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Book Review: Under the Empyrean Sky

Thu Aug 22, 2013, 7:00 PM

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What did you say? Wendig calls it cornpunk?

(Scratches chin.) I like this. I like this a lot. This is going in a direction I can get behind.


Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It's the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow, and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables, trying to earn much-needed ace notes for their families. But Cael's tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He's sick of the mayor's son besting Cael's crew in the scavenging game. And he's worried about losing Gwennie, his first mate and the love of his life, forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry, angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn't seem upset about any of it. Cael's ready to make his own luck . . . even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.


These days, dystopia YA is all the rage. One is born every time someone farts. Only half of them fit the definition of dystopia. (For definition, see my Divergent review.) Most of the ones I read don't make me bat an eye because I'm used to reading ones that have pretty much come true. You know, 1984 as brought to you by the internet, microchips, and the NSA. A true dystopia should make you scared. The nervous kind of scared where you think that it's not true, until you discover it could happen. Then you become a little paranoid.

Now take the 1% from Neill Blomkamp's film Elysium and drag them down into the Earth's atmosphere. Close enough where they can see the huddled masses, but not close enough to actually smell them. Break them up into separate flotillas that I imagine look a lot like Columbia from Bioshock Infinite, only more high tech art deco, and corporatize them. Think of Paolo Bacigalupi's torque run world from "The Calorie Man", "The Yellow Card Man", and The Windup Girl. Set it in middle America. Now hand that all over the Chuck Wendig. What you get is Under the Empyrean Sky.

Seventeen year old Cael McAvoy lives in a small town called Boxelder. He's the leader of The Big Sky Scavengers. He butts heads with his academic father, who he's angry at for being so passive, and wants to find a way out of the rut in life he's destined for. He thinks he's invincible. That's right. He's a teenage boy. A believable teenage boy. He swears, has sex, and drinks underage. No idealized hero here. No pretty boy Four Fears.

I admit that Wendig's characterization skills was what I was looking forward to the most. I read his Atlanta Burns stories, so I knew he could write teenagers, and not these perfect pretty teenagers you see in really popular YA either. Cael's friends are pudgy Rigo and over-the-top Lane.

Rigo hales from an abusive household, but is the tamer of the three. He's usually the one that tries to be the voice of reason until he gets outvoted by the other two. His favorite thing in the world is good food, and his friends have no problem making fun of him for it.

Lane is a bit more on the extreme side. He's more jaded and spouts what could be considered wild conspiracy theories. Sadly, he lives alone and has a tendency to drink a bit much. He constantly suggests that they should run away and join the Sleeping Dogs, a group of bandits. He is also a young closeted gay man, but you don't find out about this until you know him as a person.

And then there is Gwennie. She's the brains of the crew. She can fix anything. Gwennie is also the prettiest girl in town. While she fills the roll of Cael's sweetheart, she isn't incapable, but she's more apt to fall in line with the rules of the dystopian society. It's not that she isn't a fighter, she's just more realistic.

The Empyrean run the society. And I mean, run it. They decide where you work, who you marry, and what you grow. Even the monetary system is all theirs. Break the rules, and bad things happen. Most people work in processing plants for the local crop. The local crop, the only thing you're allowed to grow, is Hiram's Golden Prolific. It is literally blood thirsty, as in don't fall asleep among it or it might eat you. It's invasive and you can't eat it. It's used to make everything but food. (Sound familiar?)

Then there is Obligation Day. This is the day where you are paired with your future spouse. A Proctor comes down, hands you a certificate with names, and then leaves. That's it. The Heartlanders try to turn it into a ceremony, but it's really sad when you think about it. (This also adds a bit of a "love triangle" to the book, but is more realistic feeling since it's not The Friend-zoned vs. Incredibly Hot Dude.)

This brings us to the face of our oppressive society, Proctor Agrasanto. (Yes, that is a Monsanto dig, but could you really blame Wendig?) She's just your typical henchman in the long run. She hates her job and views the Heartlanders and uncivilized trash; dirty, disgusting, and not worth her time. While this view point is ultimately her downfall, we'll probably see her again.

As for the writing, it's in Wendig's third person present style. When so many YA dystopias I've read have been written in first, it's a nice change of pace to move between characters. It still moves at a quick pace, but the words and descriptions are cleaner than his adult work. (He wanted to write a book his kid could read.) The paring down of his signature language doesn't take away from his vivid descriptions. Take this little paragraph from early in the novel:

"It's the same dream every night. He flies low over the endless corn, the stalks swaying not with the wind but because that's how the corn is: it drifts and shifts and twitches, leaves whispering against leaves, tassels like reaching hands. The sky above is so pale it looks as though someone squeezed the color out of it, like a rag sitting too long in the sun." (p. 8)

It's succinct, uses sensible metaphors, and active verbs. It helps give his style a certain rhythm that runs the reader along.

Despite being the first book of a trilogy, it completes the first plot it introduces involving the mysterious vegetable garden, but leaves enough of a loose thread to continue the series. (Not telling  you what. That would be a spoiler.) The story is also contained within the small down and a bit outside it which leaves Wendig the capability to explore the world more.

The book is also relatively short and a quick read. I read it in two days, much to my dismay. I wished it was longer, but that's just me acting like a fan. If Wendig added more, it would ruin the balance of the book. (Again, personal opinion.)

So, to sum it all up, read this book. It's got good characters set in a world with creepy, genetically altered corn and floating cities. Oh, and a male protagonist. How long has it been since you've seen one of those?

Now I'll just go have nightmares about the corn.

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I've been an internet acquaintance with Timothy Maguire for some time. When he asked me if I wanted a free copy of his self-published novel Slide the Scales from My Eyes in return for a review, my response was naturally in between "Hell yes," and "Are you sure?" Well, I devoured the book in two days, thoroughly enjoying this little urban fantasy set in Leicester, England.

Scales features a young bartender named Aleah Mitchell who prefers to go by the name of Lea to prevent any tongue twisting sentence structures. She's a university student with a Catholic upbringing that has left her with a love of suits and ties. When her supervisor at the bar she works at asks her to taste a new cocktail, her world is thrown sideways when a man breaks down the office wall using the beams from a lightbulb.

This is the readers initial introduction to an interesting and fun magic system in which people can a power attached to a personal attribute. After a person is Forced, like when Lea saw the beam cut through the wall, they become Awakened. The Awakened can see the Shadow, which is pretty much made of the emotional residue of human beings. Outside of Geekomancy, this is one of the few fun and original magic systems I've seen in a while.

The characters are worth the read too. Lea herself is well written. She acts as a normal person would in this situation, she has no idea what to do or what is going on, and wants answers. She's not instantly kick butt but isn't useless either. She knows when it's time to run and when it's time to fight. She admits when she makes a mistake and tries to make up for it. In essence, she has a brain.

So, if you're looking for a fun read where you can loose yourself in a world of conflicting prophesies, conniving bosses, hair tentacles, and chicks who wear ties, then I highly suggest checking out this book.

You can purchase it from the following sources:
Google Books
Book Country

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Book Review: Clockwork Angel

Fri Jul 26, 2013, 3:47 PM
Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, #1)Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Cassie Clare. We meet again.

I apparently have gained a following because of these reviews, and they have convinced me to use my analytical powers on The Infernal Devices series. You could say I'm easily swayed because I lack dignity. But this is really just too much fun. It's so much fun, I need to be stroking a cat.

First, the usual disclaimer. This review contains spoilers, griping, whining, over thinking, and general ranting. Trolls need not apply.

Let's get started.

Ladies and gents. Gather 'round. I'm about to tear into Cassandra Clare's 19th century version of The Mortal Instruments. I present to you:

The Mary Sue, Tessa Gray! (Rhymes with Clary Fray.) Tessa is a magical orphan girl from across the sea. She can shape shift you see, which isn't really a stretch for a character with almost no personality. Sure, Tessa is a really watered down version of Clary. She's just self-absorbed and judgmental enough to allow me to draw the comparison, but otherwise I could insert just about anyone in her position. She doesn't think she's pretty. Check. She likes books. Check. All the boys fall in wuve with her. Check. She's supposed to be smart, but really isn't. Check.

How hard was it for Clare to round out this girl. I mean, it's only the fourth book she's written. Tessa couldn't be a Georgia peach who's family lost everything during the Civil War when she was just a babe? She couldn't be a textiles factory worker who used to prop her book up on the loom while she worked? (This was actually pretty common at the time.) She couldn't be the daughter of an insightful inventor who used to dream of flying? Come on! If you're going for Steampunk, Clare, go for it! Tessa should have been a goggle clad shape shifting, grease monkey. Her and Henry could have gotten their nerd on. But no. Her writer lacks the creativity to make anything remotely cool and fun.

Speaking of shape shifting. Tessa's special shape shifting ability allows her to change into anyone she wants as long as she has an object they owned. She gains their memories and thoughts, and if they died, she sees how and feels it. If the person is a Down-worlder, she gains their abilities and attributes. At one point, she turns into Camille - a vampire - at one point, and her heart stops beating. Sounds pretty cool and useful, right? Well, here is the thing with Clare's books if you aren't already familiar. If it makes sense, she doesn't use it. Nope. To easy and not romantic enough. Tessa's ability would be really useful in combat, but instead it's a deus ex machina. Clare only has Tessa use her shape shifting to move the story forward. The rest of the time it sits on the side.

Oh, now the fun part. Do you remember the whole Boadicea thing? How Tessa thought she couldn't be a fighter because she was a woman, but she could fight back because it's in her heart? I know, right! I'm laughing to keep from crying. Will tells Tessa there was this badass warrior chick who gave the Romans hell named Boadicea. (Usually spelled Boudica. I know about her because I saw a documentary on her. She was badass. And so were her daughters.) So, Tessa tries to emulate Boadicea by "killing" herself so the baddie can't have her. She fakes it using her shape shifting because apparently, when someone dies nice and bloody, she gets covered in it. Whatever. There was lots of blood, but the bad guy didn't check for a wound. The baddie invents robots and he falls for a trick from a girl who was stupid enough to scream in a room full of vampires. Yes, this girl, who trusted her philandering older brother. Oy vey.

Next up, William "the Scoundrel" Herondale! Will, as everyone calls him, is really just Jackass Jace with the dial cranked to 11. He's the kind of guy who will be dead in a ditch at 19. You know, reckless, rude, and utterly inappropriate. It's supposed to be the Victorian era, and he's making open sexual advances toward Tessa. These are the kind of advances that even a modern woman would have kneed him in the balls over. He doesn't wear a hat or waistcoat or cravat, so he's basically running around half naked. He treats everyone like crap. Do I really need to go on?

Oh, and all the fan girls get hot and horny over him. He's an insensitive, self centered asshole and girls think that's hot. Let me guess, that means he's damaged and only needs love to make him a better person. If that wasn't one of the most popular myths these books portray. Feh. He needs thumped, plain and simple. I can't believe Tessa is even thinking about hooking up with the guy.

Now for James/Jian/Jem Carstairs. This half-Chinese sweetie is just a gentleman. I'm seriously shocked that Clare can even write a character like him. He's so nice. He even saves a cat. Literally. When Tessa is feeling down, he just talks to her. He's the kind of boy you bring home to your mom.

And then there's the venom addiction. Yeah, Clare totally ruined Jem. She couldn't have him be some nice kid. It's like that Simon/Vampire thing all over again. In a nutshell, Jem was tortured by a demon and his parents were forced to watch. By the time he was saved, his body was addicted to the venom. If they try to wean him off it, the withdrawal is bad enough to kill him. So he has to continue to take it or he dies. Flip side, the stuff is killing him. It also keeps his hair and eyes silver. Even then, he's still a way better person than Will. Hands down. There isn't even a contest.

But there is something that Clare uses Jem for that I don't like; to make excuses for Will. Jem is Will's battle buddy. They're buds and watch each other's back. Jem tries to explain Will's appalling behavior to Tessa, saying that there is more to him than she thinks. The problem with this is that it ends up being hot air to make Will look deeper than he is. When Will enters a scene, all this "oh, but he's damaged" talk flies out the window on a fart. Jem was tortured and he's dying, and he's an absolute doll. Will has no excuses.

Now it's time for the parasol twirlin' Jassamine Lovelace. She's the biggest waste of a strong female character. She had the potential to go from opinionated Lady full of spunk, to Tessa's awesome-sauce gal pal. But that isn't how Clare works. Once she thought that Jess would turn out to be "better" than Tessa, she turned her into someone so selfish she would leave a comrade behind. I was shocked because it didn't fit with the characterization that Clare had set up for her.

There's this dollhouse scene where Jess shows Tessa her dollhouse replica of the house she grew up in. She even had dolls of her mother, father, little brother, and her. She tells Tessa that her house burned down with them in it, and it's the only thing left of them and her old life. She tells Tessa that sometimes she imagines that they wake up, go about their day, and then go to bed all safe. Nothing bad ever happens to them. No Shadow-hunter business and no fire. They're perfectly normal. I imagined this very sad teenage girl running her fingers over everything in that house as she tried to explain why she didn't want to be a Shadow-hunter. Why she didn't want a life of fear that you or the ones you love won't come back. Why she didn't want to deal with death and blood.

But here is why I hate Clare's writing. She turned Jessamine into such a bitch that her desire to be married and a mother without being a "warrior" is unacceptable in her world. I mean, Jess is part angel. Why should she want anything else? Why would she want to be mundane? They're worse than Down-worlders. Clare writes her Nephilim like they're perfect, but I can't blame Jess for wanting out. It would be a horrible life to live.

There's more characters: Charlotte, who is 23 and not a very good leader; Henry, who can't get any of his inventions to work right; Sophie, the poor maid who can't catch a break; Agatha, the cook; Thomas, Will's cast-aside childhood pal; but they aren't really worth speaking about. And the villain, I'll get to him when I get into world-building.

Which I'm starting, now.

There is nothing like trying to make sense of Cassandra Clare's world. There are so many gaping holes, that I've mostly given up. Mostly.

First, I'm going to start with the gun thing. Yes. Shadow-hunters don't use guns because supposedly the runes they tried to scratch into the weapon and bullets keeps it from firing, and no one knows why.

I would believe it if she wasn't the queen of convenient. From what I know, not all the weapons are inscribed with runes. I mean, she'll describe the curve of Will's neck, but not every weapon. We know some of them are made of electrum. Why not electrum bullets?

Now, I'd understand if they didn't like using them because guns are loud and they would be afraid to hit an innocent bystander. When they strive for secrecy, there's no glamour in the world that would cover up an accidental bullet wound to the head. But wouldn't they want to keep a couple around. Maybe a Colt Peacemaker and a lever action Springfield. I mean, those would come in pretty handy when they bad guy is a
. And he's packing his own heat.

Oh, and what about the automatons? Those wanna-be Steampunk cyborgs. I would have at least tried a shotgun loaded with a slug on one. From some of the appendages those things were given, why would anyone want to get close? But Clare has to have all her Shadow-hunters carry weapons on the archaic side of the scale. And she doesn't even describe them right. She says Will has straps crossing his chest. That is called a bandolier. Clare will describe the parts of a dress (and not even accurately), but she doesn't get into the finer points of melee weapons even though all her characters are warriors. Look at Jem's cane-sword-thing. She describes it like a blade shoots out of the end, but cane swords were really popular in the 19th century, so that seems more likely. He could use the cane part to block and then attack with the blade.

Damn it. I started thinking with logic again. Give me a moment.

Then there is her version of Victorian London.

First, let's start with the fact that the fog was so thick and toxic that you could chew it and it killed hundreds. New York was no picnic at at time, but Tessa probably would have choked on it. Clare describes it like it's some coal dust and mist.

Second, the characters act like it's the 21st century and not the 19th. They were way too informal and ran around without hats all the time.

In fact, most of what Clare puts about "her" London is like she was writing a book report. It doesn't flow well at all. She lacks in the social politics of the time. Tessa is American in 19th century Britain, and a Down-worlder no less. She would constantly be regarded as a sub-human by British Shadow-hunters. They acknowledge she's a Down-worlder, but not the fact that she's a barbaric American.

And I'm not even going to get started on Will kissing Tessa and implying that she should give him her virtue because she probably can't have kids since she's a warlock. (I mean, seriously. How do girls think that's hot?)

Then there's Clare's writing. It never fails in giving me entertainment. She's laid off the similes a bit, but not enough to matter. There are still zingers, but this time I wrote down all the ones I cared to involving glass. Yes, glass. I swear she has a fetish for it.

"... eyes like glass." (p.37)
"... a noise like cracking glass." (p. 39)
"... a gaze as sharp as glass." (p. 72)
"... like snow sticking to a dark glass pane of a window." (p. 172)
"... as if through a pane of glass." (p. 212)
"... it sounded like shattering glass." (p. 248)
"Will's eyes were slivers of blue glass." (p. 304)
"... like thing stems of glass against her skin." (p. 359)

Remember, those are the ones I wrote down. There are a lot more.

Clare's similes really are the one of the true weaknesses in her writing. Even when she uses a strong active verb, she tacks on a simile at the end like no one will understand what she's talking about. But that's when she uses a strong active verb that she has abused. Everything still "gleams, "glints," "glimmers," "shines," and "shimmers" when it isn't "blue," "silver," "white," "black," "pale," "icy," or "gold."

All these weaknesses are apparent in Clare's obsession with appearance. In scenes where emotional description should take precedence, Tessa physically looks at people instead of trying to understand the conversation on an emotional level. Take these lines from when she's talking with Jem on Blackfriar Bridge:

"Tessa let herself stare at him, marveling a little at his strange beauty in the moonlight. He was all silver and ashes, not like Will's strong colors of blue and black and gold." (p.315)

Jem is trying to have an intimate moment with her, and all Tessa can think about is his coloring in the moonlight versus Will's. Not about how much of nice person he is because he was willing to share his favorite place with her. Yeah, I really wanted to smack Tessa.

Clare's heroines are so superficial I don't know how these girls could be considered strong female characters. Whenever she gets remotely close to writing a female character that is worth something (Izzy, Jess), she ruins them. She pushes their heroic actions to the background or covers it up with abhorrent and stereotypical behavior so that her intended "strong" female character can remain the Mary Sue. She doesn't treat her characters like people. She manipulates them to fit her needs first.

Well, my word count is almost up. I can't go into a tireless rant about how this book is unintentionally ironic most of the time with all these profound things Jem or another character floating in the background says that Clare can't apply or covers up. But what I can do is leave you with my favorite one. This is from when the Shadow-hunters surrounded the vampire Axel DeQuincy and the rest of his ilk that survived. I now give you his tirade in response to the Shadow-hunters bringing up the Accords:

"Equal? You don't know what the word means. You cannot let go of your own conviction, let go of your belief in your inherent superiority, for long enough to even consider what it would mean. (p. 254)

So true, and he was a bad guy.

Till next time!

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Book Review: The Warded Man

Fri Jul 12, 2013, 3:33 PM
The Warded Man (Demon Cycle, #1)The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finally managed to track down this book after having a used copy of The Desert Spear staring at me for months. I was thrilled when I could sit down an read it because it had people fighting demons with not an angel in sight. After what I've been reading, hallelujah!

Warning: This review contains spoilers! I only go spoiler free if it's an ARC. Those who read my reviews should know this.

The Warded Man is really the story of three people who have survived a demon attack at some point in their lives. I'm sorry if the following is a large summary. I feel like rambling.

Arlen is a farmer's kid from a backwater town in a world where demons come out to play once the sun goes away. Every day, he checks the wards around their fields and on their walls to make sure they'll be safe come night. Arlen is good with the wards, he's a smart kid, and one day he wants to be a Messenger; a person who braves the night to deliver goods and the mail. When his mother is attacked by a demon and dies, Arlen runs away, ashamed of his father's cowardice. He grows up in the city of Miln in the presence of good people, but runs away just shy of completing his Messenger training because of his fear of being tied down.

Arlen believes man should fight the demons, not hide behind the warded walls like cowards. They should all fight, like the desert dwelling Krasians. (That name is actually quite unfortunate if you say it out loud. It sounds like an Ocean Spray product.) This belief is both his rise and his own personal demon. He stays on the move, not allowing himself to be tied down to anyone. No wife, no children, no friends who see him for more than a few months. He carries news and goods to the five walled cities, and delves into ruins for new wards, hoping to find the lost battle wards. He finds them, carved into a spear, but ends up losing it to his Krasian friend, Jardir. (He's really a character you don't know much about till the second book. And he is quite the character.) Left in the desert for dead, Arlen tattoos runes into his skin so he can fight the demons since he has no other weapons.

Arlen pretty much has a one track mind, and it made me want to thump him a bit. He's all about saving the world, yet continues to isolate himself from others. He remains aloof and distant despite coming across those who are willing to understand: Leesha and Rojer.

Leesha is the second character. She hails from a household with an abusive mother and a meek father in a small town. Demons burn down half the village, and her unfaithful mother has her lover and his son, Leesha's betrothed, stay with them. After her betrothed says they had sex before marriage, she gets pissed at him for her broken reputation. When the old Herb Gatherer - they work like apothecaries - wants Leesha to apprentice, she accepts and ends up being awesome at it. Once she's learned what she can, her master apprentice swaps her for one in the big city because she feels she can't learn anymore.

Leesha is smart and resourceful, but prudish and a bit disillusioned about love and relationships. Even though all the women in her life keep trying to explain to her that sex is just a part of life and it is okay if she wants it, she continues to act high minded about it.

Rojer is the youngest. He was orphaned at three because of the shoddy wards on his parents' inn. Rojer is more a victim of greed and self-service than of demons. The warder was too busy to check the inn because he was trying to gain favor with the duke, and the duke's harold - a jongleur named Arrick - left his parents to die to save his own hide. At least Arrick tries to make up for it by making three fingered Rojer his apprentice. Rojer's special skill is playing the fiddle so good he can hypnotize or drive away demons.

I like Rojer. He's the type of person you can relate to. He's just trying to get by in the world without realizing how good or important he really is. Unlike Arlen or Leesha, Rojer is happy if he can eat and make someone's day. That is why I like him. In simpler words, Arlen and Leesha want to save the world, but Rojer wants to make you smile. He's what the book needs when The Warded Man dips into its more horror aspects.

Most of the book spends time on their three separate stories until the fourth part when they all tie together. Brett keeps it pretty simple with the three point of views, which is a nice change to some high/epic fantasies. (*cough* Martin. *cough*) Since he skips a lot of time, he also conveniently dates the chapters so the reader knows where they're at. Jumping forward also allows him to progress the story without another 50,000 words of useless.

Brett also keeps the language nice and clear, but he is definitely more tell than show. I'm not going to delude myself into believing it's anything super special, but Brett is good writer in the sense that the sentences are structured well and I really enjoyed reading it. In fact, I ran right through the book at full speed. It's the kind of books that a book snob like me and a person who just wants to read because they like fantasy can enjoy.

Although, my sprint was often interrupted by the phrase, "his/her face was a thundercloud." Brett uses a variation of this phrase often, substituting different violent weather patterns to mix things up. Every time I saw this, it saddened me and drove me a bit crazy. This phrase was like ink smears on a white table cloth. No matter what I did to try and forget they were there, I knew, and still cringe every time I come across them.

Oh, and women's fashion. I wasn't sure what he was going for there. He would stick with the generic "skirts" and "dress," which is cool with me, but then sneak "corset" in there, which would be difficult to make with the limited resources of his world considering the boning was usually whale bone (which they don't have with no access to the ocean) or steel (an expensive commodity). Maybe he was going more for stays made of reeds. Oh well. It's obvious I'm over thinking this.

Aside from my personal issues with the book, it still deserves four stars for simple but well done world building, and exciting, easy to understand writing. It keeps pulling you along even though you might occasionally want to throttle Arlen and Leesha. I recommend it for anyone who needs a break to just sit back and enjoy a good fantasy story without needing a genealogy chart or map.

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Book Review: Hush Hush

Mon Jun 24, 2013, 5:11 PM
Hush, Hush (Hush, Hush, #1)Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The following review will contain screaming, yelling, griping, whining, and spoilers along with much ranting. You have been advised.

So, I decided to pick up this book at the library to do my occasional funny blog post where I rip on terrible YA books that are ridiculously popular. I zeroed in on this one after seeing much swooning over Patch when I worked on The Mortal Instruments. After trying to process what I just read, which left me with a blank face that no animated little picture can express, my reaction wavered between:


Dramatic? Yes. Most definitely, yes. I don't even want to return this book to the library so some teen girl can have her brain warped, but I know such an attempt would be futile since there are other books like this out there. But I'll get to that later. First I'll focus on the typical stuff like characterization, quality of research, and the writing in general. Shall we begin?

Oh, and I told myself I would stay away from GIFs this time after my review of Divergent, but I can't promise anything.

First, Nora Grey. Yes, Nora. She thinks she's not pretty, her hair is a horrible cloud of frizz, and she's flat chested. She has no assets that any man would want because being a studious young woman is not sexy. She's just like every gosh darn YA protagonist with a vagina in these last books I've bashed on. I'm sensing a pattern.

Anyway, Nora is supposed to be smart and she has good grades because she wants to attend an Ivy League school one day. I stopped believing she had a brain when she ended up being so dense. I'm relatively intelligent and can be a total space cadet who's so far out I'm orbiting one of Saturn's moons, but Nora is pushing it. A guy sexually harasses her in school and then she thinks he might be stalking her, and she doesn't deal with it. She hangs around him instead of running and getting the cops or going straight to the principle when her teacher wouldn't help her deal with Patch. Her life was in danger, and she handled it poorly.

No, worse than poorly. She knew her life was in danger, it scared her, but she didn't deal with it beyond telling her vapid friend who didn't believe her half the time. Nora makes me so mad I'm thinking in run-one sentences. My vocabulary is being reduced down into growls.

I'll give you an example. By the middle of the book, Nora has discovered that the "good boy" might have killed this chick and then made it look like a suicide. She freaks out and refuses to be around him. Whereas her stalker, Pushy Patch, has sexually harassed her and she thinks he might be stalking her, not to mention the whole incident with the car and the roller coaster, and she still hangs around him. Hell, she gets rides from him. She gets in his car and on his motorcycle. Just writing about this makes me so mad I almost broke my keyboard in half over my knee. I hate her so much I could just...

Sorry, my GIF isn't showing here.

Yes, I went there and feel no shame.

And don't get me started on how nosey and self-righteous Nora is. The things she does to find out about people who might have committed murder only support my idea that she should have giant neon letters that say STUPID over her head.

Now, going back to Nora's characterization, there was the iron pill thing. She's supposed to be anemic. I'm a stickler for writers doing their research, so when I spot something that screams, "I totally didn't," I wonder why their editors were sleeping. Nora and her iron pills are one of those moments.

Anemia is a deficiency of iron in the blood. It's not fatal, but since iron is really important when it comes to the formation of erythrocytes, red blood cells, then not having enough is still bad. You basically feel very tired and weak. (AKA, complete crap.) Those with anemia take iron supplements, over the counter or prescribed,  with food once or twice a day. Eating a diet with iron rich foods can help too. That's what I try to do since I have a disease where anemia is a possible side effect. I don't need supplements, but I've known those who did.

So, in other words, I'm calling Fitzpatrick and her editors out on complete bull. Nora's anemia is not in anyway represented properly. It's used as a device to make her seem more weak than she already is. Wanna call me out? I have proof.

"I considered explaining I was anemic and had to take iron a few times a day, especially when I was under stress, but I thought better. The anemia wasn't life threatening... as long as I took regular doses of iron. I wasn't paranoid to the the point that I thought Patch meant me harm, but somehow, my medical condition was a vulnerability that felt better kept secret." (p.33)

First off, that is not how you use ellipses. Second, I know that in a review I shouldn't call out the writer, but I know way too much about writing a novel to turn a blind eye to lazy research. And I mean really lazy research. Writers will never be perfect, but that is what editors are for.

Oh, and the real kicker, Fitzpatrick graduated college with a degree in health. Just check the book jacket.

Now onto Patch Cipriano. All the girls swoon over this dark and mysterious fallen angel. But I ask you, "Why?" Why would you want to be with a guy who taunts you in class with sexual references? Why, when you think he might be stalking you? Why, when he later admits that he had every intention of killing you? If he made you swoon, then you either have serious issues or subconsciously support assholes who think they're entitled to your body.

Patch does nothing but intimidate Nora. He stands close to her and smiles down on her with a predatory smile. He makes inappropriate comments. He pins her against things. He even has a strange obsession with human bodies. He was thrown out of Heaven for trying to possess one so he could get it on with some girl. And then there is the mental violation. If those aren't enormous red flags surrounded by flaming GET OUT NOW signs, I don't know what is. Just because he has smexy abs and dark eyes full or mystery does not mean that you should bat your eye lashes at him. Saying this dude has boundary issues is putting it mildly.

You know what, I have to stop talking about Patch. Just read this review. If I go on, I will break something. Nora falling for Patch's abhorrent behavior just makes me furious.

To lighten the mood, I will now tell you that Patch is what we call my grandma's shih tzu. He is an awesome dog and super adorable. I will now take deep breaths and imagine him instead.

There, now I feel a bit better.

Honestly, the side characters weren't much better. Vee was a vapid stereotype. There is no other way to say it. If anything, Nora should hate her by the end of this book. Patch's ex Dabria is every bit the stalker he is, and manages to be more violent. The Coach is a disgusting human being that should never be allowed to teach again. Biology is not the place for sex ed, let alone his kind of sex ed. Elliot assaults Nora at her home. No excuse there.

And Jules. I don't have any excuses for him either, but I can understand why he'd hate Patch so much. This book has an underlying theme of violation, which I find ironic and hilarious in a way the author didn't intend.

Jules wants to hurt Patch because the angel has possessed him every year for over two hundred years. Basically, Patch uses Jules as a giant meat puppet for two weeks and Jules is along for the ride say or not. Jules can't kill himself because Nephilim are immortal, and he can't kill Patch because he's an angel. If Patch kills Nora (she's supposed to be a descendant of Jules) Jules would die. So, Jules wants to kill Nora to hurt him and possibly kill himself, and then Patch would basically be screwed. They're stuck in this cycle of hate; Patch because he's reliant on Jules for the human experience and Jules because Patch uses him. Both of them are bad people, and yet I understood Jules' motivations better. Patch didn't let him have a choice, and he wanted to be free from that.

That aside, I still don't get why Nora jumped. She was going to die anyway with the same outcome. Did she really think she could live or that Patch could catch her? I'm just going to stop thinking about that one before I get a headache.

For the plot, there was a bit of over stuffing to on. If Nora had to only deal with Jules, then the story would have been tighter. It is the main plot after all. But Fitzpatrick had the need to squeeze in Dabria. She didn't really feel like she belonged to the story except in the visions Nora had. There was just too much going on.

The writing was also passible aside from some bad dialogue and a few sentences that made me blink to see if they would change. It was nothing a good edit couldn't fix if you focus on just the sentences themselves. (The characterization needs overhauled entirely.) So, to help lighten the mood again, I will throw in some of these and hope I get a giggle or two.

"The air resonated with the boy's low laughter." (p.5) It is never specified whether it is low in tone or volume. Considering Patch's personality, I'm guessing volume, but either way I doubt the air "resonated" with it.

"Patch's eyes were black orbs." (p.19) I kept imagining those contacts used to black out the whole eye. Can you say creepy?

"By seven o'clock, the sky had glowered into an inky blue..." (p. 40) glowered: Verb. To look or stare with sullen dislike, discontent, or anger. Yup, her editors were asleep if they missed a word usage error this bad.

"A boom of thunder sent us flying through the doors." (p.133) I asked my husband what he thought this meant when I read the sentence out loud to him. He thought multiple people were thrown through doors by someone throwing lightning. It actually refers to Vee and Nora running into Victoria's Secret when they hear thunder during a storm. I told him his answer was much cooler.

"Something cold flushed through me, like a blush, only the opposite." (p.152) My real reaction: Um, what?

"His eyes looked like they didn't play by the rules." (p.214) This sentence made me cringe just typing it.

"My voice was strewn with cobwebs." (p.249) This is one of those sentences where I get what she's referring to, but it's still a bad metaphor.

"She laughed, and it sounded like ice cubes tinkling in a glass." (p. 321) This refers to Dabria's laugh. I kept testing the sound with different glasses, and it's really hard to imagine that sound coming out of anyone's mouth. If it did, it would be really annoying.

"His eyes were all over me. And they showed every sign of wanting to rattle me to death." (p.336) This is just bad writing, period. If the character is going to say that she's rattled or intimidated, then just say it.

So there you have it. My scatter brained review where I had to stop commenting on certain subjects before I put my fist through something. Or before I started swearing profusely. Or before I destroyed a library book.

And if you're one of those people who want to yell at me from the safety of your computer, I don't care. Never has a book made me rethink what is going into YA so much. Young Adult fiction is very important in that it gives teenagers, especially teenage girls, characters they can look up to and identify with. Because the demographic these books are targeted to are in a formative time in their life, content like I've described above disturbs me. It's not healthy to let girls think that it's okay for a boy or man to show you attention in that way. I was lucky to be have parents that taught me it isn't, but not everyone is.

The worst part is that she's a female writer. There are so many female writers out there that put out material that is worth the attention. Female writers deserve more respect, and books like this don't help. JK Rowling should be able to use her full name, if you catch my drift.

Sorry I got a bit preachy there at the end, but as a woman who wants to be a part of the published fantasy and scifi writers community, I've learned I have to be aware of what I put down. Words and ideas are more powerful than people think.

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Book Review: The Blue Blazes

Wed Jun 19, 2013, 1:34 PM
The Blue Blazes (Mookie Pearl, #1)The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I begin, first the disclaimer. I don't know if this review would spoil anything for you people looking to read this book, but think of this as a warning just in case something comes up you don't want see.

I'm going to confess my undying love here. I love this man's work. LOVE with caps and italics, even in my voice. I hardly get excited over things that are released: movies, television, video games, and most books. But when Wendig announces that he has a new book hitting shelves in a couple of weeks (and he releases a lot of them) my reaction is often, "Now! Give it to me! I fling my cash at you!  I demand you move faster, Time! No wonder people say you're old." My enthusiasm could even drown out the enthusiasm of my SuperWhoLock friends, and those fangirls smack you in the face with their fandom. (But I usually play it down. Being that devoted to people you don't even know is weird. Especially when you have their faces plastered all over the wall, digital and real.)

That said, I'm not afraid to point out the flaws of things I love. I see no point in being unrealistic if it still isn't going to change how you feel about something. This is where I admit that there isn't one thing I didn't love about Blue Blazes. It's very hard to find urban fantasy these days that isn't strong chick falls in love with vampire/werewolf/monster/human-male-with-personality-disorder. Face it, you know I'm right. It's like trying to shake a stick and not hit a bra or panties in a lingerie store. After reading books by genre-benders like Wendig and Lawrence (who I also worship by gushing over his books and recommending them often) I'm always looking for more.

Mookie Pearl is a thug for the Organization. They keep everything in line between the gangs and anything that wanders up from the Great Below, especially when it comes to Cerulean. Cerulean, most commonly known as Blue Blazes, is a drug created from veins found in the Underworld. It lets you see the true nature of the creepy-crawlies, makes you faster, stronger, and can lead to addiction like all substances. Mookie is a Blazer because he has to be. He needs to see these other things so he can crack their skulls. That's his job. Then his daughter Nora, whom he is not on good terms with, tells him that his Boss has cancer. And naturally, everything starts to spiral down.

Wendig does something not seen in his other novels, he world builds. He has made his own type of hell, and doesn't just borrow from other lore. It certainly influenced him, but this is all him. The most distinct thing is that there are three pigments: Blue Blazes, Red Rage, Golden Gate, Green Grave, and Violet Void. Blue is common, it does as described. Red is Hulking Out, going Super Saiyan. Muscles bulge like you're some roid-raging freak and anger takes over. Yellow takes you to the very heart of the Great Below. Green we never see. And Purple, well, let me just say that I don't want to spoil it.

Then there are the different layers of the Great Below. The first level is the Shallows. It's the more accessible part. It's where the town of the dead, Daisypusher, is located. (I recommend reading Bait Dog and his Miriam Black books so you can spot the easter eggs.) After the Shallows is the Tangle, a place of twisting catacombs where anyone can get lost. At the bottom of it all is the Expanse. Worm-like gods wallow in perpetual hunger in the Expanse. They're just the right amount of unsettling to make them ominous. I loved it.

Mookie himself is a great rounded out character. He's the loyal lug-head, but you don't want to get on his bad side. Scarred head to toe both inside and outside, he'll do anything for people he loves and anything to people who screw him over. Mookie is solid and predictable in the way you want your character to be. You know he'll fight tooth and nail, even if he looses in the end. Giving up isn't in his DNA.

And that brings me to his daughter, Nora. Nora still harbors teenage vitriol towards daddy for not being around. While she's mostly hot air, we know she's not afraid to put a bullet in someone if she so desires. Nora guards her hurt close, like her father, making them more alike than just as people I wouldn't want to wrong. Oh, and she's written just as well.

And then there's Skelly. She's a tough as nails former derby girl turned gang leader. I loved her character development. There was something refreshing about it. You don't see many tough chicks, a urban fantasy staple, question the image they give to people. What Skelly goes through makes her discover what she's made of and not made of. I want to see more of her.

Face it, Wendig can write a female character. He can write just about any character really. They all come out well done with their own distinctions. Even his side characters. Hell, even his made up gangs all have personality just in their descriptions. (The Get-Em Girls rock my socks.) Every part of Wendig's little world in Blue Blazes has a well finished touch, and I know we're going to be seeing more of it in the future.

Sorry if I did nothing but gush again, but what can you do when faced with good writing?

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Book Review: Emperor of Thorns

Sun Jun 2, 2013, 10:49 AM
Emperor of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #3)Emperor of Thorns by Mark  Lawrence

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've never done this before. I've never gotten a book ahead of its publication date. You can't leak the ending. You can't spoil it. So, what do you say? What do I say? In my previous reviews of Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns I brought up scenes I liked and wrote about Lawrence's use of modern science to make these books more than a fantasy. I even wrote about the chronological structure, but I'm not going to do that now.

I'm going to tell a story instead.

When I was sent a DM over twitter asking if I wanted a copy, I naturally said yes. Then I ordered book two because I needed to catch up. King showed up before I left on vacation and I finished it before I got back. There, squished between the screen and front door, was a white shipping bag of bubble wrap and plastic. I couldn't get it open fast enough, and the damn package was impossible when I tried to use my fingers. So I resorted to scissors.

My face lit up when I held the pretty green proof copy of Emperor in my hands. Sure, the release cover is nice looking, but it's always the story that matters. I couldn't wait to crack it open, but I did. I wanted time to devour it. The next day I sat down with it after work and ate it up.

But then a curious thing happened. Over the course of the next few days, I read less and less. Then, about half way through, I set it down. It sat unread for a few days on my dining table. I walked by it every day, but didn't pick it up. Why did I stop reading? I was loving it to death.

The truth was that I didn't want to get to the end. This is a strange feeling for me. I'm the kind of person who finished awful books because I have to know what happens next. I understand that a good thing must end because all things should end before they wear out their welcome. I'm the kind of person that would like more Firefly, but I'm happy it died while good so that fans didn't have to see it decay, a former shadow of its glory. I knew this was it for Jorg's story. I follow Lawrence on Twitter. He's already working on a new series.

You see, we - the audience - has seen Jorg grow up. We haven't just seen a single moment in his life punctuated with memories. We know his thoughts and fears. We've seen him go from brash teenager who is way too smart, to a mature young man who recognizes all the wrong he has committed. A young man who recognizes the importance of having those you love in your life and why you should save them. Lawrence has managed to squeeze the life of a person into three books while at the same time analyze the role technological advances play in our world. It comes down to Jorg, the boy who defies fate and thumbs his nose at "No," to fix the mistakes that people made a thousand years ago. A boy-turned-man that is just like them, all desire, to fix modern man's drive to play god.

Now, for those of you who don't like these books because Jorg is a deplorable personality, you miss the point. You put it down at Prince of Thorns and missed one of the best things about this character. He is self aware. He grew up and knows he is a terrible human being. He doesn't try to justify it or spout excuses. He knows. That is one of the best things about this character. As much as he tries to be a better person, he knows that he is impulsive, quick to anger, and contrary. He knows that people deserve better than him, yet he is the perfect hero for a story like this. And he knows that too. He is greedy, lustful, stubborn, and profane. He is human. You aren't supposed to like him, just understand him.

So, in my own self awareness, I finished the book. The ending snuck up much faster than I imagined. At one moment I had one hundred pages, and then forty. And then there were no more. That left me staring at the back of a flimsy paper cover. I didn't want that to be it. Even with a favorite TV show, I don't think I've never been this attached. I cherish what I got and leave it at that. After all, all good things must end.

But there was something stunningly beautiful about the ending. I wouldn't change a thing. And for that, I respect you Mark Lawrence.

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Book Review: King of Thorns

Fri May 31, 2013, 11:34 AM
King of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #2)King of Thorns by Mark  Lawrence

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like myself a good sociopath. They make things interesting in a world of heroes and anti-heroes if well written. I found a new favorite in Jorg of Ancrath when I read Prince of Thorns and wrote this review.

In the second book of The Broken Empire series, Jorg is now King of the Renar Highlands and he's all grown up. Now eighteen, he's preparing to marry his young bride Princess Miana with an army knocking at his door. The Prince of Arrow wants to roll right over him with numbers Jorg can't hope to compete against, but if there is one thing Jorg is king of besides thorns, it's the long shot.

If you thought the first book was good, this one is better. Jorg has matured. He no longer gets all stabby-stabby if you look at him wrong, and the ghosts he created now haunt him. One ghost in particular is of a little boy that has grown over the years that Jorg has seen him. Jorg doesn't know who he is, but a little copper box holds the secret and he's tempted to open it despite the threat that he might loose his sanity.

But even with the fantastic character development Lawrence has put Jorg through, he still remains the same clever smart ass with questionable morals. Makin, Rike, and Gorgoth are still around. As are the Watch and Coddin. The new character that makes a splash is Miana. Even though she's only twelve, she has a quick mind and is capable of the same ruthless thought process as her husband. As it turns out, she was raised by a card player, and she's not afraid to make sacrifices for maximum damage... I mean gain. (That manages to sound worse.)

Like Prince, Lawrence uses the same structure. There is the present time the novel is set in - Jorg's battle against Arrow - and the past set four years ago after the events of the first book. The flashback story line deals with Jorg trying to help out Gog because the poor leucrota boy keeps exploding into pillars of flame. Jorg knows that he's mostly doing it to save himself, but you know he's attached to the kid. It's one way Lawrence shows the reader that Jorg is growing up.

The flashback also introduces us to his mother's family, who isn't trying to kill him. In fact, he rather likes them and is relieved when he doesn't need to off them for self preservation purposes. The alliance he builds with his grandfather by marrying Miana helps him out against Arrow, and gives the reader more time with his uncle who describes himself as simply "good with horses."

Lawrence does get a bit more complicated this time around by splicing in the memories from the little copper box. They flow nicely, and don't confuse, but I won't go any further for fear of ruining the story behind it.

The little descriptions of the Brothers are spliced in too, punctuated with pages from Katherine's journal. Yes, Katherine is still around, and she's learning the ways of dreams.

Then there is the Builders. In my last review of the first book, I brought up the computer that Jorg and his Brothers believed was a fairy trapped in a box. Now Jorg knows a ghost - a data echo - of a man named Fexler Brews that he met under his grandfather's castle. Fexler is made from the memories and personality ticks of a real person a thousand years gone. He wears a white lab coat and is a bit of a grouch. He bestows Jorg with a gift of Builder tech that relies on the satellites that still orbit Earth, giving Jorg an advantage over Arrow's forces.

Sure, it isn't all easy reading. The dog scene is a bit difficult to get through. I admit, it's hard reading scenes of animal cruelty as I learned when I read Chuck Wendig's Bait Dog, but it is a formative moment in Jorg's young life from before he hung in the thorns. And if you didn't think you could hate his father more, think again.

I could really go on and on about these books. They really were what medieval based fantasy needed. This genre bender is, in truth, its own thing. It can't be squeezed into the little boxes of science fiction, epic fantasy, or post-apocalyptic. If I had to define it, I'd say it's more like Game of Thrones had hot, satisfying one night stand with Fallout 3. But even then it doesn't seem right.

Just do Lawrence a favor and read his books because he is a good writer. A very good writer.

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Book Review: Divergent

Wed Mar 27, 2013, 3:18 PM
Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Okay, time to get serious. I wish I could be funny like my Mortal Instrument reviews, but my intellectual has kicked in because this book manages to be defined as part of a genre that I have always adored, especially in short stories.

Before I begin, my usual disclaimer that this review will contain logic, griping, complaining, spoilers, and the general deconstruction of everything that the fans hold dear. If you wish to berate me for this, don't waste your time. Nothing you say will convince me. This book is just that bad.

So, my initial reaction was thus:

Dramatic, I know. But not as dramatic as wanting to take a shot gun or lighter to a library book. I'm at least glad I didn't pay for it.

To get into the mood, some foreplay.

Beatrice - the main character - lives in a Chicago where everyone is divided up into six groups. The Abnegation (selfless people), Dauntless (brave people), Erudite (intelligent people), Amity (friendly people), Condor (honest people), and the Factionless. When a child reaches sixteen, they must take a test that will tell them what faction they belong into, but then they still get to pick the faction. Now, each faction has a specific lot in life.

Let's break it down, shall we?

Abnegation: (Noun) The act of instance of abnegating, or denying oneself some rights, conveniences, etc. This is Beatrice's faction. They are supposed to be entirely selfless. They wear all gray, eat insipid food, and everything is considered self-indulgent to them. You could say they are beyond Amish. Oh, and every member of the government is Abnegation. Every member. Yeah. They're referred to as "selfless leaders in government" at one point, but when is it ever smart to have one faction in control? Here is the kicker, they aren't the bad guys. They actually don't do anything wrong that an oppressive regime would do, like make the rest of the factions give up "indulgences" or go to mass every day. They are doormats.

Dauntless: (Adjective) Not to be intimidated; fearless; intrepid; bold. This is the faction Beatrice joins. They are defined as "protection from threats both within and without." They are the security forces of Roth Chicago. The truth is that the Dauntless are reckless idiots. Their transportation is a train that never stops, so they must jump from it. They dye their hair, get piercings and tattoos, and wear tight clothes. They are more like rebellious high schoolers than a militant force. I'll write more about them later since the reader spends the most time with this faction. I'll at least add that they are proof of Roth's lazy writing.

Erudite: (Adjective) Characterized by great knowledge; learned or scholarly. The faction Beatrice's brother, Caleb, joins. The book defines them as "intelligent teachers and researchers." If a society could have and R&D department, this would be it. I'm sad to say that smart people are not depicted well in this story. They are shown to be smug, mean, and power hungry. There are no scientists who understand that scientific break-throughs are a double edged blade; one side will do good and another evil. This faction is the bad guy because they believe the Abnegation are holding back prosperity and progress. That would make sense if their way of going about it wasn't so stupid. Slander and brainwashing never works in the end.

Amity: (Noun) (1) Friendship; peaceful harmony. (2) Mutual understanding and a peaceful relationship, especially between nations; peace, accord. Book defines as "understanding counselors and caretakers." They do the farming and smile a lot. That's the extent of it.

Candor: (Noun) (1) The state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression; candidness. (2) Freedom from bias; fairness; impartiality. Most of Beatrice's fellow Dauntless initiates are from Candor. The book defines them as "trustworthy and sound leaders in law." Yes. They are all lawyers that we know of. They're supposed to be honest people, but they're honest to the point of being rude and come across as being quite judgmental. They also dress like Mormon missionaries because they believe the truth is black and white. How has a faction full of completely honest people not killed each other already? It would be like living with a bunch of Sherlocks in a John Grisham novel.

The Factionless: Those that did not pass the initiation for their chosen factions or dropped out. They are essentially homeless day laborers who are paid in food and clothes. They live in old subway tunnels. No body loves them or wants to be them. The only thing people fear more than being factionless is the prospect of war. No executions or murders or anything like that. Just being factionless and an abstract idea of war. I have a headache now.

Okay, now that we have the basics, what is the economy like? Oh, Roth doesn't tell us. Then what world shattering event led to the formation of the factions? It says they were formed by different people who believed those were the most important traits, but not why? No bad weather. No nuclear war. No civil war. No raising tides. Nothing. Nada. Then why is Lake Michigan an effing marsh? Not only that, but do you know how many cities there are on the edges of Lake Michigan? How are they not fighting Chicago over water if it is not scarce?

Okay. Okay. Maybe I'm over-thinking her TOTAL LACK OF WORLD BUILDING. I mean, I've seen more world building in short stories, and the short story format isn't even set up for world building. Despite the little bit of information on the factions, the reader knows almost nothing about this society Roth has set up. None of it makes a lick of sense. If I sat down and mapped out how the different functions interacted and what held them together, there would be squat. It's more entirely dysfunctional than a dystopia. And what makes a dystopia exactly?

I believe this paragraph from John Joseph Adam's Introduction from his anthology of dystopian short stories, Brave New Worlds, sums it up the best:

 The roots of the word dystopia, dys- and -topia, are from the Ancient Greek for "bad" and "place," and so we use the term to describe and unfavorable society in which we live. "Dystopia" is not a synonym of "post-apocalyptic"; it also is not a synonym for a bleak, or darkly imagined future. In a dystopian feature, society itself is typically the antagonist; it is society that is actively working against the protagonist's aims and desires. This oppression frequently is enacted by a totalitarian of authoritarian government, resulting in the loss of civil liberties and untenable living conditions, caused by any number of circumstances, such as world overpopulation, law's controlling a person's sexual or reproductive freedom, and living under constant surveillance.

Now, I would love to put almost the entirety of Adam's tiny essay here, but there isn't enough room for it with this stinking word count limit. My point is, Divergence isn't a dystopia.

"But what about Tris being a Divergent, and not being able to see her brother, and being torn from her family? How is that not a dystopia? It's bad!"

Not necessarily. You see, because the Abnegation run the government, technically they can control the other factions, but they don't. They're inept. They actually have no way to enforce the rules that everyone follows. They have no security force of their own, or punishments. This society could not exist because it could not function.

"But the Erudite were in charge! And the brainwashing!"

The Erudite weren't in charge at first, and even then, not everyone would have been behind it. Also, the Abnegation's viewpoint on the world doesn't give them the back bone to push against at least three factions of obnoxious individuals. They should have toppled from power generations ago, but since Roth never gives us an idea about how long her Chicago has been around, the reader doesn't know. This society is not plausible. At. All.

Watch. Get five friends together and each have them represent a faction. Then have Selfless tell Intelligence, Honesty, and Muscle what to do. Think about it. Even the US Armed Forces push back against Congress.

"But she explains all your gripes in Insurgence."

Then let me talk about Tris, the main character.

She is the daughter of an Abnegation government official. She is small for her size and built like a boy. She wishes she was more selfless like her family, but instead lies and wishes vengeance on just about everyone that hurts her. She is a giant hypocrite.

Take her fight with Molly after she's "pantsed" in the dorm. Tris keep's kicking her while she's down out of vengeance. That is just petty and mean. If she keeps wishing she's selfless, that would be a moment where she could demonstrate it. And Al after he apologizes for trying to hurt her, she doesn't forgive him. Tris is a horrible, horrible person. She isn't Divergent. She's Dauntless through and through. She is not selfless, honest, smart, or friendly. She's suspicious, spiteful, and dense.

If she was the least bit pretty, I'd get why Four was into her. But she isn't, so I don't.

And that brings me straight to our hunky hero who is oh, so dreamy. He's a virgin, hot, wounded, and mysterious. He only has four fears. That is why he has a nickname reserved for science experiments. Isn't he the best!

Four has about as much life as a Ken doll. Probably the genitals of one too. His real importance is that he's also a Divergent.

Now I will talk about Divergents and the nuances of Dauntless now that I've brought up Tris and bitched about how this is not a dystopia.

I've already said that Dauntless were crazy people that do stupid stuff to seem brave. Roth tries to make the initiates go through a difficult training regimen, but they only beat on each other. There is not learning of throws, holds, or grabs. No learning of efficient ways to take down enemies without killing them or brutally beating them. Roth doesn't even know that most fights are won in the grapple. It's like she did no research about how to train security based forces what so ever.

It's even more apparent when she brings in guns. Yes, guns. To Roth, they are never rifles or pistols. They are never semi-auto or bolt action. She doesn't even know what a magazine is. Need an example?

"She pushes the bullet chamber open and peers inside. Seeing how many bullets she has left. Then takes a few out of her pocket and reloads."

Unless the gun is a revolver, which is unspecified, the magazine would have to be removed to see how much ammo is left and to reload it. And if I'm running around with a semi-auto pistol, I would try to carry loaded magazines with me instead of individual bullets if possible. Seriously, just the technical knowledge alone was torture to get through. I don't need to know how to field strip a P-90, but at least the basics is needed when you are writing about a militant faction.

And the Divergent thing. Basically, they can't be brainwashed. Roth tries to justify it wish an explanation given by Tris' mom:

"But our minds move in a dozen different directions. We can't be confined to one way of thinking, and that terrifies our leaders. It means we can't be controlled. And it means that no matter what they do, we will always cause trouble for them."

Do you see the problem with that one? Do you?

First off, they are Abnegation. THEY ARE THE LEADERS.

Second, I don't think Roth has ever read 1984, Brave New World, or Fahrenheit 451 where a bulk of the population's way of thinking was quite successfully controlled through fear or bliss. Sure, there were a few outliers, but in two of the three, they were dealt with through discreet means. And the sad thing, all three of those futures have come true in some sense or another. We will never come anywhere close to the world depicted in Divergence.

So, to sum it all up because I don't have enough words to keep going into the massive problems this book has, don't bother. Read The Hunger Games if you haven't yet (even though I thought Collins kind of dropped the ball in Mockingjay). Or you could pick up the anthology I mentioned earlier since it has awesome dystopia shorts written by women like Shirley Jackson, Usula K. Le Guin, and Carrie Vaughn. Or read anything else really.

And if anyone wants me to do Insurgent, I would have to get 100 likes on this review. Even if I do, I can't guarantee this wouldn't happen after I read it.

So it's been fun. I'm going to go bleach my brain now.

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  • Reading: Empire State
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City of Glass (The Mortal Instruments, #3)City of Glass by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

FINALLY! It's over! I'm done with the original Mortal Instruments trilogy, and it feels so good.

Now, before I begin, I will be courteous enough to inform you all that the following review is filled with whining, griping, and spoilers. If you love anything about this series, read at your own peril. I am not responsible for any strong feelings that my ravaging of these books trigger.

Before you read this, please read my reviews of City of Bones and City of Ashes because I will be most likely reference past jokes. You could say I'm consistent, unlike Clare.

Last time on the Mortal Instruments: Jace gets thrown in jail for being a smart ass. Daddy V steals the Super Special Sword of Truth and then gives it after-market blood mods so he can raise Hell, literally. Simon gets turned into a sun-proof vampire. Clary goes Super Mary Sue and blows up a ship. Other than that, those 500 pages were worthless.

Sigh. If I wasn't shaking my head during this book, I was screaming at it. You would have thought I was watching a horror film. The last couple chapters I read on auto-pilot, not even caring to scribble down some notes. I'm done this series, and anything else Clare writes.

Before I chase people off with my dour attitude, it's time for the Character Breakdown!

Clary: I get that she's a 16 year old girl, but after thousands of words, she's still clueless, rash, and bitchy. When Jace and the rest of them leave her behind for Idris, she throws a temper tantrum like a toddler. Then she makes her own Portal to Idris, ignoring the rule that she needs permission to do so, and drags Luke with her. After splashing down in the Mortal Mirror (because Clare couldn't be more obvious that was what Lake Lyn was), Luke's poor sister Amatis saves her life from the freaky water. And then Clare proceeds to treat Amatis terribly. She eats her food, wears her clothes, sneaks out, and destroys her property without so much as a thank you. That poor woman gets no respect from Special Snowflake Clary.

Then there is the treatment of her mother. She spends books worried about her, and then freaks out when Jocelyn walks in the door like the woman abandoned her. Clare tries to use the excuse that Clary just didn't know how angry she was. As a young woman who loves her mother, I would have given her the biggest hug because she's all right. Then proceed to grill her on what was going on. But my point is, I wanted to slap that pubescent red-head and scream, "Bitch! Don't talk to your mother like that."

The one thing that really bugged me is when Clary reveals her special rune making skills to the Shadow-hunters and Down-worlders. (Yes, I grammatically corrected those.) Clare specifies that Clary gets her Super Scribbles from the angels because daddy experimented on her by accident. (I just realized how lame that sounds.) Clary tells the crowd gathered that she creates the runes. Yes, creates the runes even though we, the audience, knows that she does not create them. She's just "remembering," for lack of a better term, runes that have been forgotten to time. I didn't think I could get more depressed until everyone gave her credit for finally uniting the SH and DW after a thousand years. Um, no. Just, no.

The truth is, the Shadow-hunters were just too afraid and jealous to form a real bond with the Down-worlders. A real relationship. It felt like they jumped on the opportunity as an excuse because they got super-powers out of it. That does not repair the damage caused by hunting these people for hundreds of years. And they give Clary the credit. Fecking Shadow-hunters.

And then there is her one wish. What does she wish for? Jace, because daddy ran him through a sword. I know Clary isn't that bright, but as an artist, couldn't get creative. Clare kept shouting at us that Clary is an anime and manga fan. So why not rip off one of the mass resurrection wishes from Dragon Ball Z? All you need is a little modification: "I wish for all those killed in the last week by Valentine and his agents to be returned to life. Except the evil ones." Okay, there might be problems with that, but it would be worth a shot. It's better than just Jace because the Lightwoods are missing a certain little boy. What was his name again?

Moving on.

Jace: He's come a long way from being one Ed Hardy shirt away of being the douche in the corner of the night club you roll your eyes at. Sadly, instead of developing into a better person, he just grew more dramatic and boring. I don't know how that's even possible. It's almost like his personality was sucked out of him by all the similes Clare used. (I know. I almost lost my sanity to them.)

There's this scene where Clary catches Jace making out with another girl, and then they have a fight. Clary leaves, leaving him with Alec and Izzy to have a nice talk. At the end of their conversation, Jace gets angrier and punches a picture window. Do you know how expensive those are to replace? He's was being such a Drama Queen, feathered boa and all. It was painful to read, and not in the good way.

After that it was all down hill. By the end of the book, Jace feels like a generic tragic hero. He tries to show his girl how much he wuves her. He goes it alone, tracking down the bad guy. He kills his evil twin, and then gets killed by daddy. Oh, boo-hoo. Poor, [Insert Hero Name]. It was just... meh. I actually missed Jackass Jace. There was substance I could make fun of.

And Former-Shadow-of-Himself Jace finally hooks up with Clary, for good. Don't care.

Oh, and Daddy V isn't his father. He was cut out of his suicidal mother's womb after she killed herself. And he's got angel in his genetic code. Like I didn't see that one coming...

Simon: He is my favorite of the three, hands down. Despite the issues he has coming to terms with being a vampire, which is understandable, he's still the smartest and most mature. He's also the only one who sacrifices anything.

When Raphael wants to kill him in exchange for the help of the vampires, Simon goes but tells Clary to put the Mark of Cain on his forehead. While this may curse him to wander for eternity, he doesn't care. He wanted to live - well, as much as a vampire can live - and unite the vampires with everyone else. Despite the deception, Simon gets two thumbs up for courage. He really is too good for this book, especially since he was in jail for 200 pages of it.

Isabelle: By this point she's just Jace's mouth piece. Jace never tells any one any thing, so Izzy does it for him in skirts and hooker heels. I feel bad for her. By the end she's Jace's knight in shining armor. Not Clary. His adopted sister protects him and saves his ass more than anyone notices. Clary is totally the wrong MC for this story. I'm sorry how your writer treats you, Izzy.

Alec: Gains a spine a little too late. I wish Clare had given him substance two books ago. I do get why Magnus likes him, though. He's boring. I would want boring too if the rest of my life was glitter and chaos.

Magnus: There wasn't enough of him to save my sanity. I often missed him. Good to know he's capable of somber behavior.

Jocelyn: Finally wakes up, thanks to Magnus. Acts as giant info dump. Wasn't really given a personality for a woman who escaped her abusive husband, lived in hiding, and raised one of the most self-centered people in the book.

Luke: Mostly in the background even though he does all the political heavy lifting. They give Clary the credit. Feh. It's this guy who deserves it.

Amatis Herondale: Luke's sister. Puts up with Clary's abhorrent behavior. Of all the people in this book, she deserved to give that brat a beat down. First wife of Jace's father. She's nice and supportive. Too bad her writer doesn't pat people on the back who deserve it.

Sebastian: Will the real Jonathan Morganstern please stand up? This psycho is the demon child of Jocelyn and Daddy V, which makes him Clary's real older brother. He was a better baddie than his father because he was scary. When a teenager beats a nine year old to death with a hammer, I admit I wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley. That's horror flick shit right there.

Of course, Clare wouldn't know how to describe a creepy smile if she tried. She can't keep the damn similes off the end of the sentence to make it effective. And then there's the dark prince metaphor that Clare keeps using every time she writes about him from Clary's perspective. Here is the funny thing about dark princes, they are always bad, bad news. Very bad news. I'll list a few off the top of my head that quite a few people might know about:

Prince Joffrey from Martin's Song of Fire and Ice books: I don't think I have to explain this one to anyone who's seen the HBO series or read the books. Joffrey is horrendous. This pretty little blonde pre-teen puts Sebastian to shame in the violent-acts-that-make-people-squirm department. He beheads people left and right, has Sansa smacked around by his cronies, and likes it. He's just... pure evil. That's all I can say.

Prince Jorg Ancrath from Lawrence's Prince of Thorns: Another young psycho, except he has goals. There is nothing like someone who will do whatever they want to get what they want, and that includes raping women and blowing up whole freaking castles. He also stabs his own men. There is really nothing like young Prince Jorg, except maybe Alec from A Clockwork Orange.

And because Clary likes anime, and I've been using Dragon Ball references pretty consistently, I give you Prince Vegeta: This walking Death Star gets off eradicating entire civilizations. Beating on people excites him. He killed his childhood nanny - I mean body guard - because he suddenly became useless. Even after becoming the world's wealthiest trophy husband, he nuked half of a sold out stadium to get his rival to fight him after juicing up on black magic.

So you can see why Clary's romanticized version of her "dark prince" immediately made me think, "He's evil! Evil! Run, stupid!" Seriously, Clare's logic when it comes to writing has shorted out my brain more than I want to count. No mental acrobatics will compensate for whatever goes on in that woman's head.

Daddy V: Sigh. Clare gave him a personality a little too late. It's book three, and we're just now finding out he's the well meaning, mad scientist type. Too bad the path to Hell is paved with good intentions, because that is where V is going to end up. When an angel looks at you and basically says, "You are not God, you cannot judge," then you know you're screwed.

That's what happens to V, and I must say that I pitied him. It was almost sad, if a bit pathetic. I wanted to reach through the pages and say, "Dude, you messed up. Time to face the consequences." I think I felt more for him than I did for any of the other characters in the book. If Clare was capable of good character development, then he wouldn't have been made of cardboard for two books before finally being fleshed out.

How do reader's connect with these characters? Hold on, I have to reboot my brain. I thought too hard again.

Now it's metaphor time! Prepare yourself for the worst that I cared to write down. 3... 2... 1...

  • "... she spotted a smaller mausoleum, growing like a white toadstool in the shadow of a leafy oak tree." Does that mean the mausoleum looks like a mushroom?
  • Referring to the demon towers: "The fading sunlight struck dull rainbows from their surfaces like a match striking sparks." I think I got it with the "dull rainbows."
  • "... the world was coming apart in soft colors, like a jigsaw puzzle drifting on the surface of the water."
  • "The chuckle that answered Simon sounded like metal scraping against stone." That sounds painful for the person making it.
  • "... all she could see was the bright bits of sunshine that dusted his fair hair, like shards of broken glass." This woman has a fetish for broken glass. If this book was mine, I would have highlighted every broken glass reference to see how often it came up.
  • "... a sudden spray of broken glass like a shower of jagged stars." Look, another one.
  • Referencing Alec's eye color: "At the moment they were the color of the East River during a storm." I'm not from New York City, so how would I know what that looks like?
  • "Clary woke to a sound like hail stones on a metal roof." She's describing Sebastian throwing rocks against the window. Having heard both, they sound distinctly different. When rocks hit windows, it makes a hollow noise. When hail hits metal, it's more metallic and high pitched.
  • "Pages ripped from books drifted in the air like ash." If time has passed, how is this possible?
  • "Sebastian's face came alive, like a video flashing back to action after it had been paused." And all these terrible comparisons are wearing me out, like a tire that has been driven hundreds of miles.
  • " ... like a beautiful painting destroyed by vandals." I swear I've seen her use this one before.
  • "The desire in his eyes cracked into a thousand pieces like the shards of the Portal mirror a Renwick's... " Told you she had a thing for broken glass. She's even made voices sound like it.
  • "Isabelle's whip came alive in her hand like the flaming sword of an avenging angel..." This is another comparison that Clare uses often. She uses it so often, I'm going to card her for repetition.
  • "With a sound like a pail of water poured onto flames..." She couldn't use "with a hiss?" It would make the sentence eight words shorter and make more sense.
  • "The tension underlying his voice was a live wire." If something is tense, it's taught or wound. There is nothing loose about it. It's under strain. A live wire is none of those things.

Relieved that it's over? There's more! Check out this review where they attempt to figure out the percentage of word count that the bad similes, just the similes, take up. It's a pretty hefty 27%. Wow. And the review is funny.

Now onto a more serious analysis of her writing. Below I'm going to post they typical Clary thought process paragraph. Why? Because this is typical of how Clare likes to write her descriptions and keep the character involved.

"They passed under a streetlight. Clary glanced sideways at Sebastian. In his long dark coat and white shirt, under the pool of white light, he looked like a black-and-white illustration of a gentleman from a Victorian scrapbook. His dark hair curled close against his temples in a way that made her itch to draw him in pen and ink."

First off, Clary is looking at him out of the corner of her eye while they pass briefly under a light post.

Then she gives a typical simile that is both long and tries to sound poetic, but only hampers the sentence.

And the last bolding is what I like to refer to as a Clary thought. It is a thought that is entirely unrelated to anything in this section. I know that she's an artist, but we only see her draw runes in this book. She never sits down to sketch so she can clear her mind as the Shadow-hunter apocalypse looms near. This kind of Clary thought happens a lot in all three books. She's always like, "I would draw so and so this way... This person would look good in [insert medium]... I would use [insert technique]." Since we hardly see her in the act of drawing, it just feels like Clare is trying to show off.

Same goes for the dump-truck of similes. She uses them to make her writing sound poetic, but seems to miss the point of metaphors. She either describes something so much she kills the scene, or not enough. Her writing lacks balance in that sense. It's either overwritten or underwritten. The sad thing, there is an editor listed on her Acknowledgements page. Remind me to never have the person look over my work.

All right, time to move onto another aspect of writing; world building. I would like to list some weak world building points that made me scratch my head:

If the towers keep out demons, and Down-worlders have demon energies, then how come Down-worlders can get into Alicante? I'm probably thinking too hard about this one. It just keeps bothering me, especially since Sebastian was only part demon as well.

Guns, cars, or any electronics don't work because of runes. All of these things require a spark. So, do runes prevent the creation of a spark? If so, then that would make combustion impossible, or any standard heat source that uses fire or electricity. Clare writes it off saying no one knows why, but that's pretty lazy writing. I mean, they wouldn't be able to heat food. Even in Harry Potter there was a flying car.

Then there was Clare's weapon knowledge. It's obvious she has no idea how they're even kept on the body. Every time she describes a Shadow-hunter, she says they have a belt with a bunch of weapons thrust through it. The position of the weapon on the body matters because that person has to draw it out in a battle. It needs to be easily accessible depending on the fighting style. No boot knives. How about bandoliers? I guess no one uses a claymore. And if Izzy's whip is razor sharp, why does she loop it around her arm? It would cut her. Clare throws out fancy weapon names, but then fails to describe them. For a bunch of fighters, these Shadow-hunters come across as pretty inept when it comes to weapons.

And as for the ending, it works. I just feel like it too long to get there. If you think that every book is roughly 150k a piece, with about 25% of the word count being similes alone, then these books could have been shorter with a good edit and still retain their pacing and most of the story line.

Anyway, I give this book 1.5 stars. I thought about two, but just couldn't bring myself to do it. If everything sucked but the characters, than I would probably give it three. But the characters is the series' biggest problem. The two main ones are just... frustrating.

I'm going to find something better to do. If time is kind, maybe I'll forget I ever read this.

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  • Reading: Empire State
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Throne of the Crescent MoonThrone of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'll start out by saying that I love my twitter feed. I've managed to compile the kind of writers and readers who know how to spread the word out about quality books. This one has been sitting on my "to read" list for a while, and I'm happy I finally got to it.

Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon is about old heroes who have paid their dues, and new heroes who still have much to learn. While the threat runs along the typical save-the-world-from-evil-magic plot, the book still feels refreshing. Perhaps it is the middle-eastern setting with ghuls and heart-eating jackal men. Or it could be tired and old Adoulla and his rash assistant Raseed.

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is one of the last ghul hunters. He is blessed by God to fight what is essentially hell spawn. (To think of it in more standard terms, imagine him as a cleric out to fight the zombie hordes risen by necromancers.) He's been doing his job for forty years and wants to lay down his satchel and eternally white kaftan. It's just picking when to retire that's the problem. There is always some threat to drag him in.

Raseed bas Raseed (Raseed only Raseed)is a young dervish. Seventeen to be exact. He is devoutly religious and exceptionally rigid. He's served Adoulla for two years because he was told he would learn important lessons from him. At the beginning of the book, he's still skeptical, not quite understanding how Adoulla could be this great servant of God with his rude noises (of words and bodily) and his love of opulent food.

These two polarizing characters are the foundation that the story is built on. Through them we are introduced to the fierce lion-girl Zamia, Litaz the Alkhemist, and her magus husband Dawoud. They are all fleshed out characters in their own rights with their own thoughts and feelings. Every time Ahmed swaps point of views, I could tell who was speaking if I covered up their names. This is part of the book's charm.

Yes, I said charm. This book is practically brimming with it. It has magic, action, emotion, and a bitter-sweet ending that shows what really happens to heroes at the end of the day without going into gritty realism. There is a balance that makes Throne of the Crescent Moon both fanciful and realistic. I'm glad this book is loved as much as it is because it deserves it. There is a sweetness and a sadness that I rarely find in the sword and sorcery genre. And it isn't predicable.

I might read it again someday, but for now I will wait patiently for the sequel sipping my cardamom tea.

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  • Reading: City of Glass (Mortal Instruments #3)
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Book Review: Prince of Thorns

Mon Feb 4, 2013, 8:34 AM
Prince of ThornsPrince of Thorns by Mark  Lawrence

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, good books! How I have missed you! Ever since a friend of mine wrote a review for this book, I've wanted to read it. I can honestly say I enjoyed it and wasn't the least bit disappointed. But first, from the cover of the book:

When he was nine, he watched as his mother and brother were killed before him. By the time he was thirteen, he was the leader of a band of bloodthirsty thugs. By fifteen, he intends to be king...

It is time for Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath to return to the castle he turned his back on, to take what's rightfully his. Since the day he hung pinned on the thorns of a briar patch and watched Count Renar's men slaughter his mother and young brother, Jorg has been driven to vent his rage. Life and death are no more than a game to him - and he has nothing left to loose.

But treachery awaits him in his father's castle. Treachery and dark magic. No matter how fierce his will, can one young man conquer enemies with power beyond his imagining?

Sounds interesting, no? It is.

Jorg is a psychopath in the same line as Alex from A Clockwork Orange. He's young, violent, and doesn't give a damn about who he hurts or how many. He only cares about one thing: getting revenge on the man who killed his mother and brother despite the forces that try to stop him. Despite that the ends seem just, his means is what taints his achievement. Jorg's revenge is served as cold as the frozen north. Stand in his way, and you won't be breathing any longer.

I found him fascinating. Yes, I'm the kind of person who enjoys the twisted protagonist. The kind of person who could easily be the villain. They are a whole lot more interesting than the pure hearted hero. Jorg could have been written as a nice prince who gets people to follow him to victory through love and good acts. But he's not. He's surrounded by his bandit brothers who love blood just as much as he does. Even his trusty knight Makin, a far more likable character, is drenched in blood.

Lawrence made a smart move giving Jorg a "conscience" in the forms of the Nuban and Makin. They both help to balance out the violence of Jorg, Little Rikey, and even Jorg's father. They add that little bit of light the book needs to make all the darkness bearable.

The best part about the book isn't necessarily the fourteen year old, psychopathic prince. Lawrence injected medieval fantasy with a twist that it really, really needed. Jorg's world is post apocalyptic. The castles they live in, the "suns" they speak of, are left over from our modern times. The world has started over, and this story is set in that world.

An good example is when Jorg and his men come across a security panel in an old military facility. (I'm guessing it's a military facility. Sure seems like one.) They think that the voice speaking to them is fairy or sprite of some kind that has been stuck in the box. It's when the reader learns that it's been over a thousand years since we nuked ourselves. I loved these little modern details thrown in. They only helped add more to a story that was already interesting.

Lawrence's writing is pretty fluid as well. Yet, something felt like it was missing. I don't really know what it was, but I had this nagging feeling of a void. I was relatively satisfied. The story is good and rounded out. It's well written. But something is missing. Perhaps that is why I give this four stars.

Oh, well. If you can stomach horrendous behavior committed by a fourteen year old boy, then you should read this book.

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  • Reading: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, #2)City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The following review is filled with spoilers, whining, complaining, ranting, and the destruction of everything people love about this series. Please read responsibly.

When last we left our intrepid heroes, Clary "Mary Sue" Frey discovered she was part of a super special group of people called Shadowhunters. (That should be two words, by the way.) She falls for shmexy jerk-face Jace, only to find out that he is her brother and that they are the long lost children of stock baddie, Valent... Oh, I can't do this.

This book only had one thing going for it. Good pacing. But even that couldn't save it from a whole host of other issues. Many of them were the same as with the first novel: bad characterization, terrible metaphors, and inconsistency. Now that I'm the second novel into the series, I will bring up another issue Clare has: shallow and generic world building.

First off, my reaction:


A little dramatic, but I think you get my point.

Now for the Character Breakdown!

Clary: In my last review, I complained how Clary was just a mean, whiny little girl. Well, this time around, she's not as whiny. She's just a complete bitch. Yup. I said it. Clary is a bitch. She strings Simon along, bosses people around, and yells at the poor guy on the subway who wanted to see if she was okay. I happened to be reading the Dragon Ball manga in between reading this monstrosity, and came across this panel of Frieza with his arms folded and a bubble that said, "Stop saying stupid things." After that, every time Clary spoke or thought, that image popped into my head. I'd post it here if I didn't want to get busted for copyright infringement. (Cough, Clare. Cough.) My point is, Clary is not likable, at all. At. All. I do not sympathize with her plight. I feel nothing.

Part of this could have to do with her Mary-Sueness. Clare wants her to be oh so beautiful, oh so powerful, and oh so wonderful. She never gets so seriously hurt that a healing rune can't fix it, and she saves everyone else with runes she pulls out of her ass. At one point Magnus says that things can't be created out of no where, and then Clary does it. But then Clare throws in something about hearing angels, and then doesn't clarify. It makes no sense right now. She's just so friggin' special. It's just, uh... She frustrates me so much there are no words for it. It is further exacerbated by her pining for Jace. Even if they didn't think they were related at the moment (because I know they aren't), there is something uncomfortable about it. It could be because they're both irritating. Which brings me to my next character...

Jace: What is wrong with this kid? His daddy issues are so overblown, they have their own daddy issues. He pines, he whines, he makes me want to punch him in his smart-assed face. At least he wears jeans occasionally this time. Yet he still makes so many hard-headed, stupid decisions that get other people into trouble, I would lock him up just to keep others safe. He's really bad for the other characters' health. Clare goes out of her way to make him seem like the perfect warrior. She goes so far as to have Clary (Stop saying stupid things.) mention that fighting is just like sex for Jace.

This made me hang my head and shake it. Pop culture has its share of war-loving races. If you've seen an episode of Star Trek:TNG that goes into Klingon culture, then you get what I'm talking about. Sparing is foreplay. Hell, in ancient Sparta, men had to capture their wives. A man was successful if he didn't get the holy hell beaten out of him because the women were just as well trained. Knowing this, I couldn't believe Clare went there. Jace comes off as having a death wish. I never got the sense he "got-off" fighting things in this sequel. Clare doesn't really understand that a true warrior prefers to talk with his fighting skills than with words, and Jace uses a lot of words.

My point is that Jace spends most of the book being self-centered and stubborn than anything else. And again, I could care less about him. Dude just ain't healthy to be around.

Simon: I have mixed feelings about him. I want to say that Clare ruined him, but he's the only one who doesn't worship the Mary-Sue that is Clary even though he says he's in love with her. He knows she's stringing him along, even when they're "dating," and knows he will never have her full attention. I would prefer him not to lurv her except as a friend, but love triangles are all the rage these days. Especially when a vampire is involved.

Yup, Simon becomes Vampy Simon because for some reason urban fantasies just can't stand having normal humans running around. They're weak and die very easily, in case you didn't know.

So, Simon is turned and has to cope with the change. I think Clare had a rare moment when he and Clary discuss how to tell his parents. As someone who lives with a photosensitive disorder, I connected for that brief moment. I know what it's like to look outside and see how high the sun is so I can avoid it. I thought this book might have been better if it was about Simon having to cope with a drastic life change, but then Clare ruins it, as she ruins everything else. At the end, Simon doesn't burn up in the sun. I wasn't pissed. I was absolutely livid. Clare dodged about a thousand difficult decisions she would have to make as a writer by doing that. First off, kill Simon. If she had make it where clothes could protect vampires (which I don't understand why not), then he would have to tell his parents. But that would be heartbreaking and tragic!

Clare, you are such a lazy writer.

Isabelle: Shallow dominatrix in hooker heels. That's how she comes across in this book. Thanks, dear author. She couldn't be more of a stereotype.

Alec: Cinder blocks have more personality. He's just kind of there. Even when the writing is from is point of view, I don't get a distinct sense of anything. Even his relationship with Magnus is just... meh.

Magnus: A character as usual. The only one who made me laugh. His relationship with Alec... Gurl, you can do better! If those homoerotic scenes between Jace and Simon were any indication, you could always go after one of them.

Luke: Not quite as bad ass this time around. Kind of a disappointment. Happy he's alive though.

Jocelyn: Still in a coma, and put herself in it. I have no words for how convenient this device is.

Inquisitor Imogen: Plot pawn. You read that right. Her whole purpose was to act like a moron and almost give Jace important information. Almost. We can't be giving anything away until the sequel. People need to buy them, you know.

Maia: This poor girl has so much promise, but because she's a crummy Downworlder (should also be two words) Clare doesn't really give two damns about her. I really, really like her. It was a shame she was introduced via info-dump, but other than that I preferred her over any other female in this book.

Daddy V: Sigh. Still pretty generic. The worst part, he's a heavy handed Lucifer reference. Clare practically brains you with it when she gave him the last name Morgenstern, or Morningstar. Then she tries the whole sympathy-for-the-devil shtick by having him have a conversation about Milton's Paradise Lost with Jace, because whenever Clare wants the reader to draw parallels between her characters and vastly superior works, she name-drops them like an Acme anvil. I get that she's got the whole fallen angel angle she's trying to work, but she only makes her writing look weaker by bringing up the good stuff.

That said, I'm not hating on Daddy V or Jace because their assholes or bad guys. I like those types too, even if they're pretty unredeemable. They could be the most deplorable bastard this side of the Milky Way, but if they're interesting, then I'm good. Clare's characters do not fit under even that title. All those years writing fan fiction must have not taught her character development skills.

Besides her characters, there is also the problem with her writing. When I mean writing, I mean the actual words used and the devices she employs like metaphors. That's right, I'm about to throw sentence after sentence of terrible word choices at you, dear reader. In 3, 2, 1...

"... like a glittering needle threading the sky." Needles don't thread, they pierce. Needles are threaded. Not the other way around.

"... there was a tightness in her voice when she spoke his name, as if invisible acids were drying up the syllables in her mouth..." Jace is one syllable. Did you mean the whole sentence?

[Simon's eyes] were the color of black coffee - not really black, but a rich brown without a touch of grey or hazel." I think that one speaks for itself.

Referencing Jace's face: "It was like a book written in a foreign language she'd studied all to briefly." So she couldn't read it. That's easier to say. Not as creepy.

Referencing a voice: "... its sound of cold iron." When iron is cold, isn't it just cold?

The opening of Jace's cell: "A noise like ripping cloth tore through the room. (The sound depends on the fabric, but its never very impressive.) Clary heard Isabelle cry out as the door blew off its hinges entirely, crashing into the cell like a draw bridge falling. (If it blew off it's hinges, why did it just topple over?) Clary could hear other noises, metal coming uncoupled from metal, aloud rattle like a handful of tossed pebbles. (Pebbles do not sound metallic on their own.)"

Referring to Shadowhunter crowd: "Instead they seemed to go still, the way a pride of lions might go still when it spotted a gazelle." So they looked at them like food?

Referring to Simon digging himself out: "The grave was roiling like the surface of an unsteady ocean. Ripples appeared in its surface..." Dirt ripples. Riiight.

"The glow of Jace's seraph blade send elegant arcs of light shattering across the water..." This is not the word you are looking for.

"The sword seemed to shimmer blackly in the starlight." That's it, I quit.

There are so many more, but I'll stop there because they're making me physically sick.

I was going to bring up instances of words she used improperly (she said the ship had a corrugated steel hull), but I wanted to bring up something that I've noticed confused other reviewers: the purpose of The Clave.

I admit, this baffles me too. We're 2 books in and I've got the idea that they're supernatural police with an elitist point of view. They say they're protecting the "mundanes" (She totally ripped that off from Fables.), but Shadowhunters treat Downworlders more like sub-beings than anything else. It's like they're not even people anymore. When Daddy V says they're corrupt, he's right, but not in the way he believes.

All of Clare's best characters are Downworlders. They come across as more human than her main characters Jace and Clary, who are both Shadowhunters. They've got that imperfection to them that makes them relatable. They put up with all the crap the Shadowhunters throw at them to help save the day. We, the reader, are supposed to like the Shadowhunters, but I don't. They're prejudiced jackasses. They don't see people. They see monsters. Both Jace and Clary have slipped into that mindset at some point, and Alec is too much of a coward to admit he's in a relationship with a warlock. All Clare's antagonist wants to do is replace one elitist system with another, and I hope that both end up broken at the end. The Clave doesn't really deserve to be saved, but Daddy V shouldn't win either.

Clare tries to make Shadowhunters the good guys, but they come off as people who don't think their farts stink. And at the same time, about a thousand pages later, they're useless.

City of Ashes gets one star for her heroes being terrible people masquerading as the good guys. I know it wasn't intentional, but that's my point.

I'm so tired of these people. I'm going to watch Grimm.

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City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Why, oh why did I waste such valuable reading time finishing this? Because, apparently, I'm a glutton for punishment.

I will warn you ahead of time, this review may contain spoilers!!! I'm not sure yet because I don't really care enough to plan this out. This will mostly be whining, ranting, and general complaining. Remember, I warned you.

Before I dive into this review, I will tell you that I've heard the Cassandra Clare plagiarized arguments, and that this book is basically a reworked fan fiction like the famed Fifty Shades of Grey books. I will not go into those details. I'm just going to look at what has been presented to me in a digital style format for Kindle. So be prepared for jokes and snarky comments that most will probably not think are funny.

I decided to read this book because my fourteen year old cousin asked for the series for Christmas. I helped my family purchase it for her (because I'm their book guru) and I thought I would give at least the first one a shot. I've been trying to read more YA lately to familiarize myself with why it's so popular since I pretty much stopped reading YA when I was ten. I'd make the odd excursion into the wilds occasionally, but for the most part I didn't read much.

This was my reaction to the book:


Yes, I bolded that. I currently want to rub my head along the floor as I walk in the futile hope that I'll rub this book from my memory. If Sherlock Holmes' Attic Theory is to be believed, that this book is taking up valuable space I can use for my writing and better books.

Let me start with the characters since they're probably the most appalling aspect.

Clary: This little lovely is a fifteen/sixteen year old red-head who loves her sketchbook and doesn't think she's pretty. Sounds like me in high school. I should relate right? Wrong. Clary is one of the angriest, self-absorbed, whiniest little brats I've ever had the displeasure of getting to know.

I've read my share of female protagonists who go down like cheap alcohol; they put up a fight and don't agree once you think you've stomached them. But I liked those gals anyway. Clary is not one of them. She bitches about everything. She gets angry at the stupidest stuff. She also can't keep a solid thought in her head. She wonders about the strangest things at the strangest times, like in the middle of a fight. And she slaps or scratches people with barely a reason.

Let's move on, shall we? Before I throw my computer. She really pisses me off that much.

Jace: I know he's supposed to basically be this popular ideal of fanfic Draco (Now with more leather!), but I honestly thought Draco was a waste of space to begin with. Not because Rowling was a terrible writer (because she's definitely not that), but because he was a terrible person! If I just look at this character without thinking about his developmental origin, I still don't like him. He's a conceited jackass. He's the kind of guy where you're friend looks at you and says, in the sassiest way possible, "Gurl, you can do better." Sure, he's got tattoos and blonde sex hair, but when are those boys good for you?

Now, I'll be straight with you, reader. Think of it this way. Cassandra Clare refers to Jace's blonde curls so often I was beginning to wonder if he was rockin' a perm. And he's wearing leather pants in hot, humid New York weather. His dangly bits have got to be chaffing. Seriously, ladies. That is not hot. All he's missing is an Ed Hardy shirt before he's the douche in the corner of the club you roll your eyes at.

Before any fans read this and freak out on me with: OH NO! JACE IS TOTES HAWT! YOU JUS HATIN BECAUSE YOU CAN'T HAVE HIM! YOU JEALOUS CAUSE YOU CAN'T WRITE LIKE CLARE CAN! (I can't even be a pre-teen girl right, and I was one once.) There are no pictures. You are living in your fantasy. All Clare describes most of the time are his eyes and hair. If you are a grown woman and your mad at what I've said, go drool over Supernatural. The Winchesters are hot, demon hunters, and have better personalities. Okay, marginally better personalities. Whatever. At least they aren't wearing leather pants. Or in puberty.

Simon: The child hood friend suffering from unrequited love syndrome. Yawn. He was awesome until he got all heart broken. Solid friend till the end even though he could have pushed Clary off a cliff and I would have felt it totally justified. The only character that the dry wit Clare tries to use fits. At one point he does tell Clary off and calls Jace an asshole, earning him my Favorite Character Award.

Isabelle: The bitchy hot chick Clary hates even though she isn't that bitchy. I actually kind of liked her despite being a totally undeveloped stereotype. The butt of cooking jokes.

Alec: Isabelle's boring older brother. He's gay for Jace. Hates on Clary because she's also making eyes at his dream man. He's just there for plot conflict. Too underdeveloped to be interesting.

Magnus Bane: I liked Magnus despite his unfortunate attire. He really seemed better than that. I would read the other two books for him, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't suffer through more Clary. Although, he could totally be that sassy gay friend Clary needs to tell her, "Gurl, you can do better." (I really wanted to say that again. I blame the lack of sleep.) Of course, nothing Clare writes is really that interesting, so I don't know why I expect it to happen.

Luke: Clary's mother's friend suffering from unrequited love syndrome. Also liked him, but he should have yelled at Clary more for being a little brat.

Jocelyn: a.k.a. Coma mom. That's how she spends the whole book. And ends the book. I felt cheated.

Valentine: The big bad. More like Bad-Guy-From-a-Can. He's not really menacing at all, or even memorable. Even his name sucks. I'm gonna call him Daddy V from now on because for some strange reason I can take that more seriously than Valentine. Who names their child that anyway?

That should handle all the characters, which I enjoyed writing about more than I thought. Now, onto the next biggest complain that I've read about and couldn't help noticing: the metaphors! Bum-bum-bum! I'll just list a few off:

"The night sky rippled overhead..." How does the sky ripple when you aren't looking at it through anything?

"The moon hung like a locket over the city..." So it just hanging there wasn't good enough?

"She wondered how often he let glimpses of his real self peek through the facade that was as hard and shiny as the coat of lacquer on one of her mother's Japanese boxes." This one broke my brain.

"... was black as velvet." Oh, honey. Didn't you know velvet comes in many different colors?

To describe a mausoleum: "... like an iceberg off the bow of the Titanic."

To refer to a restaurant building: "... like a collapsed souffle."

"... the lights of Manhattan burning like cold jewels." This would be a moment where Clare using glittering would make sense.

"The apple tasted green and cool." How do you taste green?

"She felt a bright surge of shame that burst behind her eyelids like a small sun." If shame looks like the sun to you, Clary, why do you still have eyes?

"... yowling like a foghorn." Does this woman think about what she says? This cat sounds possessed.

Okay, I'll stop there before I start crying. I swear, Clare doesn't think about what she's actually putting down. Everything in her world "sparks," "gleams," "glints," or "glitters." It sounds painful to look at. When I read the descriptions and think about what it would look like visually, it sounds like Tinkerbell covered Clare's world in pixie dust. Instead of making vampires sparkle, Clare made friggin' everything sparkle! Eyes, bracelets, bracers, weapons, random objects in the corner. It stopped making sense. I don't even want to know how many times she uses those words. I kept getting deja vu with those words as often as I saw "like" or "as." This chick needs an editor.

Plot wise it isn't much better. Three objects... blah, blah. Special snowflake girl... yadda, yadda. I actually got bored in the middle of the climax because Clare foreshadows with a brick. I guessed the ending at the beginning. Seriously, she lacks subtlety.

But I want to mention one main plot twist that should have made me gasp and drop my Kindle to clutch at my heart. Yup, you guessed it, dear reader. The Daddy V reveal. When I was reading the scenes with pacified Jace, I couldn't buy it. It became apparent to me that Clare had manipulated her character so it could suit the moment. There was no natural character progression to fragile, doubting Jace from jackass Jace.

This is how the scene should have went:

DADDY V: Jace, I am your father.
JACE: This isn't Star Wars. I want a DNA test. I know we use magic and all that, but science still exists. Hell, there's probably some magical DNA test. I mean, a couple of items and some convenient circumstances does not the truth make. Wow, I just sounded intelligent there.

Okay, I was pretty liberal with that, but I think I made my point.

That, of course, leads to the whole incest-love thing. I read Martin's Song of Fire and Ice before they were a cable show. Nothing will beat the creepiness that is that incest-romance. Well, nothing that I've come across.

Then there are the inconsistencies:

Mark scars are sometimes described as silver, sometimes as white.

Luke's dagger, then sword, then dagger.

The werewolves are strong enough to break through boarded up windows a couple stories up, but not a roof top door.

Light from the open front door doesn't affect Abaddon. Only the light coming through the skylight. Which, when I read it, I had to assume was dirty or frosted. She never clarified.

Yeah. Cassandra Clare, by royal decree, you need an editor.

There are a thousand other things I could go into like how all the characters have the same wit that isn't funny. Or I could go into detail all of the inexplicable rages Clary flies into. Or mention that Clare actually has Daddy V monologue and throw his head back to laugh. But I'll stop before I find myself bald because I've torn out my hair from looking at my notes.

Before I stop, let me put this in another perspective. As an unpublished writer who reads the work of other unpublished writers, I have come across much better. It's books like these that make me scratch my head. I understand if you want to blow an afternoon reading cotton candy fluff, you know, nothing really special, but there is stuff out there that has characters that are genuinely lovable. And the characters are what really matter because that is what the reader connects to. That is why Cassandra Clare's City of Bones got one star. In the end, I stopped caring.

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Book Review: The Rook

Mon Dec 31, 2012, 1:51 PM
The RookThe Rook by Daniel O'Malley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's refreshing to find a book that takes familiar tropes like super secret government agencies and the supernatural, and makes them its own. The Rook is one of those. But while just that might appeal to urban fantasy fans and thriller fans alike, the best part about this book is the character Rook Myfawny Thomas.

The book opens with a letter written by Myfawny for Myfawny because she has lost her memories. This set up gives the reader the unique opportunity of getting to know pre-memory wipe Myfawny (Myfawny 1.0) and post-memory wipe Myfawny (Myfawny 2.0) since the rest of the book is littered with letters that Rook Thomas has written to her new self.

Myfawny 1.0 is a mousy woman. Physically she is nothing special with average looks and a petite build. Despite the power to control the nervous system of living things, she prefers administrative work over anything else. In essence, she is the head paper pusher of a secret organization called the Checquy who will cry if you speak to her too loud. O'Malley does a fascinating job with Myfawny 1.0. The reader never meets her, yet knows all her insecurities and fears while reading the letters of a highly intelligent person who never quite lived up to her full potential. I found myself feeling bad for her and regretting her inevitable fate. It's even sadder knowing that it couldn't be prevented because then we wouldn't be reading this fabulous book.

But what opens her eyes in the rain is amazing.

Myfawny 2.0 possesses all the strengths of version 1, but lacks all the fears and insecurities that held her back. She is resilient and capable from the moment she makes her first memories. Version 2 is very much her own character. She likes her coffee different and dislikes the dour wardrobe left behind for her. She's assertive and just as intelligent. O'Malley makes this paper pusher a certifiable bad ass. She might not be able to handle a gun, but she knows everyones secrets. The best part, she felt real. Myfawny is multifaceted coming across as both a woman and a professional without having to tower over people in heels or manipulate them with words. Her greatest asset is her brain and she uses it. This is an urban fantasy character that was very much needed.

The rest of O'Malley's world is just as well developed. I don't want to give too much of it away here because that would ruin the learning curve that both the reader and Myfawny 2.0 must develop. I'll say that the supernatural feel in the book is closer to that of X-Men due to the major variance in the characters' powers.

As for the Checquy, O'Malley has done a thorough job creating an organization to help quell supernatural threats with a rich history and a straightforward hierarchy. While it might have been tempting to show the organization from the combat perspective, the reader sees it from the view of a quiet bureaucrat. Don't let that disparage you, there is plenty of action.

The reason why I give it four stars is that I feel the ending was a bit rushed. Either than that, this book was handled nicely. I highly recommend and look forward to reading whatever else this writer produces.

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Book Review: Critical Incident

Wed Dec 26, 2012, 3:42 PM
Critical IncidentCritical Incident by Troy Blackford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I paid nothing for Blackford's wacky little novella, and I wouldn't be ashamed if I had. Critical Incident is just flat-out enjoyable. I grinned like I was watching a goofy action comedy. I should have known what I was in for when the book starts out with homeless people vandalizing public property with grease pencils.

What I must praise Blackford for is pacing. In such short time he manages to write an open and shut (okay, almost shut) little mystery that involves drugs, murdering robots, corrupt civil servants, and brain washing without falling into bad spy movie territory. This fun little story is one of those rare self-published gems floating around on the internet.

Now, there are a few issues with the book. Since Blackford did the cover, editing, even his book trailer by himself, he missed some things. There is a part where his three male leads (Warren, Bentley, and Hurdy) all swap names for a couple of paragraphs. I was able to figure out who was who by the scenario they were all involved in, but it could be confusing for some. Other than a few other typos, Blackford did a decent job ironing out the wrinkles.

I recommend this book as a fun afternoon read for those who want to zone out and be entertained. I look forward for reading more from him.

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Book Review: It Began With Ashes

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 10:19 AM
It Began With Ashes (Wroge Elements, #1)It Began With Ashes by D.E.M. Emrys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do not often read fantasy written in an Iron Age setting, but I've been following this emerging writer for quite some time, so I gave it a shot. And you know what? I enjoyed it.

It Began With Ashes is Emrys' novel debut. He succeeds in where most fantasies fail by avoiding passages of exposition in favor of action and character development. And when I mean action, I mean lots of action. At lest fifty percent of the book has the characters fighting for their lives, and there are a lot of characters.

The book opens up with Astartes, the 12 year old son of the Tax Collector Nicholas. Then it introduces Kale, the twelve year old son of Draven and Morganna Reinhardt, ex-mercenaries and also characters that get their own time in the sun. While the two boys and the sword wielding married couple are the ones who lend the reader their eyes, there is a whole cast to support each of them. There is Deule and Damian, two more 12 year old boys. McGowan, Draven's employer. Ivebian, Draven's friend and skull-crusher cohort. Not to mention a handful of red shirts that shall not be mentioned for spoiler sakes.

For a short novel, I couldn't help but think, "This is a lot of people, but who's the main character?" That's one of the weak points of this novel. I want to say it's Astartes and Kale over any of the adults because they undergo the greatest character development and ask the heavy questions like, "Why is all this blood and killing not affecting anyone else?" If that is the case, this novel is less about the veteran soldiers and more about the children trying to cope with death dumping its bowels all over them through the adults' sword work.

Emrys' world building is effective without slapping the read upside the head with a history text. Most of it is conveyed through character interaction with the world and their thoughts. It's based in an environment much like Roman occupied England with Viking's beating down on the heads of the poor villagers while their occupiers tax them to death. The names are easy to pronounce, especially if you've played Skyrim. Emrys has a glossary at the end of the book, but it really isn't needed unless you're into that kind of thing. His writing is clear and straight forward enough that the context tells the reader everything.

His pacing is good. It gallops along at a steady speed with only a few pot holes. The village raid foes on a bit too long and the book ends to soon. Yes, way too soon. While It Began With Ashes does have a plot from the beginning that is achieved by the end (Get to the Mercenary Guild.) and follows the story rule of rising action, climax, and falling action; it felt like it needed more. The ending is like the horse smashed into a garbage truck going 60 in the opposite direction. It could have been longer and I wouldn't have cared.

So why 4 stars?

It's a well structured story with an easily understood but complex world. The characters are distinct with their own problems and thoughts that develop over time. And he can write.

Looking forward to the sequel.

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Book Review: Zoo City

Mon Oct 29, 2012, 3:18 PM
Zoo CityZoo City by Lauren Beukes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Zoo City by South African writer Lauren Beukes is a must read for anyone looking for capable, resourceful female characters or a damn good urban fantasy mystery.

Zinzi December is and ex-reporter, ex-junkie with and unusual companion in Sloth. Sloth is an Animal, a familiar that the guilty are cursed with it. When a person receives and Animal, they are instantly known as a criminal, an outcast. Animals are a powerful magic, tying their person to a black hole called the Undertow and bestowing them with a special ability. Zinzi's ability is that of finding lost things.

At it's heart, Zoo City is a good mystery novel surrounding a missing person, something that Zinzi usually refuses to do. By taking the case, she must call on favors from those of her pre-jail, junkie life. Her pre-Sloth life. This is where Beukes shows her skill by weaving information from past and present together to create a draw that sucks the reader in. Beukes never gives the reader everything at once, forcing them to put the pieces together. All the threads are there, another sign of Beukes skill.

The book is written in first person present tense adding to the intensity. The point of view is even more effective given that Zinzi's old skill set is journalism. I can her her voice in every word, every sentence. She reeks of the intelligent person who made very, very bad decisions, but is much tougher for her ordeal. I love Zinzi. She's well rounded and whip smart.

Beukes also immerses the reader in a very well-built world set in Johannesburg, South Africa. From Zinzi's dank apartment in a condemned building to the the music scene she's forced to investigate, all of it is tangible and real. You can see the textures and hear the sounds. Beukes even includes little bits from fictional documentaries, thesis papers, and newspaper clippings.

For fantasy junkies, the magic system is simple but complete. All the rules are there for the reader to understand.

As if you need another reason to read this book, Zoo City is a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

So, take my word for it.
  Read this book.

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Forgive me for my Chuck Wendig binge reading. He is really good though. Here is my latest review.

Mockingbird (Miriam Black, #2)Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It all starts with a gun shot. Well, sort of. It starts with the vision of a gunshot.

Chuck Wendig's Mockingbird takes place a year after Miriam's introduction in the novel Blackbird. She's working a crappy job scanning groceries for tourists and living in an Airstream surrounded by meth addicts. Her off/on/it's-effing-complicated paramour Louis is constantly on the road. In other words, Miriam isn't happy. Then she gets fired and touches her boss's hand. Enter fate's worse enemy.

Wendig's second novel featuring Miriam is better than his second, a considerable feat considering how much I enjoyed the last one. This time around he focuses the story on her new found talent at changing lives by taking lives. While the main story arc starts in the typical, "This person contacted me for help," fashion, it doesn't take anything away. In fact, the main plot adds to Miriam's characterization exponentially.

While she's still the foul mouthed highway rat that we all know and love, she's matured. Miriam tries really hard at certain points to be less abrasive than she usually is, but fails when she gets irritated or under duress. Wendig has balanced her growth out nicely because she's recognizable as the character that the reader has fallen in love with but has "matured" past scavenging off others. (It's hard to use the words "mature" and "Miriam" in the same sentence.)

This second installment also has stronger paranormal qualities than the first novel. Since Miriam's power has developed, so has her connection with those that seemingly fuel her ability. Miriam has dubbed this twisted little clue giver as The Trespasser, and "it" fits well into the world that Wendig has developed for the reader.

Like the first book, this one is written in third person present, which lends an effective urgency to the language. The shortness of his sentences and brevity of the scenes give it an almost running cadence that is engrossing yet comfortable to read. If you can stand abrasive, volatile language and truly disturbing "images," than check out this book and the first.

In the words of the layman: "This book is freaking awesome! You have to read it!"

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Bait DogBait Dog by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wendig has done it again. This book is just as fast and emotionally evoking as strapping a rocket between your legs and zipping down a test track at spine snapping speeds.

Atlanta Burns is a high school student with a reputation for shooting the balls off a grabby boyfriend of her mother's. Her mother is unemployed, she lives in a house with a drunken lean, and has very few friends. One of them has just committed suicide. Atlanta must deal with grief while investigation a string of dog kidnappings.

The two plots are woven together with a deft hand. They don't drag at any point, galloping along and drawing the reader in. Just the dog plot alone had me hugging my dog with a tightness that he didn't appreciate. It is potent and evoking, but can be difficult to read since it focuses on the topic of dog fighting. (I cried, a lot.)

Atlanta herself is a shotgun toting badass despite her vulnerabilities. What makes her a strong female protagonist is that she fights through her weaknesses no matter how much she wants to run. She tackles her fears to defend those that are preyed upon by others. Atlanta burns takes no shit. Every young woman could learn a thing or two from her.

Unlike Wendig's Miriam Black novels, his Atlanta Burns stories are more young adult friendly. I won't say they are young adult because he still deals with some adult themes. Anyone who worries about what they put in front of their high school aged girl (or boy), rest assured. I wouldn't mind my kid reading this, if I had kids. I've read more disturbing things in my high school classes. Like I said, young women should be exposed to a protagonist like Atlanta.

Before reading, catch the novella Shotgun Gravy. My e-book of Bait Dog came with it's own copy before the sequel.

I can't wait for more Atlanta Burns!

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  • Reading: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig
  • Watching: Breaking Bad
  • Playing: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
  • Drinking: Water