ARC Review: The Guns Above

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From Goodreads:

The nation of Garnia has been at war for as long as Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupris can remember – this time against neighboring Vinzhalia. Garnia’s Air Signal Corp stands out as the favored martial child of the King. But though it’s co-ed, women on-board are only allowed “auxiliary” crew positions and are banned from combat. In extenuating circumstances, Josette saves her airship in the heat of battle. She is rewarded with the Mistral, becoming Garnia’s first female captain.

She wants the job – just not the political flak attached. On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat – a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. He’s also been assigned to her ship to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision. When the Vins make an unprecedented military move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself to the top brass?

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review. This has in no way affected my review of the book.

I haven’t read many steampunk/airship novels, but after this one, I might have to check out some more. The setting and worldbuilding was really well done, and I loved the attention to detail. The world felt like a real character, and an incredibly important element in the plot of the novel, and I enjoy books like that. I will note that reading about airships breaking in half while 10,000 feet in the air over the ocean on a several hour flight might make some of the elements of the story more nervewracking, but most of you will be reading it in more normal circumstances, I expect.

However much I liked the worldbuilding, though, I found the characters, and the plot they drove, largely unbelievable, cliche, and at times annoying. The main character is a “Badass Woman” who is, perhaps, the only competent character in the entire book. Pushing against the bounds of rampant sexism, she must overcome them to be the first female airship captain. At times, Dupris’s character definitely felt forced, in that she was so overly competent compared to everyone else, and could magically solve anything and everything and show those men who was best.

Her main antagonist, Bernat, was an utter fop to a degree that I more or less refuse to believe is actually possible for a human to actually be. But, of course, he’s handsome, has a heart of gold, and will make a miraculous turnaround into a good guy within an unbelievably short period of time. I had to stop myself from continually rolling my eyes while he was onscreen, or we were in his viewpoint.

In addition, the man who is supposed to be running the war, Lord Fieren, was also incompetent, absolutely clueless about political machinations, and I can’t believe that he could rise to such a high rank or hold his country’s army together and kept them in the war for so long with his idiocy.

Ignoring the characters, the war, however, was fairly well done. The characters have several debates about why the war is being fought, and while no conclusion is ever reached, it raises a lot of questions about wars, fighting, and whether it’s really worth it. In particular, there’s a scene where the main characters must ruin the livelihoods of a village of their own citizens in order to impede the oncoming army, and the characters have some very good debates about whether or not this is necessary, and they never really agree in the end, leaving the reader to form their own opinions on this difficult question.

The battle scenes produced by the war, in contrast, are straightforward. The prose and writing here made them quite easy to visualize, and I really enjoyed reading them. They felt highly realistic, gritty, and had a lot of intense moments. They were easily my favorite part of the book, and were an excellent way of showing off the worldbuilding and character competencies, and while I felt many of the elements of the plots felt contrived and forced, the battles were all believable.

However, in many of the moments when we were not in battles, the prose became so heavy-handed and on the nose that I actually did roll my eyes. So many moments where a character thinks something, and immediately, someone else says it or it happens, or, particularly in the scenes with the general and his echo-box aide, a character says something so utterly transparent that nobody could not see through it, and it passes unremarked.

It is a minor quibble compared to my larger praises and issues for the book, but the characters here definitely fell into the larger than life trope of being able to recover from anything, and be back on their feet almost immediately. When we first meet our protagonist, she’s injured after a battle, can barely stay conscious, and can’t even stand up. Within a few days, she manages to get back on her feet, take command of her own airship, and fight in a battle without acting any the worse from the wear. I really wish that books without magical healing would have more impact on their characters from the injuries that they sustain, and here, it really stood out to me that this did not happen.

However, I will admit that having invincible mega-healing characters allowed the author to skip over many parts that could have been boring, go right on to all the awesome stuff, and keep the pacing solid throughout the book. I read it all in a single day, and while I paused some at the beginning, by the time I really got into it, I was having trouble putting it down, and there were hardly any boring moments.

In summary, despite some horribly unbelievable characters, on the nose prose, and a glossing over of character injuries and battle stresses, I enjoyed the world and the war portrayed in the book, and found it to be a good, well-paced read. I give it three of five stars.

Guest Review: Inherit the Flame

We have a very special guest review on the blog today! Sterling, my awesome non-blogger friend and manga reader and collector extraordinaire, is here to talk about Inherit the Flame!

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Inherit the Flame is the third and final book in the Scorched Continent trilogy. The first two books were full of adventures, airships, banter, and character growth. They were a lot of fun to read so I came into this last book with somewhat high expectations which were met for the most part. Since this is the third book in the series, I’m not going to say much about the plot because I don’t want to spoil the previous books for anyone.

Detan has successfully retrieved the engineer, Nouli, from the Empire and has returned to his Aunt to find the city under siege. Most of the characters from the previous books make an appearance in this book. It was great seeing Ripka trying to get used to being a civilian again after being in law enforcement. Of course, there’s Detan who is still trying to gain control of himself before he destroys anyone he loves. Detan felt more than a little lost in this book and it began to be annoying. For me, it took away from the narrative. We do get a little more backstory on the Commodore. She is a woman who has spent the last two books as a force of nature but after this book I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her.

As for the plot, it had its ups and downs. Overall, I enjoyed it but it’s not my favorite of the series. The pace lagged in places. Ripka attempts to pin down and diffuse whatever scheme the Commodore is using to take over Hond Steading. Detan’s struggles with his power results in him putting himself in the clutches of his enemies to learn control. There’s some great chases, grand uses of magic, and great banter. This book wraps up the story arc from the previous two books as the Steading tries to remain whole in the face of two irresistible forces.

Is this a book worth reading? I’d say it is but I’d recommend starting with book one, Steal the Sky, if you haven’t picked the series up. If you’re already a fan though, this is a decent conclusion to the series but it may leave you wanting more. I’m interested to see what the author puts out in the future.

3 of 5 stars.

ARC Review: Red Sister

Book Review: Red Sister

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From Goodreads:

I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review. This has in no way affected my review of the book.

I’ve heard a lot about Mark Lawrence over the years. It’s kinda inevitable when you have the same first name as the guy. I heard some things that made me wary, but I also know a lot of people who are huge fans of his work. I was excited to dive in and find out what all the hype was about, and getting Red Sister to review made me finally make the time to sit down and read one of his books.

My favorite part of the book was the setting. Not the overall worldbuilding, but the plot-based setting, especially in the first 2/3 of the book. It’s set at a monastery, and it’s told from the viewpoint of a young nun in training. The feel is very similar to the school experience from, say, Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series, or many of Tamora Pierce’s books, notably the Alanna quartet and the Lady Knight quartet. I have fond memories of all of these books, and so getting to go back to this setting triggered some happy nostalgic memories. I definitely enjoyed this part of the book, even if I could tell that I’d seen it all before, and that there were many of the same cliches here that all of the other books use.

I don’t want to brush off the worldbuilding by just talking about the setting, though. What bits we got in this book were very intriguing. We get hints of where the people came from, the disasters that have befallen their world, how they’ve adapted, and what may lie ahead. But it’s all very tangential to the plot, and there were points where I was definitely hungering for more, more, more. I feel like this will play a much larger role in the later books in the series, and what we got here was just a teaser. I also have to note that, until the second half of the book, I sometimes forgot we were on an icy planet, and it felt like the author did too, until it became plot relevant. I would have liked more continuity on this, but the bits about the history we did have, how the moon works, and everything… I can tell Lawrence has a very scientific mind, and I thoroughly enjoyed finding out the details, bit by bit.

Lawrence has a reputation for being a grimdark author, and I don’t know if this book just isn’t representative of his other works, or if that’s just a falsely applied term. This book didn’t feel grimdark at all. There definitely were tight spots and important character deaths, but that’s something I get out of most fantasy novels these days, and nothing felt really overdone. If anything, it felt almost like a YA novel without some of the annoying YA tropes that I hate to read. The main character is young, and most of the time, she remembers to act like it. The plot centers around her learning and coming of age, and many of the secondary characters are of the same age.

I had a hard time getting into the book at the beginning, because Lawrence was playing some fancy tricks with the timeline, flashbacks, and information giving. I got really confused, and there were definitely points where I considered quitting before I really got into it. Once I got into it, however, I was enjoying it enough not to stop,

When I was reading through the book, I found myself putting it down between every chapter at one point, just to take a break, check my texts and emails, etc. While I enjoyed the setting, the plot didn’t draw me along, and the prose sometimes felt disjointed and unpolished. I wish I had been more engaged, but sometimes, there just wasn’t enough tension and intrigue to really draw me in.

I think some of the disconnect may also have been the absence of a completely coherent endgame for the book. I wasn’t sure where we were really going, and what the big climax was going to be until almost when it happened, and so there wasn’t a huge sense of overarching tension to draw me through the book. I could tell nearly from the beginning that none of the large issues raised by the worldbuilding and history wouldn’t be answered in this book. I wish there had been a bit more of a sense of direction, overall, though.

In summary, I quite enjoyed some parts of my first foray into Lawrence’s work. In particular, I liked the worldbuilding aspects, both large and small, and the setting was one I definitely enjoyed. However, I had issues with parts of the plot being boring, and the timelines a bit confusing, with unnecessary jumps, and that threw me off a bit. I don’t know if I’m going to read more Lawrence books, because I don’t think any of them will have the same setting-based appeal that this one did. If you want more girl-at-school learning to fight, politick, and put up with bullies, I recommend reading Tamora Pierce or Cinda Williams Chima, as I enjoyed both of their books more than this one. I give Red Sister three of five stars.

Novella Review: Snapshot

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Note: If you like the cover art, Howard Lyon, the artist, has a cool process post and additional pictures here.

Disclaimer: I was a beta reader for this novella. My name is in the acknowledgments. My review may not be entirely unbiased.

From Goodreads:

Snapshot is a Science Fiction detective story following Anthony Davis, a cop assigned to Snapshot Duty. In this vivid world that author Brandon Sanderson has built, society can create a snapshot of a specific day in time. The experiences people have, the paths they follow—all of them are real again for a one day in the snapshot. All for the purposes of investigation by the court.

Davis’s job as a cop on Snapshot Duty is straight forward. Sometimes he is tasked with finding where a criminal dumped a weapon. Sometimes he is tasked with documenting domestic disputes. Simple. Mundane. One day, in between two snapshot assignments, Davis decides to investigate the memory of a call that was mysteriously never logged at the precinct, and he makes a horrifying discovery.

As in all many stories, Snapshot follows a wonderfully flawed character as he attempts to solve a horrific crime. Sanderson proves that no matter the genre, he is one of the most skilled storytellers in the business.

Snapshot is a novella, which means that it’s super short. At least, for the kind of books I like to read, it’s short. According to my Kindle, the whole thing can be read in an hour and a half. I definitely recommend reading works this short in a single sitting, because it really is one cohesive story, one single plot, and you’ll miss details if you take breaks. So if you want to read it, set aside the time to read it all at once, if you can. Also, read the Acknowledgments when you’re done. 🙂

Short doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot here, however. Snapshot is packed full of exciting moments, creepy thrills, and stunning twists. Sanderson is an expert at always keeping you unbalanced, guessing, unsure of what will happen next. There is never a boring moment in the book, and once you pick it up, it’s easy to just keep reading, to want to read just one more chapter, just one more, and suddenly, it’s done.

There are several plot twists here, and Sanderson’s ability to pack them into something this short amazes me. As with many of his books, there are bits that you will figure out ahead of time, but I guarantee there are also events that you won’t see coming. I hate it when, in a book that is about the twist, you can figure out the twists far ahead of time, and have the ending all plotted out in your head before it happens. I was super glad to find that Snapshot defied these expectations, in many ways making it feel like a full Sanderson novel.

The novella is based on a really cool idea, too, as with almost all of Sanderson’s novellas. In Snapshot, we’re asked what would happen if you could recreate a day at will, jump into it, do whatever, and leave again, with no consequences in the real world. Sanderson explores this through the lens of criminal investigations – what would the police do with this technology? It’s a fascinating question, and while his answers are only one possibility out of many, they are very interesting and thought-provoking.

As a side note, the setting is tangentially in the Reckonerverse, but you’ll only recognize this if you’re reading closely, as it’s only really hinted at in one or two paragraphs and is relevant only to the worldbuilding and not really the plot itself. If you are expecting more David and Megan, more Prof and Tia, more bad metaphors and gun nuts, you’ll be disappointed. Well, okay. Not about the gun nut part. But the rest of it. On the flip side, if you’ve never read the Reckoners books, you’re perfectly fine reading this at any time, because it won’t spoil any of that for you! (You really should read them, though.)

For all that, on the surface, Snapshot is a popcorn read, and a fun quick thrill ride, it presented a lot of interesting ideas about morality and reality that I am still pondering, several months after I first read it. When nothing is real, what is it okay to do? What is considered “wrong” in this case? How would you act? While It may not be quite as good at asking deep questions as The Emperor’s Soul was, Snapshot is a really good novella that handles the massive number of things that it is trying to do really well, and I absolutely loved it.

In summary, Snapshot is a quick, fun read, and when you can set aside an hour and a half, or maybe two hours, depending on your reading speed, you really should pick it up and read it all the way through. It is full of plot twists, cool worldbuilding, and somehow also manages to use this worldbuilding to ask some really interesting questions that I’m still not sure if I have an answer to. I give it five of five stars (but I may be slightly biased as a beta reader), and really think you should pick it up soon.

Note: While you can’t really get a physical copy right now (Vault Books is sold out, and the con exclusive is still con exclusive. I believe those’ll be available on Sanderson’s store sometime in November.), you can pick up the e-book for cheap right now at a variety of places.

Sanderson’s page with more info.

Goodreads.

Book Review: A Closed and Common Orbit

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WARNING: As the second book in the series, this review (and in particular, the summary below) will have spoilers for The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet!

From Goodreads:

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for – and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chambers’ beloved debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect, and Star Wars.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that the first book in this series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, was my favorite book of last year.

I always get nervous when I’m reading the second book by an author I’ve absolutely loved. I’ve found far too many who have disappointed me, and been one-hit wonders. Many people criticize Rothfuss, saying Wise Man’s Fear isn’t as good as Name of the Wind (though I enjoyed them both). I’ve heard the same accusations leveled at Anthony Ryan (though I have not read his stuff yet). I personally feel this way about Ernest Cline. (Read Ready Player One, don’t bother with Armada.) Thus, when I’m heading into the second book, I always feel a bit nervous, and worry that I’m going to be let down again. I loved the first book so much, I want to have that same awesome experience.

Thankfully, Chambers delivers with A Closed and Common Orbit. The book is every bit as lovable, adorable, intimately human, progressive, and deep as the first one and, dare I say, I think I even loved it a bit more. While Long Way followed the crew of the Wayfarer across the galaxy, traveling to a large number of varied planets and meeting each member of the large crew, and their families, Orbit focuses on only a handful of characters, digging deep into their backstory and journey. I felt like there was a much better sense of connection between the chapters because of this, and more progression throughout the book. While Long Way felt very episodic, Orbit felt like a cohesive novel.

One of the other issues that initially worried me about this book being a sequel to Long Way is that we’re not following any of the characters in the original novel. There’s an entirely new cast here. This book takes place completely planet-side, and follows Lovelace, in her new body. This allows the novel to stand on its own, something that far too few novels do these days, with the massive number of ever-ongoing series that there are. It was not a problem, however, and I fell in love with these new characters just as quickly as I did with the original cast.

The book still is, like the first one, a character study. I love me a good plot-based novel about saving the world, a book that is utterly epic in scope and stakes, as much as the next person. (Considering my obsession with Sanderson, Jordan, etc., probably more than the next person.) However, sometimes I need a break, and an intense, deep character study is an amazing break, a lovely rest.

Because it digs so deep into its characters, Orbit can ask some deep questions. What makes us people? What really is humanity? Who deserves to be a person, and why? What is one’s purpose? All these questions and more are addressed in this book. Not all of them are answered, and some of the answers are very personal to the characters involved, and not universal. I loved the way this was handled and explored. Many of the decisions made that revolve around these questions really resonated with me. Some of them left me with questions about my own life, and my own notions and beliefs. Any book that challenges you to examine yourself a bit is good for you, and thankfully, this one was an enjoyable read as well.

The book is every bit as progressive as the first, from its questions of AI humanity to various gender-fluid characters prominent in the plot. There were unique and interesting cultures and family structures, all presented with a very open mind and in such a way that make complete sense for the species and conditions in which they arose. While we don’t explore quite as many of these as we did in the first book, they’re still fascinating, and I loved how they were presented here.

Despite the deep questions asked, and the issues raised, Orbit, like Long Way before it, is an ultimately happy book. There are so many beautiful little moments that make me smile, and if I ever tear up, it is because the moment was bittersweet. My heart was warmed by reading this book, and honestly, everyone needs more books like this. The world is a grim place many days, especially with our recent political climate, and it’s always nice to be reminded that everyone you meet is a person, with their own story, and that there are little moments of beauty around us, in all of the people around us, if we just look.

This book does a lot of the things that Ancillary Justice did. It has very progressive ideas, it’s a space opera, and it focuses around an AI out of its ship, stuck in a single body. It asks the question of what it means to really be a person. The difference is, Orbit does it right. I was lukewarm on the first Ancillary book, and found the second two to be downright boring. Orbit is never boring, and even though it is slow, the characters are so warm and so realistic that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. Everything Ancillary Justice tried to do, A Closed and Common Orbit did, and did better.

In summary, A Closed and Common Orbit is a worthy sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. If you liked the first book, you need to read this one as well. It is absolutely heartwarming, charming, open-minded, and deep. I absolutely loved it, and needed this book in my life. Five of Five stars, and my highest recommendations. (And if you haven’t read Long Way, please, please, at least try it. However, both books are completely stand-alone, so you can read them in any order you want.)

Links:

Becky Chambers.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

Book Review: Seveneves

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I read this book because it was one of last year’s Hugo Nominees.

This book was very much hard sci-fi. Much harder than most of the other books I’ve read, and probably too hard for a lot of people. If you want a story about just characters, Seveneves is probably not the book for you, though that doesn’t mean those stories aren’t there. I would personally have to say that I enjoyed it, in part, because of the science, rather than in spite of it. It is explained so well, and in a way that is so relevant to the plot, that it never bored me. I’m generally much more of a fantasy geek than a sci-fi nerd, and will happily read pages on invented magic systems. Stevenson managed to turn the science here into a fascinating story, even without extrapolating very far into the future for most of the ideas.

That being said, this book had one major problem, one jarring element, that kept it from being amazing for me. WARNING: If you highlight the next paragraph, there are MAJOR SPOILERS for part of the plot.

The first 2/3 of the book are an intense, brutal, amazing survival novel. Then, once we have survived as a species, it jumps thousands of years into the future, starts over with a completely new set of characters, and follows an entirely different plot—that of our return to Earth. I found this jump to be jarring, unnecessary, and it darn near ruined the book for me. It didn’t feel like the same book at all. Honestly, if I could just go read the first 2/3 of the book, and consider it a complete novel, I would be perfectly happy and I would have enjoyed the book a lot more. Then the last 1/3 can be a companion novel, released a few years later. They should not be called the same book, at all.

The book did not move quickly at any point. There was no overwhelming sense of urgency to the plot, no need to get things over with and get to the next exciting bit. Rather, it took its time and it did it incredibly well. It still managed to have a rising tension that permeated basically every page, and somehow drew me through the entire thing. I’m not sure how well it would hold up to a reread—and I don’t honestly intend to find out—but it gripped me on my entire first reading.

The premise of the book is very simple, and it’s laid out on the first few pages. It’s a simple “What if?” question that I’m sure many people have contemplated before. I didn’t even feel that any of the results or reactions to the inciting event were outlandish—every decision felt realistic, every happening totally possible. It scares me a little bit, sometimes, how easily our modern society could fall into chaos and disappear. The progression of ideas, and the level of intriguing plot and tension that Stevenson was able to create with such a simple idea shows off his skill—you don’t need a list of “WOW!” ideas to make a great book, you just need everything to be solid, and be a good writer.

Not only did I feel that all of the scientific extrapolations in the book were solid and believable, but also the character actions and reactions. People made some bad decisions, and I sometimes wanted to bash their heads together and just yell at them to cooperate. I was able to get inside the heads of several of the characters from the book, and in many cases, I cannot deny that I would also have made some very bad decisions had I been in their places.

The title of the book makes no sense before you read it—I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce it until I figured out what it meant. Once I did figure that out. . . I think it’s genius. But I won’t spoil it here.

In summary, Seveneves was a very good book, with understandable character decisions and a believable sci-fi plot, that, despite it’s slow pacing and simple premise, entranced me and drew me through. Unfortunately, there’s then another book that is half the length of the first one, tacked on to the end, and it didn’t fit at all, though it was good in its own right. I’m going to give it three of five stars, and recommend that you at least read the first two parts—but if you don’t read the third part, you’re doing just fine.

Book Review: Sleeping Giants

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This book has been compared to World War Z (which I have not yet read), in part for its format. It’s a very interesting format. I wouldn’t quite classify it as found footage, but it’s not really an epistolary either. It’s told through interviews, occasional surveillance videos, and other such things. Mostly the interviews, though. Perhaps the most similar book that I’ve seen recently is Illuminae. (This one doesn’t have any illustrations, though.) The format is done really well, though there are times I could tell that the author was forcing himself to use the format, and it doesn’t really fit. Overall, though, it works really well, and brought a fresh feeling after reading so many books told in the same limited 3rd person viewpoint.

One trick that Neuvel tries to pull with this format is an unknown narrator. The person who conducts most of the interviews attempts to keep himself a mystery during the book—and this element really didn’t work for me. Because we only get to know a few characters in the book, and most all of them have met and been interviewed by the narrator, I feel like the narrator will end up being someone we don’t actually know, and therefore the reveal won’t be a shock.

The overall story is very intriguing. It’s a mix of a conspiracy story, mystery, military tale, and HOVER FOR SPOILER. The interweaving of so many layers makes it really gripping, and I enjoyed the story the whole time I was reading. It was a very quick read, despite the plot sometimes not moving super quickly (and sometimes jumping over months at a time), so I felt the plot was overall well written.

Two elements in particular that the book excelled at were the mythological aspect underlying many of the discoveries that were made, and the linguistics applied while deciphering the “foreign” texts. While both of these were done with very few actual details, and much of the story was implied, the parts that were there were done very well, and I loved the depth they added to the story.

My biggest complaint with the story is the ending—or lack thereof. I didn’t feel like there was actually any climax or resolution to the story. It doesn’t feel like the first book of a story—it feels like the first part of of a larger book. This really disappointed me, and I honestly don’t recommend reading it until you can read the second, and maybe third, parts. This really ruined my sense of enjoyment, as the book didn’t give me any closure, or really even that much indication that the end was coming, until I turned the last page and there simply wasn’t another page.

In summary, Sleeping Giants was a really interesting read that pulled me through, layering multiple plots very well with a cool storytelling style that only occasionally felt stretched, but let me down significantly at the end when there was no real climax or conclusion to the book. I give it 3 of 5 stars, and recommend it as part of the series, perhaps to be read once the other books have been released.

Book Review: The Amber Project

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From Goodreads:

In 2157, a mysterious gas known as Variant spreads across the globe, killing or mutating most organic life. The surviving humans take refuge in an underground city, determined to return home. But after generations of failures and botched attempts, hope is beginning to dwindle. That is, until a young scientist makes a unique discovery—and everything changes. Suddenly, there’s reason to hope again, and it rests within a group of genetically engineered children that are both human and Variant.

Terry is one of these children, modified and trained to endure the harsh conditions of a planet he cannot begin to understand. After years of preparation, Terry thinks he knows what to expect. But the reality is far stranger than anything he can imagine—and what he will become is far more dangerous.

I often do not pick up self-published novels.  I don’t have anything particularly against them, but oftentimes they suffer from needing more editing passes and beta/gamma readers.  This doesn’t mean the novels are always bad, of course – they just need more tender loving care.  This is how I can describe most of my experience with The Amber Project, which was December’s read for a book club I am a part of.  Riddled with continuity errors, scenes that seem out of place, and flat characters, this novel could have been so much more.

To me, J.N. Chaney’s book felt like a typical dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel.  With so many of those released within the last ten years, I felt like each scene I had seen before in some sense.  A breeding system?  Check.  Government falling apart slowly?  Check.  Some sort of deadly outside agent?  Check.  With generally cut and dry prose and only a couple really interesting action sequences, oftentimes I just felt bored.  It did not help that every once in a while there would be an error here or there with the year the scene was taking place, and sometimes contradictory information was given.  It could be jarring at times and brought me out of the story.

The Amber Project focuses on two sets of characters – the genetically modified children who are created to be able to traverse the Variant-ridden surface without special equipment, and the adults in power, such as the main character’s mother, Mara.  I will be honest, the main storyline with the children was not nearly as interesting as the politics going on in the background with the Mothers, the Scientists, and the Military.  Politics are often my favorite part of dystopian fiction.  Transition of power, the breakdown of a checks and balances system, and how the separation of the sexes is handled are all topics covered within this novel.  Especially as Ender’s Game-like schooling was happening with the children, the adults were just so much more interesting to read about and generally better fleshed out as people.

My other favorite part of dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels is the explanation as to why society broke down.  While the Variant gas is covered and explained in detail (though the science felt off), how the city initially came to be before the Jolt and why there are a myriad of types of plants, farms, and a general higher standard of living is glossed over, if it was really touched on at all.  A subplot about the slums was hinted at as well, but also was barely mentioned outside of two or three scenes.  There seemed to be a lot this book wanted to do, and perhaps the author does in the following two novels, but as a first book in a series I felt there was so much left to be desired.

If there was any one word to describe what I read, it would be this: mediocrity.  The main character Terry felt inconsistent and I had trouble empathizing with any of the cast.  There were recycled topics.  Shaky science.  I felt this book had the foundation for something great, but fell below that on so many levels.  For the interesting politics and premise, I give it three stars, but I likely will not continue with the series as I never got the emotional connection I wanted.  Someone at least let me know how Mara does, though!

Book Review: The Dinosaur Knights

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Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher for review (Which is rather late. I’m sorry.). This has in no way affected my review of the book.

Before I get into my review, I’m just going to pause for a moment and admire that cover some more. Richard Anderson continues to be my favorite cover artist.

If all you want is dinosaurs beating things up, and you really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Dinosaur Lords, then there’s a decent chance you’ll enjoy this one as well.

Though there’s also a chance you might not. The pacing feels much worse in this one, dealing with lots of random events off in odd corners of the empire, interspersed with random tense scenes, before it really gets going in the second half of the book. I had a lot of trouble getting into this one, in part because of the pacing, and that’s why this review has been delayed by so much, and also part of why I’ve not been reading as much for the past few months. (Yes, it took me a few months to get through the entire book.)

I don’t know if I glazed over the descriptions in the first book because dinosaurs (I know I was rather enchanted by the dinosaurs), or if they’re simply worse in this book, but I was appalled by the prose in many places, from HOVER FOR NSFW to a character “lustily puking” into a bush. I was simply thrown out of the story way too often by awkward lines such as these, and honestly felt the book would have been much better for another line editing pass.

Part of the descriptions that wasn’t necessarily badly done (with a few exceptions like the one above) were the unnecessary oversexualization of everything. Many characters show up naked, arbitrarily, or are old lovers, and so on, and it honestly became rather tiring after a while. It didn’t drive the plot forward, most of the time, and I really wish some of it had been trimmed.

Another part that I may have brushed aside in the first novel were the typos. However, I read an ARC of The Dinosaur Lords, so I expected that any typos I saw would be caught during the copyediting and proofreading stages, and so ignored them. Since then, I’ve done several gamma reads (proofreading, essentially) for other books, and I noticed a lot of typos in this one–more than I typically expect to see even in a first pass proof. And I was reading the final book this time. It took me out of the story every time I saw one, and I had to resist marking up my book to correct them all.

On a more subjective level, I also felt that some of the characters were rather inconsistent. Many of them semi-magically develop talents for new skills, especially fighting, and with one character in particular, this abrupt reversal from how she was before, stretched the limits of my belief. I would have preferred a smoother transition for several of the characters.

I also would have preferred a smoother transition between chapters – oftentimes a large amount of time would pass between chapters, but reading them back to back I didn’t pick up on this until later in the chapter, oftentimes leaving me a bit confused and disoriented. Again, I feel this is an issue that could have been fixed with another editorial pass or two.

If there’s anything the book is good at, though, it’s dinosaurs. And, like the first book, it delivers. Tense moments abound, and the climax is epic. Despite my many qualms with the book, the combination of the massive battle near the end and the reveal in the last pages make me almost want to read the last book. Almost.

In summary, the book could have used another 3 editing passes: One to fix chapter transitions, remove unnecessary sexualization, and clean up the pacing; a second to clean up the prose and descriptions; and a third for copyediting and proofreading, to clean up the multitude of typos. If you can get through all of those things, and you really want to read about your dinosaurs, you might want to go ahead and read this book, but although I have to give it 2 of 5 stars because the ending was pretty good, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book.

Book Review: Of Metal and Wishes

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From Goodreads:

There are whispers of a ghost in the slaughterhouse where sixteen-year-old Wen assists her father in his medical clinic—a ghost who grants wishes to those who need them most. When one of the Noor, men hired as cheap factory labor, humiliates Wen, she makes an impulsive wish of her own, and the Ghost grants it. Brutally.

Guilt-ridden, Wen befriends the Noor, including their outspoken leader, a young man named Melik. At the same time, she is lured by the mystery of the Ghost and learns he has been watching her… for a very long time.

As deadly accidents fuel tensions within the factory, Wen must confront her growing feelings for Melik, who is enraged at the sadistic factory bosses and the prejudice faced by his people at the hand of Wen’s, and her need to appease the Ghost, who is determined to protect her against any threat—real or imagined. She must decide whom she can trust, because as her heart is torn, the factory is exploding around her… and she might go down with it.

Disclaimer: I’m a huge fan of the source material of this book.  Back in middle school, I lived, breathed, loved The Phantom of the Opera after a good friend introduced me to it.  Hell, I still love the heck out of it today.  It’s close to my heart.  Once I heard via the blogosphere that there was a YA retelling being published of it, I knew I had to snatch it up.  And while it sat on my bookshelf for a year before getting to it, I unfortunately don’t really regret the wait.  For while I did enjoy the book, I just did not feel the connection to the protagonist that I would have liked to.  Perhaps my expectations were too high because of my passion for the book and musical.

I keep wondering if it was the mood I was in while reading this book that made me ultimately feel rather meh about most of the characters, since plot-wise there was absolutely nothing wrong with the novel.  I loved the story, the setting, the atmosphere of the slaughterhouse… It was brutal and terrifying and so very satisfying.  I warn you now, if you do not like reading in graphic detail violence and slaughterhouse everyday life, you WILL have a rough time with this book.  I feel like the setting really captured many of the more violent aspects of The Phantom of the Opera, and the Ghost’s preoccupations with mechanical devices replaces that of Erik’s obsession with music.  Still, I felt a lot of the beauty of Phantom was missed in this book at times due to the new setting.

My biggest issue was that I did not feel connected to the romance between Melik and Wen.  Though I’ve always been most interested by the character of Erik (and subsequently the Ghost in this book), even in Phantom I could feel how right the connection between Christine and Raoul was.  I just was not able to really swoon over Fine’s characters, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily anything she did wrong.  I was more invested in the growing turmoil within the factory.  More than anything, I felt myself focusing on the Ghost and his behavior and actions more than any other character in the book.  He was just the most fascinating, even though Wen and Melik had their own clear motivations.  If I read the second book in the duology, which I’m still debating on, it will be to see what happens with the Ghost.

I believe, overall, it may have been my interest in the Ghost over the other characters which made Wen and Melik feel more flat to me.  While the other characters were fascinating in their own right, no one really compared to how interesting the Ghost is as a sort of anti-hero.  I think, in many respects, this happens in the source material for me as well.  I am incredibly happy that the Ghost has many of the same character traits as Erik and Fine pulls him off wonderfully as a character.  He’s childlike in his cruelty and manner, but a genius nonetheless.

Of Metal and Wishes, then, does not capture all of the elements that made me love the source material so much.  The Ghost’s mechanical creations do not quite capture the beauty in the horror that I fell for.  But this book stands up well on its own merit and plot.  The setting of the slaughterhouse was a unique one for me and it was nice to read about PoC characters, even if I did not get quite as much of their culture in this book as I would have liked – it was difficult to really place them as I believe they were of fictional ethnicities that corresponded to real life ones.  I think in many ways some of the characters suffer while the plot shines golden, and I give it three and a half stars.