moment of this sort.

Literally my only complaint with this book is that there’s no way society would collapse into disorganization as quickly as it did unless there were wayyy more incidents reported at the beginning, but that is one complaint on an otherwise top notch book. This is the first book by Malerman I have ever read. I am definitely going to keep an eye out for him in the future as this read was a delight! I rate this book one really cute cat hiding under the armchair in terror.

A Gathering of Shadows, V.E. Schwab

Another awesome book from V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic universe, A Gathering of Shadows follows Kell and Lila through the progress of an international tournament that pits magician against magician. I feel a little less in love with this book as I was with the first of the trilogy, but this is normal for sequels.

 

On the one hand, this book introduced a host of new characters to fall in love with—ALUCARD!!! Be still my beating heart!!!—and gave us a more in-depth look at characters like Prince Rhy, who in the last novel felt like he wasn’t fleshed out enough and who in this book was a Precious BB Will Defend With My Life. Even getting to see old characters who only made brief appearances in the last book was nice, like the mask lady who dotes on Lila because she thinks Kell is banging her. On the other hand, we are still stuck with the insufferable Lila Bard as one of our mains. I think I came around to tolerating her a little toward the end, but I’m kind of thinking that’s just because she had one of her brief moments of likability during the final act and the book ended before the illusion was shattered.
One thing that was AWESOME about this book was the Kell+Rhy dynamic. The whole tragically-n-magically-bound-soulmates thing is a trope that really Gets Me Going (I endured pretty much the entire mortal instruments series for the brief Jace+Alec scenes we got and have rabidly followed the show. Plz, if u know of any tragic/magic soulmate bond novels, hmu. Platonic/romantic/whatever). I love the dynamic of being stuck together because you love each other but hating each other for it. Plus the whole suffering each other’s pain thing is next level angst which is what I feed on. I am now about 1000x more eager to read the next one because I have to know what becomes of the soul bond—this is actually the #1 thing I care about going into book 3.

 

The pacing of this book is a little wonky, unfortunately. Kell and Lila are focussed mostly on character-building and this tournament that Rhy is planning, and aren’t really involved in the “plot” that continues from book 1 at all, which mostly takes place in White London + Black London with a few brief allusions to it during Kell’s chapters. Throughout the book are chapters that focus on the evil/magic building in White London which in theory should be interesting but really aren’t because it takes us away from the characters we spend the bulk of our time, well… caring about. One thing that is exciting about the plot-driven part of this book is that one of the characters from White London we thought was dead, and one that I thought died way too soon without enough page time, comes back in this book.

 

This installment actually ended up being a lot more enjoyable than I expected given the slow pacing of the second half, and OH YEAH I FORGOT TO MENTION THAT WE HAVE A MAIN SAME GENDER COUPLE NOW WHICH MADE IT EVEN BETTER!!! Final rating: 4 twitchy whiskers out of 5.

If you’re thinking you also need this book in your life, check it out here (Amazon link)