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.

Book Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

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I likely haven’t read enough books to do a best of 2016 list for this year, so I’m just going to have to say it here. THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I READ THIS YEAR. It was such a delightful surprise, and I blame it all on my friend Jessie, who got it for me for my birthday.

The book follows a motley crew of characters as they travel around the galaxy, and it’s basically a character study. We get to know all of them and their backstories, to one degree or another. And they’re all delightful and lovely. I teared up several times through the book, and always in good ways.

The book deals with so many issues, tackling everything from speciesism to personhood, giving them all a very “human” perspective–even though the viewpoints are from many different species. I love how it managed to be relevant to so many of the issues we face in the world today, while never really preaching about them, or making me feel like I had to believe a certain way or I was wrong.

This was one of those books I fell in love with within the first few chapters. It maintained the same quality throughout, lovely descriptions, beautiful characters, luxurious pace. I had to stop fairly often to flail at Jessie in DMs, and I may have accidentally been so enthusiastic that she started rereading the book. #SorryNotSorry

The book is not hard sci-fi. Despite the fact that it makes an attempt to solve the problem of the expense of FTL travel, as well as being literally set on a worm-hole making ship, and having a character explain how the ship works at one point, it is still very hand-wavey, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s about the characters, and how amazing and real they are.

If I have a complaint with this book, it’s the relative lack of cohesiveness to the plot. The chapters felt rather episodic, and often disconnected from each-other. I’m used to 14 book long epic fantasy series, where the first paragraph of the first chapter ties intricately to the last chapter of the last book, and foreshadowing is set up millions of words in advance. Thus, the fact that events from one chapter I expected to have more impact later did not sometimes bothered me, as well as the fact that the overall plot didn’t really become relevant until the last few chapters of the book.

But I was more than happy to ignore that because that’s not what the book was trying to do. It was focusing on its characters, the best of whom was Sissix. Sissix looks something like a dinosaur/lizard, but I’d have to refer to the book to describe her exactly, and I’ll go ahead and let you read it instead. Suffice to say, I fell in love with her, and there were plenty of times I wanted nothing more than to put the book down and give her a hug.

This book was also really refreshing for its underlying sense of optimism. I haven’t really been in the mood for dark, depressing reading lately, so the lovely bits of joy that show up all over this book were a welcome relief. It is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

If all of the above isn’t enough to convince to you read it, how about this: When I finished reading the book, I was over at Shannon (new coblogger)’s house, and I closed the last page, then immediately handed her the book and demanded that she read it. I’m still pestering her about it, and hoping reading happens soon… Also, when Amazon had their holiday sale, while I was only halfway through the book, I didn’t hesitate to pre-order the next one immediately.

In summary, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a delightful, upbeat, lovely, character-driven space opera about a motley crew built of an assortment of delightful and deep characters from a number of species, taking a trip across the galaxy, and even though there’s not a ton that happens, I absolutely adored this book, and don’t hesitate to give it 5 of 5 stars and my highest recommendation.

Becky Chambers’ website.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

Book Review: The Last Mortal Bond

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Staveley started his trilogy strong with The Emperor’s Blades (Go read it if you haven’t done so already), and The Providence of Fire was an excellent continuation. The Last Mortal Bond continues that tradition and delivers exactly what I expected, even if it didn’t do so in all the ways that I expected.

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST 2 BOOKS AFTER THIS POINT. DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE FINISHED BOTH OF THEM.

The first two books set up a lot of conflicts and problems for our characters–Ran il Tornja, the Urghul, the Ishien, etc.–and it takes a lot to resolve them all. The Last Mortal Bond is a brick of a book, coming in at 649 pages in my hardcover copy, and it makes good use of all of them. A number of conflicts are still left open at the end of the book, but given that Staveley is already writing more books in the same world, and that he wraps up all of the most pressing threads in satisfactory manners, it works excellent as an ending.

Staveley has really managed to take the tension up a notch here, with everything from the massive, army-clashing, city-destroying battles, down to the personal fight between 2 or 3 people, and even within some of the characters, and it doesn’t leave much room for breathing, even in such a long book.

A large part of the tension also comes from the fact that Staveley does not shy away from killing characters when necessary, and earlier than you might be expecting–and there were certainly some impactful deaths I was not expecting.

Staveley also manages to throw in a few more twists, and unexpected turns, as well as taking us to some really cool new locations as we begin to explore more of his world. I’m glad that we’re going to get to go back and see even more of it, as even the small glimpses we get of some of the foreign lands are enticing.

Although the trilogy started by focusing on the three children of the Emperor, this book is completely taken over at several points by my favorite Staveley character, the star of the cover art, Gwenna. I will admit that I didn’t like her very much in the first book, when she spent a lot of her time arguing and generally being obstinate, but now that we get viewpoints and some real action from her, she really shines. I can’t say much more about her without spoiling a lot, but trust me. She just gets more and more awesome.

There’s not a lot more to say about this book, honestly. If you liked the first two, you’ll love this one, with numerous twists, nobody being safe, awesome moments all around, though especially from Gwenna, and threads tied up in satisfying ways that nevertheless beg more exploration of the world that Staveley has created. 5 of 5 stars, and since the trilogy is now complete, and all of it is awesome, you really have no excuse for not going out and getting and reading them all right now.

5 Reasons you NEED to read CALAMITY.

This review contains minimal to no spoilers. Read at will! 🙂

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So, Brandon Sanderson has another book out today. It’s called CALAMITY, and it’s the 3rd and final book in the Reckoners series.

You should read it.

A lot of reviews start with a disclaimer about receiving a free review copy, and still being unbiased. I received a free copy, but there’s no way that I can be unbiased on this book. So instead of a proper review, I’m just going to present a list of 5 reasons you should read this book.

1: It’s a Sanderson.

Sanderson is a flat-out amazing storyteller. Mistborn. Stormlight. The Wheel of Time. His fantasy books stand tall among the field, and for good reason. He writes amazing characters, he writes awesome plots, and his endings are unsurpassed for sheer twisty awesome mind-blowing-ness.

2: It’s the end of the series.

And that means that Sanderson gets to pull out all of the stops. Nobody is safe. Nothing is off-limits. It’s basically awesome, starting at a 7, then cranking up steadily until it hits a 12. And then it gets crazy. No, seriously. Sanderson knows how to finish off a series (If you’ve read the Mistborn Trilogy, you know what I mean), and he does it here in grand style.

3: It’s a superhero novel that deserves to be a movie.

And it would be, in my opinion, above the Marvel movies. The plot holds together better, the powers are, if anything, more awesome and showy, and the emotional and plot moments would translate amazingly well. Everyone seems caught up in the current super-hero craze, and Sanderson is writing some of the best Superhero fiction out there. And Calamity is the best of the series, with a whole new setting of pure indescribable bizarre coolness, complete with a new and old cast with all kinds of insane powers.

4: There’s a romance I ship. Hard.

I’m notoriously hard to convince with romances. As a perpetually single person by choice (others’ choice, not mine), I tend to dislike romances in general, especially when they’re overblown and sappy. Or super tension filled and angsty and just hold the plot back because characters are being stupid. I ship the romance in this series–and this book–so hard it almost hurts. It is PERFECT.

5:

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Book Review: Delia’s Shadow

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From Goodreads:

It is the dawn of a new century in San Francisco and Delia Martin is a wealthy young woman whose life appears ideal. But a dark secret colors her life, for Delia’s most loyal companions are ghosts, as she has been gifted (or some would say cursed) with an ability to peer across to the other side.

Since the great quake rocked her city in 1906, Delia has been haunted by an avalanche of the dead clamoring for her help. Delia flees to the other side of the continent, hoping to gain some peace. After several years in New York, Delia believes she is free…until one determined specter appears and she realizes that she must return to the City by the Bay in order to put this tortured soul to rest.

It will not be easy, as the ghost is only one of the many victims of a serial killer who was never caught. A killer who after thirty years is killing again.

And who is now aware of Delia’s existence.

When I like an author, I want to like their books. In some cases, this hasn’t worked out for me, but I am happy to say that Jaime Lee Moyer nailed it with her first novel, Delia’s Shadow.

The novel may seem, at first glance, to be different from my usual fare—it’s historical Earth-based fantasy with romance. These are things I generally avoid; my tastes tend toward longer epic fantasy or sci-fi stories set on strange worlds with lots of cool technology or magic.

Just goes to show that you can’t judge a book based on one or two bits, and I need to branch out more.

The setting, a 1915 San Francisco, is done exceedingly well. Moyer lived in the area for much of her life, and her familiarity with the history of the area seeps through on every page, imbuing the novel with a sense of authenticity and easy grace, and I loved it.

The fantastic element comes in the form of ghosts, and introduced them in a way I was familiar with from books such as Tamora Pierce’s Beka Cooper series, but also presented them in new and interesting ways that I don’t want to spoil for you. It suffices to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the fantastical element.

The main plot is a tight serial-killer mystery, following two detectives and two women in the society, and it works great for building the tension, as the murderer draws ever closer to our beloved protagonists. Again, the murder mystery and police elements reminded me of the Beka Cooper series, but set in a much nicer part of town.

There is a romance subplot, but it’s not the main plot, and I find that it’s one that I like. It’s a gentle, happy romance, and not an angsty or tension-filled one, and so I found myself actually enjoying it.

Moyer is a poet and a short story writer in addition to being a novelist, and it shows. Her prose is elegant and easy to read, and I was able to flow through the novel in two days. Also, she uses one-sentence paragraphs more effectively than most of the other authors I read; they put a real punch in her writing that makes the story even more effective.

I only have a few minor complaints about the novel, and those may say more about me than the book itself. First, there were two questions regarding the mystery that were never answered to my satisfaction, although the mystery itself definitely was. Also, I was able to predict the ending and a few other major events before they happened. This is only an issue for me because I like—and have come to expect—twisty endings to my books. It was still a satisfying ending, however, and did not majorly detract from my enjoyment of the book.

In summary, Delia’s Shadow is a delightful, graceful novel with an excellently plotted mystery mixed with paranormal elements and a sweet romance, and I absolutely loved it. While the ending was not as twisty as I’ve come to expect, it still fulfilled the promises made in the book. I give it four of five stars, and I’m on my way to read the next two books because I’m sure they’ll both be as delightful as the first.

Jaime’s website.

Delia’s Shadow on Goodreads.

Delia’s Shadow on Amazon.