Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Review: Heroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn

30955863Title: Heroine Worship
Series: Heroine Complex #2
Author: Sarah Kuhn
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; paperback
More Details: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: DAW; July 4, 2017

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

Once upon a time, Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang) was demon-infested San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine, a beacon of hope and strength and really awesome outfits. But all that changed the day she agreed to share the spotlight with her best friend and former assistant Evie Tanaka—who’s now a badass, fire-wielding superheroine in her own right. They were supposed to be a dynamic duo, but more and more, Aveda finds herself shoved into the sidekick role. Where, it must be said, she is not at all comfortable.

It doesn’t help that Aveda’s finally being forced to deal with fallout from her diva behavior—and the fact that she’s been a less than stellar friend to Evie. Or that Scott Cameron—the man Aveda’s loved for nearly a decade—is suddenly giving her the cold shoulder after what seemed to be some promising steps toward friendship. Or that the city has been demon-free for three months in the wake of Evie and Aveda’s apocalypse-preventing battle against the evil forces of the Otherworld, leaving Aveda without the one thing she craves most in life: a mission. All of this is causing Aveda’s burning sense of heroic purpose—the thing that’s guided her all these years—to falter.

In short, Aveda Jupiter is having an identity crisis.

When Evie gets engaged and drafts Aveda as her maid-of-honor, Aveda finally sees a chance to reclaim her sense of self and sets out on a single-minded mission to make sure Evie has the most epic wedding ever. But when a mysterious, unseen supernatural evil rises up and starts attacking brides-to-be, Aveda must summon both her superheroine and best friend mojo to take down the enemy and make sure Evie’s wedding goes off without a hitch—or see both her city and her most important friendship destroyed forever...
It hasn't been that long since I read Heroine Complex, so the memory of how much I loved the story is still fresh in my mind. Obviously, I was excited to read Heroine Worship. I’m happy to say that I loved this story as much as the first book in the series. It had everything I liked about Heroine Complex and more since it was told from Aveda’s perspective this time around. And I have to say that the Heroine Complex series just keeps getting better and better.

Heroine Worship was just a good story. I don’t have any other way to describe it. It’s also a great example of what can be done with superheroes in an urban setting (in this case, San Francisco). The supernatural elements are unique, the bad guys’ schemes/methods were out of the box, and the characters are awesome to the point where I couldn’t help but root for them to succeed. Kuhn knows how to write action as well as the daily aspects of the superheroes’ lives, and it’s the balance between the two that I really love about Heroine Worship.

One thing that continually works for these books is how Kuhn weaves the issue of relationships (platonic and romantic) in with the more supernatural and superhero aspects of the book. And if there was one character that encompassed those things, it was Aveda Jupiter. The first line of the book is “I love being a superhero.” And in Heroine Complex, Aveda was a larger than life superhero, someone who strived to portray a constant image of perfection. But she was a diva and not the greatest friend to Evie or anyone else. But there was so much more to her character than that. In Heroine Worship, there’s this whole other side to Aveda that I didn’t get to see last time. And somehow, I liked her even better now than before. I think that was because I got a better understanding of her as a character. One of the main storylines included Aveda was coming to terms with how Annie Chang and her Aveda Jupiter persona ultimately fit into her life going forward.

That’s pretty much all I have to say. I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone looking to get into the series. All-in-all, Heroine Worship was a fun read and a fantastic installment to the series. The next book is probably going to be from the perspective of one of my favorite characters, Evie’s younger sister, Bea. And I’m looking forward to that...

Sunday, June 3, 2018

ARC Review: Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova

33918887Title: Bruja Born
Series: Brooklyn Brujas #2
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Source/Format: Netgalley; eARC
More Details: Young Adult: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Sourcebooks Fire; June 5, 1018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead...

Lula Mortiz feels like an outsider. Her sister's newfound Encantrix powers have wounded her in ways that Lula's bruja healing powers can't fix, and she longs for the comfort her family once brought her. Thank the Deos for Maks, her sweet, steady boyfriend who sees the beauty within her and brings light to her life.

Then a bus crash turns Lula's world upside down. Her classmates are all dead, including Maks. But Lula was born to heal, to fix. She can bring Maks back, even if it means seeking help from her sisters and defying Death herself. But magic that defies the laws of the deos is dangerous. Unpredictable. And when the dust settles, Maks isn't the only one who's been brought back...
Labyrinth Lost was one of my favorite reads from last year, and I was more than ready to return to the world of the Brooklyn Brujas. As such, I had high hopes that I would love Bruja Born just as much Labyrinth Lost. I did have one minor issue with it (more on that later). That being said, it was still such a fabulous story full of magic, family, and mayhem.

Lula Mortiz appeared in the last book, but wasn’t on-page much due to the circumstance surrounding the story of Labyrinth Lost. I remember her sister, Alex more, because she was the main character. So, I was excited to see that Lula was getting her own story. What I initially remembered about Lula was that she was a healer who seemed sure of her place in the world as well as confident in her magical capabilities. Bruja Born had a different Lula, and if you’ve read Labyrinth Lost you’ll understand what I mean. At the start of the story, she comes off as bit selfish and self-absorbed. She was readily willing to ignore the pain of others because she felt like they owed her. There was a point where her selfishness and refusal to accept what happened—as well as attempting to ignore what was really going on—kind of irritated me after a while. However, I also got that that pattern of behavior had a place in the story. Lula was supposed to be different and hurt in so many ways. So her willingness to cling to the one thing she perceived as being the most good and stable aspect in her life was believable.

Bruja Born was story about magic, family, and choices. Choices are tricky. Some are right, others are wrong, some are mistakes and you don’t even realize it until later. And the story of Bruja Born illustrates how a split second decision, a moment of desperation, can have unforeseen and lasting consequences. It was also kind of a coming of age type story. Lula had to grow up and understand her mistakes and be held accountable for her actions, as well as learning to let go of the past—no matter how painful—in order to move forward. So, despite my irritation at some of the things that happened, as far as the story overall, Bruja Born was amazing.

It was also nice getting to see some familiar faces from Labyrinth Lost like Rishi, Nova, and others. I also liked the new characters who were introduced, and I have my fingers crossed that they’ll make another appearance in the next book.
I’ll read the next book in the series since the story seems like it’s going to focus on Rose. I’m looking forward to that...


Disclaimer: This copy of the book was provided by Sourcebooks Fire via Netgalley for this review.

About the author...

Zoraida Córdova is the author of urban fantasies The Vicious Deep trilogy and the Brooklyn Brujas series. Her short fiction has appeared in the New York Times bestselling anthology, Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View. Zoraida’s most recent release, Labyrinth Lost, won an International Latino Book award, was named a Best Book of 2016 by Paste Magazine and has been optioned by Paramount Studios. Zoraida is also the author of the upcoming Hollow Crown, to be published by Disney Hyperion in 2019.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Review: Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

27209443Title: Heroine Complex
Series: Heroine Complex #1
Author: Sarah Kuhn
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; paperback
More Details: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: DAW; July 5, 2016

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder...

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco's most beloved superheroine. She's great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss's epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants. Unfortunately, she's not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea. But everything changes when Evie's forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest comes out: she has powers, too. Now it's up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda's increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right... or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion...
I’m being completely honest when I say that the cover is what initially drew me to Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn. Then, once I started reading up about it, I knew that it was a book I eventually wanted to read. Well, I’ve read it, and I can say that I absolutely loved the story. I don't know why this hasn’t been made into a movie or TV show, because there’s a lot to love about this book.

I haven’t read anything with superheroes in a while, and I liked Kuhn’s approach. Her treatment of the story and characters took something like superheroines and demon villains and made it feel refreshingly new. There was a perfect balance between mystery, action, supernatural, and even a little romance. The story was just good. I also have to give Kuhn props for how she developed the platonic and romantic relationships. The characters talked to each other to work out issues even if the subject was a tough one, and it was glorious.

I liked that Kuhn decided to make the focus of the story the superheroines personal assistant, Evie Tanaka. Reading from Evie’s perspective showed a lot of the behind the scenes aspects of Aveda Jupiter’s crew for example the upkeep of the signature costume, support if an emotional crisis arose, and even something as simple as who’s going to buy the groceries. Evie was a wonderful character. She was good at her job, but I also liked the growth she went through once she reached her breaking point. There was also a day-to-day feel to parts of the story, and I liked those moments because it showed what life was like for Evie outside of working for Aveda.

There are more books to this series, and after the all the twists and that ending, I’m really looking forward to Heroine Worship....



Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

26042767Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Series: Wayfarers #1
Author: Becky Chambers
Source/Format: Borrowed from the Library; Paperback
More Details: Science Fiction
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Voyager; August 18, 2015

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

A rollicking space adventure with a lot of heart...

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn't expecting much. The patched-up ship has seen better days, but it offers her everything she could possibly want: a spot to call home, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and some distance from her past. And nothing could be further from what she's known than the crew of the Wayfarer. From Sissix, the reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the chatty engineers who keep the ship running, to the noble captain Ashby, life aboard is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. That is until the crew is offered the job of a lifetime tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet. Sure, they'll earn enough money to live comfortably for years, but risking her life wasn't part of the job description. The journey through the galaxy is full of excitement, adventure, and mishaps for the Wayfarer team. And along the way, Rosemary comes to realize that a crew is a family, and that family isn't necessarily the worst thing in the universe… as long as you actually like them...
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is one of those books I’ve been hearing about seemingly for forever—even though, in reality, it was only a few years, but you get the point. So, I’ve heard about it, seen a lot of praise for it, and now I’ve finally read it for myself. I adored this book. And it’s a little hard to accurately describe because it’s not the usual kind of science fiction/ space opera that I'm a huge fan of, but it also kind of is in a way. That’s not a very good way to say it, so let me at least try to explain what I mean...

If you pay close attention to the synopsis, it does an accurate job of describing how the book actually reads. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is very day-to-day and closely follows the life of the crew of the Wayfarer, a patchwork but stable ship. There was something about it that reminded me of how literary fiction feels when I read it, and might have something to do with how it was written or how character-driven the book was. There was a lot of travel, daily activity, and exploration of the characters (including backstory, current events, and relationships) that, at times, took over the story. The setup worked because the characters were awesome. Everyone from Rosemary to the rest of the crew was interesting in their respective ways. That’s one thing I have to note. Chambers’s did a spectacular job of creating truly alien races that didn’t mirror one another. There were distinguishable cultures and languages that went hand in hand with their unique appearances and differing societal norms. I thought it was creative and interesting to read about.

That brings me to my second point: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is definitely science fiction. It was a long (and dangerous) way to a small and angry planet. On one hand, this book featured many planets and cultures, giving an expansive feel to the setting. But it was also limited in the sense that the primary setting was the Wayfarer, which had obvious space constraints (it was a ship). Still, there was never a moment when the story seemed narrow. There was a sense of life to the characters and how they interacted and reacted to the things and places around them. There was always something that reminded me that, yeah, there was a broader world outside the Wayfarer. It was one of the things that made the book an engrossing read.

There was, of course, the technology. In particular, I thought it was cool to have ships that specialized in creating wormholes.

So, all that being said, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It was something a little different but a thoroughly interesting story. I have high hopes for the second book.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

30078567Title: The Collapsing Empire
Author: John Scalzi
Series: The Interdependency #1 
Source/Format: Borrowed from the Library; Hardcover
More Details: Science Fiction 
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Books; March 21, 2017

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new universe by the Hugo Award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author of Redshirts and Old Man's War...

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars. Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire. The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.
Going into The Collapsing Empire, I expected to like it based on what I already knew about Scalzi’s ability to tell a compelling story with interesting characters and even more interesting in-book universes. Even with that in mind, I was still surprised by The Collapsing Empire. And I mean that in a good way. It was a relatively quick read and a good story with a number of interesting components. One such detail was the quirky names of the ships. For example: Tell Me Another One and Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby, among others. I'm not kidding, and more than once I found myself thinking that the names sounded like the punchline to a joke when spoken aloud.

There’s a definite difference between Old Man’s War and The Collapsing Empire. The former had more military elements, while the latter focuses heavily on politics, and as the title suggests a collapsing empire. Even so, there was a substantial amount of action and nefarious plotting throughout the book, as well as political maneuvering done by the main characters and those around them.

This book is told from a couple of different perspectives. Each one had something to offer to the plot, which I appreciated. Having the alternating perspectives in different places around the Interdependency contributed to how expansive the story felt. The distances between the characters were sometimes vast, and it drove home the fact that the story took place in an “interstellar empire”. I expected nothing less.

So, the Flow is a thing. It’s integral to the way the Interdependency functions, and is the sole source of travel between the different systems. Yet, there wasn’t much of an explanation for the origins of the Flow, only how it was being used by the Interdependency. However, the mysterious and formerly static nature of the Flow kind of worked, especially when put into context with the events that took place in The Collapsing Empire.

All in all, this was a very good beginning to a new series. I recommend it to fans of space-opera and those who are already familiar with or want to read a book by Scalzi.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Review: How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price

35209767Title: How To Break Up With Your Phone
Series: n/a
Author: Catherine Price
Source/Format: Blogging for Books; Paperback
More Details: Nonfiction; Self-help
Publisher/Publication Date: Ten Speed Press; February 13, 2018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

Packed with tested strategies and practical tips, this book is the essential, life-changing guide for everyone who owns a smartphone...

Is your phone the first thing you reach for in the morning and the last thing you touch before bed? Do you frequently pick it up "just to check," only to look up forty-five minutes later wondering where the time has gone? Do you say you want to spend less time on your phone--but have no idea how to do so without giving it up completely? If so, this book is your solution. Award-winning journalist Catherine Price presents a practical, hands-on plan to break up--and then make up--with your phone. The goal? A long-term relationship that actually feels good. You'll discover how phones and apps are designed to be addictive, and learn how the time we spend on them damages our abilities to focus, think deeply, and form new memories. You'll then make customized changes to your settings, apps, environment, and mindset that will ultimately enable you to take back control of your life...
I was mildly apprehensive about whether or not I would like and find some useful advice in How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price. I’ve read a book that covered a similar if not the same topic (Unfriending my Ex and Other Things I’ll Never Do by Kim Stolz), and I liked it. However, thinking back on it now, it was more about Stolz’s experience with taking a break from her phone and her thoughts about it, whereas Price’s writing reads more like an analytical study about the pros and (mostly) cons of heavy phone/tablet/computer/ social media use has on almost every corner of a person’s life, including time and even how our brains function. She also covers how to make changes and healthier choices, and that’s what I liked about How To Break Up With Your Phone.

This book has two parts: the wake-up and the breakup. In the wake-up, Price cites studies as evidence to support the point of the book. It’s meant to be a wake up call: the hard facts and the ugly truth. And this book is more than successful at not only stating those points but making the information stick. The more I read, the more I realized that some of the things being mentioned were habits I exhibited almost unconsciously. As I continued to read, the more I agreed with what was being said. Part two covers the breakup. The writing made the steps for the 30-day plan approachable. There was a focus on realizing, questioning, and changing habits accompanied by a lot of useful tips and simple exercises. Price’s writing is done in a positive, encouraging tone that makes you want to try some of the things being mentioned to find out if the changes will have any effects.

How to Break Up With Your Phone is a quick read that wasn’t just surprisingly good, but also eye opening in a lot of ways. I haven’t had the time to try the 30-day plan for myself. However, the book has given me ideas about smaller changes that I can implement now. How to Break Up With Your Phone is a book that I’m definitely going to keep on my shelf for future reference.

Disclaimer: This copy of the book was provided by Blogging for Books (Publisher) for this review. 






CATHERINE PRICE is an author and science journalist whose articles and essays have appeared in The Best American Science Writing, the New York Times, Popular Science, O, The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post Magazine, Slate, Parade, Salon, Men’s Journal, Self, Mother Jones, and Health magazine, among others. Her previous books include Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food and 101 Places Not to See Before You Die. A graduate of Yale and UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, she’s also a recipient of a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Reporting, a two-time Société de Chimie Industrielle fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, an ASME nominee, a 2013 resident at the Mesa Refuge, a fellow in both the Food and Medical Evidence Boot Camps at the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT, and winner of the Gobind Behari Lal prize for science writing. You can learn more about her and her work at catherine-price.com...

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

ARC Review: Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody

30238163Title: Ace of Shades
Series: The Shadow Game #1
Author: Amanda Foody
Source/Format: Netgalley; eARC
More Details: Young Adult; Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Harlequin Teen; April 10, 2018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

Welcome to the City of Sin, where casino families reign, gangs infest the streets...and secrets hide in every shadow...

Enne Salta was raised as a proper young lady, and no lady would willingly visit New Reynes, the so-called City of Sin. But when her mother goes missing, Enne must leave her finishing school—and her reputation—behind to follow her mother’s trail to the city where no one survives uncorrupted. Frightened and alone, her only lead is a name: Levi Glaisyer. Unfortunately, Levi is not the gentleman she expected—he’s a street lord and a con man. Levi is also only one payment away from cleaning up a rapidly unraveling investment scam, so he doesn't have time to investigate a woman leading a dangerous double life. Enne's offer of compensation, however, could be the solution to all his problems. Their search for clues leads them through glamorous casinos, illicit cabarets and into the clutches of a ruthless mafia donna. As Enne unearths an impossible secret about her past, Levi's enemies catch up to them, ensnaring him in a vicious execution game where the players always lose. To save him, Enne will need to surrender herself to the city. And she’ll need to play...
Going into Ace of Shades, I was very excited. I’ve read Amanda Foody’s debut book, Daughter of the Burning City, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the story. I had high hopes that Ace of Shades would be the same way. I had some mixed feelings about it and didn’t like it as much as Daughter of the Burning City. Still, it was a good story.

The story starts quickly with Enne arriving in New Reynes. The reason is immediately stated, and the story and the main players are introduced and developed from there. New Reynes was definitely the City of Sin. Once again, I think Foody did a good job developing the darker themes of the story such as corruption, crime, and gambling. However, so much of the city was dark, dangerous, and rife with corruption with little to nothing else to break up those themes. It certainly lived up to its name. But, I would have liked to see a little more of the outside world beyond it. It was mentioned, but mainly through flashbacks and exposition from Enne’s limited point of view. But I never got a sense for what those places were actually like. The bulk of the action and mystery was centered in New Reynes and the search for Enne’s missing mother. Luckily, I didn't mind because there was a lot going on with the plot.

So who was good and who was bad? Who could be good or bad in a city nicknamed the City of Sin? There was no easy way to tell when many of the characters were morally ambiguous. That being said, the characters were a highlight for me, or more specifically, I liked the dynamics between them. Levi Glaisyer was far from an infallible character. He made a lot of mistakes and kept a lot of secrets. His past was catching up with him. And I could say the same thing about many of the characters from Ace of Shades, including Enne. At times, Enne was a little naïve, but it fit with the context of her upbringing and subsequent arrival in a new place.

Like I said above, Ace of Shades wasn’t a bad story. I liked it a lot actually. However, the beginning didn’t really draw me in the way Daughter of the Burning City did. It took several chapters before I was able to really get into the story. By far my favorite parts of the book took place in the latter half of the story when the true nature of the city and the game were revealed. There were hints of broader political and social unrest brewing beneath the surface of New Reynes, but they were hints. Of course, the implications point toward where the story could go after the end of Ace of Shades. And I’m interested in seeing where those implications eventually lead and what the consequences will be for Enne, Levi, and the other characters.

So, Ace of Shades was a good story. It was a promising beginning to a new series, and I know I’ll probably read the sequel. I also recommend it for those who enjoyed Foody’s last book, Daughter of the Burning City.

Disclaimer: This copy of the book was provided by Harlequin Teen via Netgalley for this review.

About the author...

Amanda Foody has always considered imagination to be our best attempt at magic. After spending her childhood longing to attend Hogwarts, she now loves to write about immersive settings and characters grappling with insurmountable destinies. She holds a Masters in Accountancy from Villanova University, and a Bachelors of Arts in English Literature from the College of William and Mary. Currently, she works as a tax accountant in Philadelphia, PA, surrounded by her many siblings and many books. DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY is her first novel. Her second, ACE OF SHADES, will follow in April 2018...

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

ARC Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

36686547Title: The Tea Master and the Detective
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Series: The Universe of Xuya
Source/Format: Subterranean Press via Netgalley; eARC
More Details: Science Fiction
Publisher/Publication Date: Subterranean Press; March 31, 2018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appearance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.

A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow's Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow's Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow's Child with her.

As they dig deep into the victim's past, The Shadow's Child realizes that the investigation points to Long Chau's own murky past--and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars...
I’m always on the lookout for a good gender-swapped version of Sherlock Holmes, and Aliette de Bodard has achieved that and more with The Tea Master and the Detective. Despite its short length—it’s a novella—De Bodard crafted a compelling book with a fantastic story set in the Xuya Universe with characters that were as mysterious as they were smart. It also had a unique take on space travel that felt fresh and innovative.

I adored this book. It was the perfect combination of science fiction and mystery, with a Sherlock Holmes and Watson-esque relationship between the two main characters, The Shadow’s Child (a mindship) and Long Chau. That’s one thing I love about De Bodard’s writing—she always manages to create such vivid characters. The Shadow’s Child was by far one of my favorite aspects about the book. It was a mindship discharged from the military after a traumatic injury. The character could have gone either way, good or bad. However, the backstory, personality, and how De Bodard portrayed the lingering fears linked to the aforementioned trauma, made for a well-rounded character. The same could be said about Long Chau; although, I much preferred when the two were interacting/investigating.

The Scattered Pearls Belt was an interesting place with excellent world building. There were a number of little details about the society that made it an interesting setting for a mystery to take place. I particularly enjoyed the author’s take on space travel. Specifically, I liked the idea of using something as ordinary and everyday as tea to nullify the effects of traveling into “deep spaces.” And the process behind making these teas—the trial and errors while brewing—were quite fascinating to read about.

So, The Tea Master and the Detective was pretty awesome. I loved everything about it, and I recommend it for readers who have read works by De Bodard before or are looking for a good place to start.

Disclaimer: This copy of the book was provided by Subterranean Press via Netgalley for this review.
Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she has a day job as a System Engineer. She studied Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, but moonlights as a writer of speculative fiction. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Obsidian and Blood trilogy of Aztec noir fantasies, as well as numerous short stories, which garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and two British Science Fiction Association Awards. Her space opera books include The Tea Master and the Detective, a murder mystery set on a space station in a Vietnamese Galactic empire, inspired by the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Recent works include the Dominion of the Fallen series, set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which comprises The House of Shattered Wings (Roc/Gollancz, 2015 British Science Fiction Association Award, Locus Award finalist), and its standalone sequel The House of Binding Thorns (Ace/Gollancz). She lives in Paris with her family, in a flat with more computers than warm bodies, and a set of Lovecraftian tentacled plants intent on taking over the place...

(Photo credit: Lou Abercrombie)

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Review: Elevate by Joseph Deitch

35827183Title: Elevate, An Essential Guide to Life
Series: n/a
Author: Joseph Deitch
Source/Format: Bookish First; Hardcover
More Details: Self Help; Nonfiction
Publisher/Publication Date: Greenlead Book Group Press; March 27, 2018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

A modern world that is bursting with data can often make us feel even more lost as we struggle to find meaning and look for the answers to life’s mysteries. Joseph Deitch shares his lifelong pursuit of wisdom and growth in an accessible, practical, down-to-earth gift to his readers. Elevate is a celebration of life and the potential that exists for all of us. It provides both answers and insights as it links awareness and action, East and West, ancient and modern, spiritual and scientific. It offers a formula for turning frustration into fascination and provides a universal framework for what works and why, what to do . . . and why we don’t...
I don’t typically read self-help books unless there’s something about them that not only get but keeps my interest, and that’s exactly what happened with Elevate. I read an excerpt and liked the initial pages. So, I was pretty excited when I got the email indicating that I was getting an early copy. Suffice it to say, I liked Elevate. It was the kind of book that took time to read and made me really think about the information as I went along. Like every book claiming to give advice about life—how to live it and win at it—I always take it with a grain of salt, because implementing changes are never as simple as it’s presented on paper. That being said, Deitch presents some interesting ideas. This book is divided into two sections: Awareness and Action. In Awareness, Deitch talks about perception, learning, and growth among other things. In Action, he discusses 10 different skills such as ask, listen, motivate, energize, structure, leverage, and even love. He often used his own experiences—personal and lessons learned while owning and operating his business—as evidence to back up the validity of his advice. All in all, not a bad read. I plan to keep this one on my shelf for future reference...

Disclaimer: This copy of the book was provided by Greenleaf Book Group Press via Bookish First. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace

25819511Title: Envy of Angels
Series: Sin du Jour #1
Author: Matt Wallace
Source/Format: Purchased; ebook
More Details: Urban Fantasy 
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor.com; October 20, 2015

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

In New York, eating out can be hell. Everyone loves a well-catered event, and the supernatural community is no different, but where do demons go to satisfy their culinary cravings? Welcome to Sin du Jour - where devils on horseback are the clients, not the dish...
I didn’t know what to expect with the first book in the Sin du Jour series by Matt Wallace. Prior to diving into it, I’d heard a lot of good things about the series and my expectations were moderate. And I’m happy to report that I enjoyed this story. After all, it combined two of my favorite things: urban fantasy and cooking. With a combination like that, what could possibly go wrong? Well, for the characters, a lot actually. 

I’ve read urban fantasy that also had cooking/catering combined with paranormal elements. And while those stories were good in their own way, I also enjoyed Envy of Angels for what it had to offer. There was a certain, often elevated, degree of ridiculousness to some of the situations the characters ended up in. It was very unexpected, but at the end of the day it worked. The cooking was probably my favorite part of Envy of Angels. I always love the idea behind supernatural catering/restaurants, and this is one of the more unique interpretations of it that I’ve recently read. There was a quirky and strange approach to the types of ingredients described, while the cooking techniques were, well, kind of normal. It was what one would expect from any kind of restaurant kitchen except for the ingredients. The characters are also worth mentioning, because they were interesting. They came from different backgrounds and held different jobs and as a result their skills and internal monologue varied greatly. I particularly enjoyed the side plot that involved Sin du Jour’s “receiving folks” or procurement team. As it so happens, there's a short story about them over on Tor.com. It's called Small Wars, and you can find it here: Small Wars by Matt Wallace; Tor.com.

All in all, Envy of Angels was surprising in the best kind of way. It was everything I was hoping it would be and more. Suffice it to say, I will definitely read more books by Matt Wallace.


Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

35210501Title: Ready Player One
Series: N/A
Author: Ernest Cline
Source/Format: Blogging for Books; Paperback
More Details: Science Fiction
Publisher/Publication Date: Broadway Books; August 16, 2011

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines--puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win--and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape...
For the longest time, I’ve been hearing about Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This author isn’t completely new to me. I read Armada and liked it, so, I didn’t go into Ready Player One totally in the dark about Cline’s writing. However, my expectations were very high. I expected to be wowed. And, I wasn’t disappointed. I liked Ready Player One

The OASIS was described as a “vast virtual world where most of humanity spends their days”, which is the only accurate way to describe it. There were more than a dozen different worlds within the game, made up of original places or franchises licensed for use in OASIS. It was open platform and the majority of the setting (where the story played out) was within OASIS. It wasn’t just a recreational pastime, but also a place to learn and make purchases using real money. It was also a place to form friendships and even romantic relationships.

The plot focused on the contest, or “the Hunt”, left behind by James Halliday (the creator of the OASIS). So, Ready Player One is a Willy Wonka-esque story with a heavy emphasis on virtual reality, peppered—almost on every page—with references to pop culture primarily from the 80s. There were mentions of Star Wars, Back to the Future, and many others; as well as video games and consoles, for example the Atari 2600. But, this was a book that also had something else to say: an underlying message mixed in with the action and the Hunt, kind of about escapism via virtual reality told through the experiences of past and present characters.

And that brings me to the characters. I thought Wade Watts was a relatively interesting protagonist. He was down on his luck and had horrible relatives. His situation wasn’t the best and the OASIS was his escape from his life in the stacks. He was also like a walking dictionary for 80s pop culture. But then again, so were a lot of the “gunters” involved in the Hunt.

So, I thoroughly enjoyed Ready Player One and will definitely read future books by this author.
Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by Blogging for Books for this review...

About the author...

Ernest Cline is a novelist, screenwriter, father, and full-time geek. His first novel, Ready Player One, was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller and appeared on numerous “best of the year” lists. Ernie lives in Austin, Texas, with his family, a time-traveling DeLorean, and a large collection of classic video games...

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Review: Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody

30237061Title: Daughter of the Burning City
Series: N/A
Author: Amanda Foody
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Young Adult; Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Harlequin Teen; July 25, 2017

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show. But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered. Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear...
I’ve wanted to read Daughter of the Burning City for a while now. I freely admit that I was drawn in by the gorgeous cover and premise, which promised a magical and dangerous circus-y type setting—which is a favorite trope/element of mine that I don’t read often enough. I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would. It was a deeply atmospheric story. There were so many things about it that were cool and unique that I almost wish I’d read it sooner, but it is what it is.

Overall, I liked the story. There was a lot going on between the mystery about who was killing Sorina’s illusion, and the broader conflicts surrounding Gomorrah’s travels through the Up-Mountains. There were a lot of unexpected twists. And the setting was sort of fun—it’s a festival after all—but it carried through on some darker themes. In that way, the burning city lived up to its name. And Foody succeeded at capturing the atmosphere of Gomorrah: the danger and mystery; how something of its nature moves from place to place, and what the way of life was like for the people who lived and worked there. The lore surrounding the smoke that clouds Gomorrah’s sky was as unexpected and cool as the scenery and members of Sorina’s show. There was, of course, a world outside of Gomorrah. There could have been…more to it, but there were clear hints of the landscape and brutal extremism in the Up-Mountain beliefs that often ended in violence.

Now the characters—for the most part, I liked them, particularly Sorina and her illusions. Sorina is a character I would best describe as somewhat naïve, but considering the story, her upbringing, and age, it ultimately worked because it fit with her personality. Now, Sorina is a character without eyes, and some of the expressions used to describe her emotional reactions were a little confusing. Such as when she was crying, but without eyes I wasn’t certain how it worked. I wish that her emotions had been better reflected in her illusion jynx-work. But otherwise, I thought her character and abilities were fine.

I don’t know. There was something about Daughter of the Burning City that I loved, a certain charm to the characters, story, and setting. And I liked the end. It was a satisfying conclusion for the characters, despite some lingering questions. Needless to say, I will definitely read more books by Amanda Foody...

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

26032825Title: The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Series: The Folk of the Air #1
Source/Format: Borrowed from the Library; Hardcover
More Details: Young Adult; Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Little Brown Books for Young Readers; January 2, 2018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever. And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe...

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King. To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences. In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.
I have been a fan of Holly Black’s writing for a number of years. I've always particularly enjoyed her books about fairies including The Spiderwick Chronicles (which I read as a kid), the Modern Faerie Tales, and The Darkest Part of the Forest. So, you can imagine how excited I was for The Cruel Prince.

I enjoyed this book. The plot had me hooked from the very first page. One thing I particularly enjoyed about The Cruel Prince was how it expanded the world already established in other books—like Tithe—and some familiar faces appeared briefly in the story.

The Cruel Prince didn’t necessarily offer anything new in terms of fairies—especially if you’ve read books by this author before. It read like Black’s usual take on fey lore with the fairies being cruel tricksters, and their society dark and atmospheric full of magic, danger, and politics. But that’s what I was expecting and it was done so well. What I didn’t expect was how much I liked the majority of Jude’s perspective. For the most part she was okay. I didn’t necessarily like all the decisions she made, and parts of her personality reminded me a little of Hazel from The Darkest Part of the Forest. At some parts, their goals were kind of similar, particularly in the beginning of The Cruel Prince. That being said, their stories were vastly different. It was also interesting to see the courts from the viewpoint of a human forced to live among the nobility of the fey and what daily life would be like for Jude and her twin.

The prince implied in the title, well…I didn’t like his character for about 50% of the book. The title says it all: he was intentionally cruel to Jude to the point of endangering her life. And that crossed the line. However, the twists with his character were unexpected, and he went through some much needed development in book 2 (part 2). I wasn't exactly sympathetic to his character, but he was tolerable.

Overall, The Cruel Prince was everything I was hoping it would be. The last few chapters were amazing, and I look forward to what Holly Black has in-store for this story.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Thoughts on the Imperial Radch Trilogy: Review of Ancillary Sword & Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

About the books...

20706284Title: Ancillary Sword
Author: Ann Leckie
Series: Imperial Radch #2
Source/Format: Gift; paperback
More Details: Science Fiction
Publisher/Publication Date: Orbit; October 7, 2014

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

What if you once had thousands of bodies and near god-like technology at your disposal?

And what if all of it were ripped away?

The Lord of the Radch has given Breq command of the ship Mercy of Kalr and sent her to the only place she would have agreed to go—to Athoek Station, where Lieutenant Awn's sister works in Horticulture. Athoek was annexed some six hundred years ago, and by now everyone is fully civilized—or should be. But everything is not as tranquil as it appears. Old divisions are still troublesome, Athoek Station's AI is unhappy with the situation, and it looks like the alien Presger might have taken an interest in what's going on. With no guarantees that interest is benevolent...

23533039
Title: Ancillary Mercy
Author: Ann Leckie
Series: Imperial Radch #3 
Source/Format: Gift; paperback
More Details: Science Fiction
Publisher/Publication Date: Orbit; October 6, 2015

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

The conclusion to the trilogy that began with Ancillary Justice...

For a moment, things seemed to be under control for Breq, the soldier who used to be a warship. Then a search of Athoek Station's slums turns up someone who shouldn't exist, and a messenger from the mysterious Presger empire arrives, as does Breq's enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai - ruler of an empire at war with itself. Breq refuses to flee with her ship and crew, because that would leave the people of Athoek in terrible danger. The odds aren't good, but that's never stopped her before...


Just a quick note: I will be discussing the second and third book of the trilogy. I will try to be as vague as possible, but there may be minor spoilers. So, if you haven’t read the first book, Ancillary Justice or Ancillary Sword, then stop reading now.

No, seriously, look away.

Well then, you've been warned.

Still here? Alright then, read on... 
During my break from blogging, I planned to get a lot of reading done. And while I didn’t read as much as I wanted to, I did binge the rest of the Imperial Radch trilogy—Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy—because I got the books as Christmas gifts.

As a whole, I enjoyed this series for its core themes and characters. In particular, my favorite part of the both books was the character Breq. I also enjoyed the politics—there was a lot of it—and other parts of Radachaai society outside of the palaces. And, I liked Leckie’s use of technology, and what she did with the AIs prominently featured throughout the trilogy.

Ancillary Sword…

I liked Ancillary Sword, but it was a little weaker than Ancillary Justice. I think the main issue I had was that some of the excitement of the first book was missing in the sequel. Sometimes, the stakes didn’t seem as high despite the danger posed to Breq and crew.

The political side of Radch has always been a focal point of the series, and it was one of the things I was looking forward to. In Ancillary Sword, Breq—former troop carrier, Justice of Torren, and current ancillary—is in a new role: fleet captain, a position given to her by one faction of Anaander Mianaai. However, while the civil war between the differing factions of Mianaai is made mention of, it seemed a little detached from the story because much of the fighting takes place off page rather than seeing parts of the conflict directly through the eyes of Breq—as was the case in Ancillary Justice. There was action in Ancillary sword, but not as much as in Ancillary Justice. But, I didn’t really expect it, given that from early on the narrative tended more toward Radch politics—although localized—and tea. And I mean lots and lots of tea.

But, it was kind of interesting to learn more about the AIs—ships and stations—as well as what different parts of the Radch was like. And Ancillary Sword was still a necessary read, because it set up the plot that continued into the next book.

Ancillary Mercy…


Now, by comparison, I enjoyed Ancillary Mercy more than Sword because the stakes were higher—the danger and conflict were more direct. During some parts, I was actually nervous for my favorite characters, and that only heightened how much of a page-turner Ancillary Mercy ended up being. It was an epic finish to the trilogy. It had all the elements I was missing from Ancillary Justice. There was a perfect blend of character development on all fronts—AI and people—politics, actions, mention of tea, and the conflict between Anaander Mianaai and herself.

One thing I enjoyed about Ancillary Mercy was how vivid the characters were—both familiar and new to the trilogy. Even the AIs had distinct personalities and habits despite being viewed by some as just equipment. I appreciated those little quirks.

The end, while not neat or overly happily ever after—and it certainly didn’t solve everything about the situation with Mianaai and Radch—was still a satisfying conclusion for the characters. And that made the whole series worth it.

Finally…

As a whole, the Imperial Radch trilogy was something else. I like to describe it simply as awesome. There were a lot of interesting ideas about technology, politics, justice, and the limits of an empire. And Leckie did a good job exploring them.
Would you read The Imperial Radch trilogy?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

ARC Review: Don't Live For Your Obituary by John Scalzi

36471758Title: Don't Live For Your Obituary: Advice, Commentary and Personal Observations on Writing, 2008-2017
Author: John Scalzi
Series: n/a
Source/Format: Subterranean Press via Netgalley; eARC
More Details: Nonfiction; Writing
Publisher/Publication Date: Subterranean Press; December 31, 2017

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Synopsis from Goodreads...


Between 2008 and 2017, author John Scalzi wrote fifteen books, became a New York Times bestselling author, and won numerous awards, including the Hugo, the Locus and the Governor’s Award for the Arts in Ohio. He also had book deals crater, lost more awards than he won, worried about his mortgage and health insurance, flubbed a few deadlines, tried to be a decent parent and husband, and got into some arguments on the Internet, because, after all, that’s what the Internet is for. Scalzi wrote about it all—the highs and lows in the life of a working writer—and gave his readers, and other writers, a glimpse of the day-to-day business of navigating a writing life in today’s world. Sometimes these essays offered advice. Sometimes they commented on the practical business of publishing and selling books. Sometimes they focused on the writing issues, arguments and personalities of the day. And sometimes, Scalzi reflected on his own writing life and career, and what both meant in the larger scheme of things. Don’t Live for Your Obituary is a curated selection of that decade of advice, commentary and observations on the writing life, from one of the best-known science fiction authors working today. But more than that, it’s a portrait of an era—ten years of drama, controversy and change in writing, speculative fiction and the world in general—from someone who was there when it happened… and who had opinions about it all...
Considering that this book was written by John Scalzi, I’m honestly not surprised that I liked it. I’ve been following Scalzi since I read his book, Old Man’s War, in 2015. I was late to the series, but nevertheless, I enjoyed it. So, I was excited when I first learned that he would be releasing a book on writing, mostly comprised of posts that have appeared on his blog between 2008 and 2017.

I liked Don’t Live For Your Obituary partly because I don’t have to go back through all of Scalzi’s blog posts to find the ones included in the book, and he has a lot of insightful commentary on his experience as a published author and on publishing in general. This book covered a myriad of topics. There was one topic I particularly liked and that was the focus on the business side of publishing—including taxes, money, and day jobs—which is something I often look for in writing books but never usually get.

Don’t Live For Your Obituary is a good book to read if you’re thinking about getting involved in anything publishing related, or are just looking for something interesting to read. It doesn’t sugarcoat or feed into lofty expectations, and often focuses on the reality of publishing. So, if you’re a fan of Scalzi then I recommend this book. And, if you’ve read the vast majority of the blog posts on his blog, Whatever, then, I still recommend Don’t Live For Your Obituary.

Disclaimer: This copy of the book was provided  Subterranean Press via Netgalley for this review.

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