Thursday, June 16, 2016

Review: The Heartless City by Andrea Berthot

Many thanks to the author for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The Heartless City had so much promise.

After a bit of a slow start, I truly loved the beginning. Then, to my complete confusion and ultimate disappointment, the story jumped ahead years, and I realized I had been engrossed in a prologue. That prologue was the tale I most wanted to read: Virginia, smart and brave and traumatized, desperately trying to raise and keep safe a young daughter with unnatural gifts. Sadly, we jumped ahead to said daughter's teenage years instead.

I initially liked Elliot, the main male character, very much. That mostly continued throughout the story. I didn't connect so well with Iris, Virginia's gifted daughter. She was a bit... too much for me. A little too overwhelmingly beautiful and special to feel real, and her first connection with Elliot felt like insta-love. (Keep in mind that I am very picky about romantic relationships. I'm sure a lot of people would enjoy that sort of powerful immediate connection.)

There was some gorgeous prose, swirled together with the blocks of angst and overwrought, unconvincing character interaction. The book was also set against a background of some very interesting possible conflicts (the Hydes being the most obvious example), but those aspects were mostly dropped or underused. Paired with the fact that many of the secondary characters (Virginia; Elliot's friend Cam; amazing, tough, tiny Philomena) were far more interesting overall than the leads, this felt a bit like the first draft of a really, really amazing book.

Bottom line was, The Heartless City didn't quite work for me, but there was a lot of promise hidden in its pages. I very much hope the author one day writes that truly incredible book.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Review: Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs

Tera Lynn Childs's Sweet Venom would have been a perfectly fun, normal young adult mythology tale if not for the inclusion of a creepy stalker who is, apparently, supposed to be charming. Its premise, about sisters who are the monster-killing descendants of Medusa, was interesting enough. Its prose was perfectly serviceable, and it had some tense, compelling action. All of which was overshadowed, for me, by the aforementioned creepy stalker.

Open statement to everyone: Stalking is not romantic and not okay. Obtaining a girl's phone number without her consent? Refusing to leave her alone even after she has told you repeatedly to do so? That stuff is nothing but creepy. Please keep it out of my fluffy young adult mythology-romance books.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Review: Love, Death and Tea by Will Once

Will Once's Love, Death and Tea was wonderful, and that's not a word I use lightly. It was quick, compelling, and so funny that I am pretty sure I woke up my housemates with some late-night laughing. I kept texting quotes to my sister, and now she wants to read it too.

Love, Death and Tea offers a humorous, irreverent look at zombies and the apocalypse, with a different flavor from anything else I've read. If you're looking for deep, complex, twisty plotting and a huge cast of characters, look elsewhere: this book is light with crisp pacing, but the characters it does have are deftly drawn. During a difficult time, it was exactly the light-hearted escape I needed.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Review: The Fiddler's Gun by A. S. Peterson

A. S. Peterson's The Fiddler's Gun was a rollicking historical tale, headed up by a truly wonderful young female character.

The storyline occasionally moved a bit slowly, but ultimately I think that only added to my enjoyment of the rich setting and well-drawn characters. Particularly Fin Button, the tough, headstrong, sometimes ruthless tomboy who did what she needed to survive--even if that meant leaving everything she'd ever known to become a pirate.

Also, Fin's relationship with her love interest was a fun gender-swapped twist on the "young man leaves behind faithful girlfriend to go on a quest" trope.

Fiction categorized as "Christian" is all too often preachy, shallow, and about as subtle as an anvil. This book was a refreshing change. The tale was built on bones of faith, but there was little preaching, and no trite easy answers. More like this, please.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

I liked Rae Carson's Walk on Earth a Stranger very much, with one notable exception: the lazy, useless, no-good burden of a reverend. That trope was thin and tired seventy years ago, and I'm taking off a full star for it. I expected better from the author of the Girl of Fire and Thorns series, which explored the complexities of faith and belief in a beautiful, authentic way.

Still, there was much about Walk on Earth a Stranger to love. The main character yearned for freedom, and deeply enjoyed her taste of it while posing as a boy, but she didn't gleefully throw off all trappings of the feminine. Putting back on a skirt, she said, felt like being in her own skin again. She didn't want to abandon being a woman--she wanted freedom as a woman.

There were a wide variety of other well-developed female characters, with complex relationships and motivations. And the male lead, Jefferson, was wonderful.

This book reminded me, too, of why I loved the Western genre so much as a kid: the danger, maybe, the thrill and drama, but mostly the possibility. The wide-open sky. The idea that anything could be around the next bend or over the next ridge. Adding a touch of magic just makes it better.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review: Hour of Mischief by Aimee Hyndman

Aimee Hyndman's Hour of Mischief was a fun, fast-paced romp through an original steampunk setting, and despite a few pesky editing problems, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In a clockwork world where time itself relies on a pantheon of clockwork gods, 17-year-old Janet pulls heists with her little found-family of thieves. A job gone bad lands them in prison, where the irreverent trickster God of Mischief, Itazura, offers Janet a chance to save her friends by working with him to avert the apocalypse.

Janet was a great MC: tough, funny, haunted, utterly loyal to her team, and completely in over her head. Itazura served as a good foil--charming, witty, alien, and never quite trustworthy. The supporting cast was mostly well-developed, too. As a person with anxiety, I especially liked the character of Sylvia, Janet's teammate and dear friend, who was smart, observant, had a great head for strategy, and suffered anxiety attacks. I wished Sylvia had gotten more focus.

The world-building unfolded naturally, and drew me in until I was completely absorbed. By the end, I dearly wanted to know more about Janet's world, its characters and creatures, and its eventual fate.

There were a few drawbacks: Despite the good storytelling, Hour of Mischief could have used further editing to clear up its occasional grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. Also, I had expected a stand-alone novel, and was caught by surprise when the storyline was not wrapped up. But despite the rough edges, I liked Janet and her world well enough that I will be picking up the sequel, whenever it arrives.

*I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Black Widow Forever Red by Margaret Stohl

I nearly wept for joy when I saw that Margaret Stohl's Black Widow: Forever Red was going to exist. Natasha Romanoff is one of my favorite fictional characters. Now she's going to be in a YA novel--my favorite genre?! Life couldn't get any better!

Well... It could, a bit.

Natasha's characterization is... unsteady. She flips back and forth between arctic and maternal at a dizzying pace. I think that might have been meant to convey internal conflict, but it just comes off as inconsistent, in my opinion. Her characterization, to me, is not as bad as Tony Stark's, however. In the MCU, Tony is fascinating, as much as he's a jerk: crackling with humor and impudence, thinly layered over trauma and insecurity. In this book, he sounded like he was trying to be funny but didn't quite have the wit to pull it off. And the damage that's always just under the surface? Nowhere to be seen.

And as for the original characters, teenagers Ava and Alex: Tropes. Tropes everywhere. It's not all bad, and they have their moments of being likeable, but there wasn't anything really original about them, nothing I haven't seen done dozens of times. Seemingly ordinary teenagers have a super-special suppressed past that comes roaring back in hidden memories! They're drawn together and feel like soulmates even though they don't know why! INSTA-LOVE!

Spoilers for this section (highlight to reveal): A character dies in the end (there are hints of this all through the book), and hir relationship to another character means that we should care about hir a lot, but I just... Didn't. I finished the book and went, "Hmm. Okay. Well, zie ain't gettin' any deader." Which tells you something about my lack of emotional connection to hir and everyone else.