30.1.14

Review: The Prospect of My Arrival by Dwight Okita


review
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title:  The Prospect of My Arrival

author:  Dwight Okita

pages: 277

format: Kindle

isbn/asin: 978-1460959893

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Adults or older teens (due to some relatively graphic sexual material).  Anyone experiencing an existential crisis.  Fans of near-future sci-fi, like The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke.  


My Ratings Explained

Thanks to a scientific breakthrough, a human embryo is allowed to preview the world before deciding whether or not to be born. The embryo, named Prospect, is given a starter kit of human knowledge and its consciousness is inserted into a synthetic twenty-year-old body. What will he make of the modern world with its over-the-counter solutions, rising tide of mean-spiritedness, and senseless violence? He meets a range of people to help him decide, from a greeting card writer with a knack for sympathy cards "because there's so much in the world to be sorry about" to his parents whose first child disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Battling over the soul of Prospect is a scientist who sees an opportunity to help the human race evolve -- and a businessman who is more interested in creating something marketable than something remarkable. Sprinkled with humor, The Prospect of My Arrival is a cautionary tale exploring the triumph of imagination, the limits of modern science, and the perils of losing one's sense of wonder.




the basics
I was drawn to this book by the highly original set-up.  A child choosing whether to be born?  It really takes a new spin on the abortion debate (or, if you're not political, sets up some great philosophical questions about the value of life).  Prospect is not always the easiest character to like.  Given that his mind is a fetus' with some downloaded posh, he can be stilted and stodgy.  That said, he also has a childlike naivete that both carries some of the conflict and allows readers to see a new world in his eyes.  The split-narrative structure worked well and gave some insight into the sinister business-side of things.  The writing is frequently beautiful, the plot frequently shocking.  Prospect lives a lot of life in his short trial period; his unique position draws him into griefs and struggles most never experience, and joys that everyone should.  The story of Prospect's journey would have been enough, but Okita ups the ante with an anti-Preborn militant group who finds the rule of science over God repugnant and does all they can to destroy the project--no matter who's hurt in the process.  What comes out is both a character-driven exploration of pure life and an exciting mystery/thriller with an ending that still unsettles me.  Okita's debut deeply moved and thrilled me, and left me with lingering questions that ensure I won't soon forget my read.  



plot . 4/5
When we meet Prospect, he's already been programmed into his temporary body with a preset repertoire of knowledge, skills, and social morays.  Enough to function in the world at a basic level, but without the experiential part.  Okita's fantastic at explaining the project without the dreaded info-dump, so the plot takes off right away.  Prospect meets his parents--yes, the woman who is pregnant and actually carrying his consciousness.  The strangeness of this meeting sets up a series of still-stranger events that always kept me guessing.  Basically, Prospect travels from host to host, each of whom is meant to show him a kind of life.  The life of someone who wants to be dead.  The life of someone who's truly happy.  

Along the way, Prospect encounters sex, suicide, death, and first love.  He's loved by some and hunted by others.  In interspersed chapters, we also see the founder of the project, whose own motives and struggles are equally compelling.  This isn't a totally sensical plot.  You have to take some leaps of faith and allow for some odd coincidences and strange happenings.  It's as much a thought experiment as a novel.  But for me, it worked.   There's also an exciting thriller threaded throughout, with Prospect hunted by an invisible organization who will do anything to end the Preborn project.  This side of the plot adds some tension and prevented me from being overwhelmed by philosophy.  


concept . 5/5
If you could have experienced life before you were born and chosen to live it, would you?  It's a question that's come up quite often in the abortion debate, particularly with respect to fetuses who show signs of disability, genetic disease, or other atypicalities.  If they knew how they'd live, would they want to?  It's not a question we can actually answer, but Okita takes a stab at it with the Preborn project.  Suspend your disbelief; this is not a hard-science, deeply researched, feasible thing.  If that's going to bother you, consider another book.  If you're willing to accept the premise, then you're in for a highly enjoyable exploration of what it means to live, to love, to experience joy and sorrow.  What it means to be humans.  What it means to live in a world where suffering is unavoidable.  Each of Prospect's encounters brings up half-answered questions about these big issues, and builds into something sweetly melancholy and thought-provoking.   

characters . 5/5
Like the plot, the character are just a little unbelievable.  There's a hint of magic realism about it.  Prospect himself is the trickiest, of course.  He's been given some knowledge about the world, but never had experiences.  Again, you have to take a leap of faith.  The implications of what this would actually look like are not fully explored and that was fine with me; I just accepted Okita's conceit.  Prospect himself is a little on the dull side, but he's also  great narrator.  His childlike innocence allows him to view the world in ways that I'd forgotten I could.  He also becomes more relatable as time goes on.  The scientist lady was less of a draw for me, perhaps because I found her selfish and annoying, but she works in the context of the story.  The Referrals (Prospect's host) were largely well done.  Lito, Irene, and Trevor were the clear winners.  Lito is a foster child, an outcast, sweet and immeasurably sad.  His relationship with Prospect is beautiful and heartwrenching.  Irene is the "happy" referral, a greeting card maker who has an aphorism for any situation.  Only her secret was marvelously shocking.  Then there's Trevor, the wildest of the bunch, exaggeratedly hedonistic but also violently anti-Preborn.  Each character adds something to the overall metaphor and, to some extent, contributes to the thriller side of the plot.  

style . 5/5
Okita's style is, frankly, poetic.  I stopped reading every few minutes because I had to highlight something.  He has an uncanny way of putting the most ordinary things into extraordinary forms, and making the extraordinary accessible.  He intersperses some philosophizing, but he's careful not to let it become overbearing.  I truly found his writing style gorgeous.  

mechanics . 5/5
The third person worked for me.  It made the book feel a little heavier, a little more literary.  The alternating chapters were sometimes annoying because I'd be dangling over a cliffhanger, so there's that.  For all the indie doubters out there, you wouldn't know this book wasn't Big Six.  It's finely polished, clearly professionally edited, and well-paced.  

take home message
A sweetly melancholy tale of life and love superimposed on an exciting thriller.  





Note: I received this copy in exchange for review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.




29.1.14

ARC Review: Unhinged by A.G. Howard


review
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title:  Unhinged

author:  A.G. Howard

pages: 400

format: Kindle ARC

isbn/asin: 978-1613125342

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Alice in Wonderland (duh), Everneath and Everbound by Brodi Ashton, and The Archived by Victoria Schwab. 


My Ratings Explained

Alyssa Gardner has been down the rabbit hole and faced the bandersnatch. She saved the life of Jeb, the guy she loves, and escaped the machinations of the disturbingly seductive Morpheus and the vindictive Queen Red. Now all she has to do is graduate high school and make it through prom so she can attend the prestigious art school in London she's always dreamed of.

That would be easier without her mother, freshly released from an asylum, acting overly protective and suspicious. And it would be much simpler if the mysterious Morpheus didn’t show up for school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest in the dark, challenging Wonderland—where she (partly) belongs.

As prom and graduation creep closer, Alyssa juggles Morpheus’s unsettling presence in her real world with trying to tell Jeb the truth about a past he’s forgotten. Glimpses of Wonderland start to bleed through her art and into her world in very disturbing ways, and Morpheus warns that Queen Red won’t be far behind.

If Alyssa stays in the human realm, she could endanger Jeb, her parents, and everyone she loves. But if she steps through the rabbit hole again, she'll face a deadly battle that could cost more than just her head.




the basics
Splintered was a favorite book of mine last year, for its magical landscape and compelling characters.  I may not like Unhinged as much as the original, but it delivers on the promises of a good sequel: character growth, increased plot twistiness, and new heights of imagination that make it much more than just the first book again.  I think my main disappointment was the focus on Earth rather than Wonderland.  Given that, Unhinged shares many of the positives that drew me so strongly to Splintered.  Howard's gift for imagination and whimsy is unfathomable.  This book introduces new creatures, new secrets, new Wonderland strangeness.  We also learn loads more about the history of Alyssa, her mother, her father, and Morpheus, which raises the stakes of the Red Queen's dominion and also kept me as reader constantly guessing and surprised.  The plot picks up a bit slowly, but once Morpheus comes to visit, we're caught in Wonderland intrigue, near misses, a game that Alyssa must play though she doesn't fully understand the rules.  Always, I found myself cheering for Alyssa and sympathizing with her major conflict: choosing Jeb and a human life, or giving into her viciously strange Wonderland instincts.  The final battle is thrilling and races into a shocking end that gives some closure but also sets up the next book perfectly.  I'm already itching for book three. 



plot . 4/5
I wasn't as instantly drawn into the plot as I had been in book 1.  For a while, Alyssa is on Earth and distantly aware that strange things are afoot, but mostly gaga over sweetie Jeb.  There's some angst over missing Wonderland, but she seems fairly content.  It's when Morpheus forces himself into her life that the plot really picks up.  (Plus, I do have a soft spot for the blue-haired bug.)  It's then that we realize that Red's battle has come to Earth.  She's building an army and no one is safe.  Alyssa's strange paintings that create themselves hint at an answer, but when some are stolen, it's a race to learn the truth of the future before Red does.  Allison's also clearly up to something secret, though how sinister is unclear.  The plot hits its sweet spot when Wonderland leaks into Earth and Alyssa must fight to protect her loved ones without compromising her Earthen life.  I loved watching Alyssa grow into her powers and take ownership of her own duty.  It's also clear throughout that everyone is lying to everyone, making the book a puzzle that I enjoyed piecing apart.  All the betrayal and intrigue culminates in an epic glow-in-the-dark battle that brings both of Alyssa's worlds clashing together.  I can't spoil, but the ending was one of the cleverest routes Howard could have gone.  


concept . 5/5
Last year, I gushed over Splintered, A.G. Howard's first retelling of the Alice story.  Alice has been done a lot, but certainly not to death.  Howard finds a new niche for herself in the genre by taking a cue from Tim Burton and darkening up the whimsy, but also interpreting the story in her own way.  What if Carroll got some things wrong?  What if the White Rabbit was actually a creepy little antlered creature called Rabid White?  What if the hookah-smoking caterpillar grew up into a hookah-smoking butterfly?  We also have terrifyingly whimsical additions, like the menacing Sisters Twid; tulgey wood that takes in lost souls and spits them out mangled; life-magic oaths that bind underlings to their fates.  Using the source material in this way allows Howard's own creativity to shine through, while still honoring the legend.  

characters . 5/5
I loved Alyssa before and I only grew to love here more here.  She's still feisty and determined, but we also see how much her journey has changed her.  Now that she's tasted Wonderland, the dance between her two lives creates conflict that carries through the whole book.  She has Jeb and Morpheus each pulling her towards a certain life, and experiences a feeling of tearing in two that drives a lot of the conflict.  We also see Allison (Alyssa's mother) take a place center stage.  She's no longer the quiet asylum ghost that she was.  She's back as mom, protector, disapprover of fishnet tights--and she's still connected with Wonderland in ways that Alyssa doesn't understand.  The revelation of Allison's secrets was one of the most satisfying parts of the story.  Do I even need to mention how much I love Morpheus?  He's obviously selfish and stalkerish, but also so vulnerable.  The fact that Alyssa recognizes and calls out his bad behavior makes me less nervous about the actually-bad bad boy.  Jeb is pretty sweet and wonderful too, but something about him strikes me as off.  Not as a character, but as a person.  I think I'm just team-Morpheus and Jeb suffers for it.  

style . 4/5
Howard's style is simple and satisfying.  I'd like to see a little more lyricism and some more care taken with dialogue, but don't mistake me and think I'm saying her style is bad.  It's just not my favorite.  However, there are many aspects I love about it.  It's cheeky, witty, and whimsical.  She has Morpheus' voice nailed perfectly, down to the illogical logic and the sexy banter.  Speaking of illogical logic, she's also quite masterful at filling her writings with mysteries and riddles that add to the atmosphere.  What I could do without is the extensive descriptions of clothing--even though Alyssa's prom dress sounds fabulous.  

mechanics . 5/5
Besides the excessive clothes descriptions (why hello, George R.R. Martin), I don't have much to complain about.  After the slight slowness of the beginning, the pacing is well done throughout.  She ends it at a perfect moment and gives you just enough hint to the next book.  Everything was also polished and nicely edited.  I appreciate a writer who doesn't mince words.  I'm also in obsessive love with the cover.  

take home message
An formidable sequel, Unhinged captures the sinister whimsy of the original and exhibits the growth and sophistication of Alyssa and her world.  





Note: I received this copy in exchange for review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.




28.1.14

ARC Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge


review
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title:  Cruel Beauty

author:  Rosamund Hodge

pages: 352

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0062224736

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 9/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Greek epics, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, and Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas.  Princesses of all ages. 


My Ratings Explained

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.




the basics
My recent reviews may trick you into thinking I love every book I read; I don't.  I've just come across some winners lately.  Cruel Beauty is a definite winner.  I read it pretty much straight through, entranced by the gorgeous writing and mythical atmosphere.  It has all the magic and quirkiness of its forebear, Beauty and the Beast, but takes the story far beyond its inspiration.  This is a world cursed, locked in a paper sky.  A girl raised to marry and destroy the evil overlord.  A tortured demon and his imprisoned shadow.  The set-up alone is compelling, but Hodge's true gift is in her imagination.  Much of the plot centers around Nyx's exploration of a labyrinthine, ever-changing house with wildly creative rooms. Like Nyx, I felt equal terror and excitement at what the next room might be, what secrets the objects hid.  There's the interweaving of Greek mythology with Hodge's own created mythos, a religion of tricksters and hedge gods.  Then we have Ignifex and Shade, a demon and his shadow, both complex characters that tread the line between good and evil.  And of course Nyx, torn between duty to her family and hatred for their place in her imprisonment.  Hodge made me believe in and love these characters so that their struggles were mine, their victories mine.  Reading this multilayered book, I felt the same impatient glee that I felt when first reading my favorite book, Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle.  And when I turned that final page, I felt the strongest urge to read it all over again.  



plot . 5/5
This book is proof that you don't need battles and huge crazy twists to keep a reader's interest.  What works for Hodge is mystery.  When you meet Nyx, it's her wedding day.  She's preparing for her marriage--and death--to the lord that imprisoned and rules Arcadia.  We know that Arcadia is trapped beneath a paper sky.  We know the wizards of the magical Hermetic arts have trained Nyx to stop him.  We don't know much else.  Why was Nyx chosen to sacrifice herself?  How did Arcadia become trapped?  What awaits Nyx at the Gentle Lord's castle?  These questions are only multiplied when Nyx enters the castle and finds the Gentle Lord as captivating as he is cruel.  The slow burn of their relationship is satisfying.  It starts with Nyx's many attempts to kill him, which dissolves into snarky (eventually flirty) banter.  Snarky banter is my biggest weakness and immediately endeared me to Ignifex.  Then of course there's Shade, the gentle prisoner who shows Nyx the house's secrets and believes she can be a hero.  The triangle between them is dealt with tactfully, without undue angst and with a startling conclusion.  My lips are sealed.  

As exciting as watching Nyx grow to love and understand her captor and fellow captive was adventuring with her through the castle.  Honestly, I can't think of a slow moment. It becomes clear early on that darker things than Ignifex are at work here, more powerful things.  Strange things that seem determined to keep Nyx in the dark.  Hodge covets her secrets and reveals them at precisely the right moments (or the wrong ones, much to the characters' dismay).  She also has the cruel talent of turning the story entirely around as soon as everything is coming together.  I'm pretty sure I shouted, "Noooo!" at one point from pure frustration.  The good kind.  I'm still mixed on how the ending worked out, whether it was too deus ex machina, too convenient, but not enough that I didn't enjoy it.  It's a complicated ending that answers questions and leaves you with more.  You're left to construct your own narrative for what happens next--which is part of why I think the way she leaves it is so effective.  



concept . 5/5
I love my fairy tale rewrites.  There's something so exciting about finding something familiar in something new.  The best rewrites take the spirit of the original and run with it (think Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine).  Hodge certainly meets this requirement.  We have Beauty and the Beast in an alternate version of Greece, where the gods are still believed and magic is a refuge from the ever-present threat of demon invasion.  Cool, huh?  Yes, I'm a sucker for Greek mythology.  I'm also a sucker for strange houses with minds of their own.  Hodge has some clever nods to the original, with Nyx's love of books and the "beast's" curse.  She's also made it entirely her own.  The beast is a demon lord and a granter of cruel bargains.  The beauty is an assassin.  What's at stake is not simply the love of two outcasts, but the kingdom itself.  Hodge takes the fairy tale to the proportions of an epic.  

characters . 5/5
I'll try to be brief here.  The characters are phenomenal.  Nyx is a refreshing narrator.  She's cold, brash, resentful, and at times, truly cruel.  She's also unwaveringly loyal to the point of her own misery.  She has compassion.  She fights her own battles and thinks for herself.  It's nice to see a character with such deep flaws who still manages to be heroic.  You can also see that this isn't teenage angst.  Her hatred is a product of growing up in a house with a father who chose to sacrifice her, the unlucky sister, the unloved sister.  It makes her sympathetic. I also adored Ignifex.  He has that cocky, blunt snarkiness that I'm pretty much powerless against.  He's also vulnerable.  His curse is a burden.  He doesn't pretend not to be evil, but he longs for more.  There's also something delightful about a person who can laugh just after being stabbed.  Shade I liked less, perhaps because he's a little less vocal and isn't given as much screen time.  However, he definitely surprised me later on.  (Again, lips are sealed.)  The most surprising character was Astraia, however.  Nyx's twin, she seems naive and all laughs when we first meet her.  The change in her character is almost unbelievable.  I bought the explanation, but still think Hodge could have dropped a few more hints.  

style . 5/5
Cruel Beauty reads like a Greek epic crossed with a fairy tale.  It's not nearly as dense as the former (don't worry!).  Instead, what Hodge captures from Homer and Virgil is the atmosphere.  It feels epic, somehow.  Perhaps its the scope of the mythology and the world.  It's certainly in part due to Hodge's mastery of language.  She knows just which words to throw in to add that sense of grandeur.  She's also a master at making things sound magical.  I could live forever in the Water Room; her description alone was enough to take me there.  This book was truly beautiful.  

mechanics . 5/5
Holy worldbuilding, Batman!  Hodge could have thrown in a few names of Greek deities and gotten away with it.  And then I'd be complaining instead of marveling at how detailed the world is.  In just one book, she manages to fit in a lot of history and lore.  It's not overwhelming, however.  Details are slipped out as they're necessary.  Some things are left to the imagination.  Everything eventually serves a purpose.  The thoroughness of the world makes the story feel grounded and real--and the world Hodge chose to create makes the story feel magical and mythic.  

However...Ignifex?  Fire-bearer?  Really?  Could we not just pick something less obvious? 

take home message
A gorgeous fairy tale that gives all the best of magic and romance, with just enough poison.  





Note: I received this copy in exchange for review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.




27.1.14

ARC Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown


review
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title:  Red Rising

author:  Pierce Brown

pages: 400

format: Kindle ARC

isbn/asin: 978-0345539786

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 9/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and the Odyssey.  People who can handle some blood. 


My Ratings Explained

Darrow is a Helldiver, one of a thousand men and women who live in the vast caves beneath the surface of Mars. Generations of Helldivers have spent their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that one day people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left.

Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie. Mars is habitable - and indeed has been inhabited for generations by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. The Golds regard Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

With the help of a mysterious group of rebels, Darrow disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside.

But the command school is a battlefield. And Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda...




the basics
I heard of this book only accidentally before requesting a copy.  So rarely is a book so undeserving of lack of hype.  Red Rising is a revelation.  It's science-fiction at its best, dystopian at its best, humanity at its best (and worst).  It's a world in a distant future where Earthlings have claimed the nearby planets, where eugenics has created social classes bred for their roles, where obedience is mandated.  A terrifying world that seems in ways just an extreme version of our own.  I found Darrow instantly likeable.  He's thrust into a war he barely understands, forced to become the enemy in order to destroy them.  It was harrowing for me as reader, watching him shattered and rebuilt in every possible way.  First Darrow must abandon home and become the enemy; then he must fight a makeshift war to prove his greatness.  When school is literally a battlefield, what comes out is someone stronger and more ruthless.  Brown highlights that no one can come through war still innocent; that peace cannot be used against those who do not understand it.  I was emotionally devastated through each part of Darrow's journey--each betrayal, each death, each hesitant friendship.  I came out feeling as wracked as though part of me had been to war too.  Brown's beautiful language and masterful storytelling captured me quickly, and gave stark clarity to one of the most powerful pieces of young adult fiction--of any fiction--I've ever read.  



plot . 5/5
The book is aptly divided into sections highlighting each stage of Darrow's transformation.  We meet him as the cocky Helldiver, pride of his clan, pioneer.  His people, the lowly Reds, live in abject poverty, but believe that their struggles to terraform Mars are the last hope for the citizens of a dying Earth.  Only when Darrow's wife martyrs herself and Darrow is captured by the rebel Sons of Ares does he understand the depth of their delusion:  Mars is habitable.  Has been for hundreds of years.  And the Reds toil and die young underground simply to support the higher Colors who live in the sun.  At this point, Darrow has lost everything: wife, life, and peace.  His rage propels him to accept the rebels' plan, to become a Gold and infiltrate the highest ranks of government.  To change his body into that of a well-bred Gold's, he must undergo extensive, brutally painful surgeries.  Though much of this section is waiting and time lapses, it's crucial to seeing how drastically the Golds differ from the other classes.  

Then, the tone changes.  Darrow is effectively a Gold.  He's drafted into the Institution, a prestigious academy where young Golds test their mettle and come out with apprenticeships to the most powerful people in the solar system--or fail.  Only the test is literally a battle; each House has a fortress, and the winner is the one who captures and subjugates them all.  This section was the most compelling to me, the most ravaging.  In an effort to blend, Darrow's own cockiness and ambition come out.  The lines between the mission and Darrow's own pride are blurred.  It made me more invested because Darrow wasn't just seeking victory for his mission, but also for himself.  The war is absolutely fascinating.  You get the best of medieval and modern warfare, with spies, slaves, guerrilla tactics, and charges.  And Brown doesn't hold back when it comes to violence and grit.  Through it all, what kept me captivated was the human element.  Darrow's position forces him to befriend his Gold classmates.  What begins as necessity develops into real relationships that complicate Darrow's allegiance to the Sons of Ares.  I can't express how insanely well-done the Institute war was, how satisfying the ending.  



concept . 5/5
We have all the conceits of dystopian satisfied: a powerful ruling class, a manipulated underclass, a totalitarian government.  All this nested within a fascinating sci-fi world where Earth's empire stretches across the stars and its masters rule absolutely.  It sets up an easy conflict between the powerful and the oppressed that makes Darrow and his Reds instantly sympathetic.  However, Brown doesn't allow for a simplistic good and evil.  From the beginning, we know that the Golds are the overlords, the enemy.  The Reds are the oppressed.  So we have a clear conflict, until our hero Red becomes Gold himself.  Immersed in the Gold world, Darrow (and the reader) meet young Golds who are lovable, fallible, and relatable--as much products of their upbringing as Darrow.  Some are cruel and sadistic; others kind, self-sacrificing, not nearly the stereotypical overlords.  But all destined to be enemies by their birth.  The depth of characterization given to the Golds promises that for both Darrow and reader, choosing a "good guy" is never easy.  Darrow himself is driven to acts of atrocity, tarnishing the possibility of a "pure" hero.  These conditions are perfect for a deep, truly human exploration of good and evil, of structures that become shackles

characters . 5/5
Darrow is a deeply complex hero.  He's arrogant, hotheaded, and ruthless, but also compassionate, loving, driven.  His selfishness drives him to some of his greatest victories and most desperate defeats.  I loved him even when I hated him.  Tragedy spurs him into a heroic role he never wanted.  He first accepts it because he has a strong sense of duty, then embraces it when he learns the dark truth about his homeland.  I loved watching him grow over the course of the book from a cocky Helldiver to a ravaged general and spy.  He does unforgivable things but, instead of disliking him for it, I found myself questioning the system that drove him to it.  The rest of the cast is equally deep and gray.  I didn't like Eo that well because she seems to exist only as a symbol, but the other characters are much more real--and in each of them, we see how the hierarchy has failed them.  Mickey the Purple, vain and pampered but plagued by artistic demons.  

The other Golds are the most interesting.  They've been groomed for leadership and told they're special.  They've grown up believing that the system is good, that they deserve their luxury.  Yet at the Institution, their world becomes as cruel and painful as Darrow's.  They are pruned ruthlessly and dispassionately, as one would prune a tree.  Some rise to the challenge with cruelty and excitement; others feel betrayed by the superiors who promised them greatness.  Mustang, Pax, and Cassius are the most prominent, and also my favorites.  Mustang is vicious, brilliant, and also oddly selfless.  Cassius is driven by a self-destructive ambition, but his superiority is clearly a fragile thing.  Then there's Pax, loyal to strength and fiercely loyal.  I can't forget the Proctors, obvious symbols of uncaring Gods, who pull the strings like puppet masters.  The compassion with which Brown reveals all his characters promises for some devastating choices in the next books.  In the Institution, Darrow could ally with them freely.  Outside, they are the enemy again.  Who knows where the cards will fall? 

style . 5/5
I will start by saying that the narrative is in first person.  Given Darrow's lowly upbringing, I find it pretty unlikely that he would speak so eloquently, unless this is a retrospective report.  However, that said, the writing is one of the crucial elements to Red Rising's success.  Another author could have written this same story without making it nearly as impactful. But Brown's style is lyrical.  It calls to mind the myths he alludes to so often.  It pulled me in like a beautiful song and immersed me even more in the experience.  Brown has the perfect balance of description and metaphor to make a story that reads like an old epic, and leaves you with lingering chills. 

mechanics . 5/5
It's a long kind of book.  A lot happens, too.  It's difficult to fit so many months into a coherent narrative.  Brown does it mostly well.  The first part felt slow to me for some reason.  Perhaps I was uninterested in Eo.  Perhaps it could have been sped along.  It soon picked up.  By the time Darrow meets the sons of Ares, you're whipping along at a pretty good pace.  The cover?  Not great.  I'm underwhelmed.  

take home message
A devastating epic with deeply believable characters and white-knuckle adventure; dystopian at its best. 





Note: I received this copy in exchange for review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.




25.1.14

Book News: Around the Internet #5 / Tips from the Pros #6


Book News
                    around the internet



It's been a while since I've done one of this, so I have a pretty long list of cool stuff for you to look at!  Check out some awesome bookishness from around the web.    




Agents and Publishing

The Rise of Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey turned his self-published Wool into a best-seller--and a book deal.  Check out his inspirational story.  

DIY Marketing 
Self-published?  Here are some tips to take your marketing to the next level. 




Author News

Laini Taylor's Travels and News
The author of Daughter of Smoke and Bone has some fun travel news as well as a cool DoSB read-a-thon! 




Tips for Writers

Book Blurb Blunders

A look at some of the most annoying, cliched phrases in book blurbs.  A quirky, unflinching portrait.  

A 12 Day Plan
Twelve days of simple writing exercises to get you back on the horse.  



Fun Bookish Stuff

CBC Writer Conference

Do you want to meet some amazing authors?  This event features Jodi Meadows (*swoon*), Jennifer Armentrout, C.J. Redwine, and more favorites! 

Incarnate Readathon 
Backwards Story and Alexa Loves Books host a read-a-thon through all the Incarnate books by Jodi Meadows.  Don't worry, there's still time to jump in!  

Top 11 Books for Talking About Tough Stuff
Laurie Halse Anderson (author of Speak) reveals some of her favorite books that deal with tough teen issues. 

Harry Potter at Universal 
There's going to be a Diagon Alley!!!!!!!! 




From the Blogosphere

2014 Catch-Up Challenge

Your humble author of Sarcasm & Lemons wants you to come whittle down your TBR with her!   Involves prizes.  Oooh, prizes, shiiiiny.  

Buddy Reading Challenge
Christina wants buddy readers!  Tackle your TBR with a friend. 

Teen Vogue's Most Anticipated Books of 2014
They're not just for fashion.  Teen Vogue catalogs their 15 top young adult picks for this year.  Are any of your favorites on it?  

ARC Essentials with Simon & Schuster
This is a great series on The Irish Banana Review that gives you the inside track to getting ARCS from some of your favorite publishers.  Respectfully.  

Is Teen Romantic Fiction Bad for Boys? 
Teen lit gives girls the chance to see average, gawky girls ending up the hot dreamboy.  So where does that leave the average, gawky guys?  A really well-written piece. 

So You've Read Ellen Hopkins 
Book Riot gives some suggestions for books just as gritty and powerful as Crank.  I'll definitely be stealing a lot from this list for my TBR shelf.  

Things Your Blog Needs
Blog guru Parajunkee reviews all the pieces you need for a well-designed book blog.  Makes me realize I need an "About Me" page... 

Friday Forecast 
Rainy Day Ramblings takes you through this week's new releases.  A fantastic weekly feature. 

A Storied Week 
Rob Zimmerman takes on the challenge of reading five short stories per week, and bringing them to you! 


23.1.14

Book Blurb Breakdown: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

book blurb breakdown
                introduction

Book Blurb Breakdown is a Sarcasm & Lemons feature where your anal English degree-holding author rips apart (gently) jacket blurbs to pin down what makes her want to pick up the book instantly--and what makes her want to throw it at the wall.  See the original post for more detail.  

Previous Breakdowns: 
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira



today's blurb
Status:  Read


the blurb: as is 
from Goodreads

The war begins...

Darrow is a Helldiver, one of a thousand men and women who live in the vast caves beneath the surface of Mars. Generations of Helldivers have spent their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that one day people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left.

Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie. Mars is habitable - and indeed has been inhabited for generations by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. The Golds regard Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

With the help of a mysterious group of rebels, Darrow disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside.

But the command school is a battlefield. And Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda...


the blurb:  shredded 

The war begins... (I never really need these little intro lines.  Sometimes they work.  This is kind of vague.)

Darrow is a Helldiver, one of a thousand men and women who live in the vast caves beneath the surface of Mars (Very cool. Grabbed me immediately. But not actually true. Only certain members of Darrow's people are Helldivers. It's nitpicky, but I notice details like that. It's not so hard to make it accurate, and it would actually add a layer to Darrow's character here to mention why Helldivers are special.). Generations of Helldivers have spent their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that one day people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. (This is good. It captures how the people feel.  They're heroes.  It's all okay.) The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left.  (I love how hopeful and noble this is, because clearly it's going to get turned on its head in about a minute.  It sets a good tone.) 

Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie.  (Whaaa?) Mars is habitable - and indeed has been inhabited for generations by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. (It's also inhabited by many other Colors.  It would be better to make it clear here that only the Reds are enslaved but the Golds rule over everyone.  It's still effective this way, but it would be even stronger to know just how powerful the Golds are, just how lowly the Reds.) The Golds regard Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.  (Okay, this is a pretty great set-up.  You've told these people they're humanity's last hope to escape a dying Earth--and it's all lies?  That's gonna set up some super intense anger and conflict.)

With the help of a mysterious group of rebels, Darrow disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside.  (Awesome.  This sets up the main arc of the book well, and it's intriguing.  How does a kid raised in mines parade as a wealthy elite?  Who are these rebels?)

But the command school is a battlefield.  (Okay, you got me.  I'd add "actual", because it's literally a battlefield.  This isn't some metaphor, and I think making that clear makes it even more dangerous and compelling.) And Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda... (Let's just dispense with the ellipses already.  You hooked me a while back.  I don't need the 'dun dun dun'.) 





the verdict 
4/5 stars

This is a different take from last time because I've actually read this book (which is amazingomgwantmorelovelovelove, by the way).  From this perspective, I can still remember what drew me to this book, but also how they could have made it better.  The blurb does a great job of setting up an interesting conflict and giving hints at the dangers involved.  It also sets a good tone for the epic scope of this series.  However, there are some slightly inaccurate statements that could have been changed to be even more compelling.  It's useful to know that a Helldiver is a special kind of miner because it tells you how Darrow is different from his friends.  It's helpful to know that the Reds are the only class of people full enslaved, because it tells you just how pissed off Darrow is to find out the lie.  And how strong the Golds are.  It's also helpful to know that the "battlefield" comment isn't a metaphor like I first though pre-reading--it's the truth.  So I think being more detail-oriented would have really packed a punch.  However, as is, the blurb still showed me (a) how this book is different from other dystopians, (b) what the main conflicts were, and (c) what I could expect from book 1, all very succinctly.  



your thoughts

Does this blurb grab you?  
Do you agree with my thoughts?  If not, how so?  
Do you have any recommendations for blurbs I should shred?  










21.1.14

ARC Review: Infinite by Jodi Meadows


review
                 book











title:  Infinite

author:  Jodi Meadows

pages: 432

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0062060815

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 9/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Tamora Pierce, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, dystopian fiction, and old-school dragons and adventure.  

Haven't read them yet? Check out Incarnate and Asunder.  

My Ratings Explained

DESTRUCTION The Year of Souls begins with an earthquake—an alarming rumble from deep within the earth—and it’s only the first of greater dangers to come. The Range caldera is preparing to erupt. Ana knows that as Soul Night approaches, everything near Heart will be at risk.

FLIGHT Ana’s exile is frightening, but it may also be fortuitous, especially if she can convince her friends to flee Heart and Range with her. They’ll go north, seeking answers and allies to stop Janan’s ascension. And with any luck, the newsouls will be safe from harm’s reach.

CHOICE The oldsouls might have forgotten the choice they made to give themselves limitless lifetimes, but Ana knows the true cost of reincarnation. What she doesn’t know is whether she’ll have the chance to finish this one sweet life with Sam, especially if she returns to Heart to stop Janan once and for all.

With gorgeous romance and thrilling action, the final book in the Incarnate trilogy offers a brilliant conclusion to the compelling questions of this fascinating world, where one new girl is the key to the lives of millions.




the basics
I read Infinite immediately after I turned the last page of Asunder, and I think they work best that way.  Infinite picked up right where Asunder left off, with an eruption.  With only a breath, the plot swept me away to new dangers.  Heart isn't safe--for anyone.  Ana is the only one who remembers the truth.  Her friends, half in the dark, follow her to the ends of the earth to search for answers.  What results is a tense, emotionally devastating journey.  I felt overwrought with emotion watching Ana fight for her friends and the newsouls even though her friends doubted her, even though secrets were ripping them apart.  I could see Ana from both sides, as the newsoul risking her friends and as the revolutionary stretching her limits for freedom.  The fantasy is amped up too.  You get dragons, sylph, centaurs, and roc.  Sometimes the escapes seem quick, but each encounter emphasizes Ana's (sometimes foolish) bravery.  The lengths she'll go.  The limits of love and friendship. And through heartache, incredible physical pain, and against the dangers of a crazed cult, she makes a final, mindblowing choice.  I closed the book gasping for more.  



plot . 5/5
Infinite takes the high fantasy sprawling adventure and gives it new life.  Every piece builds together into one breathtaking journey.  When the earthquake happens and the cult of angry oldsouls takes over, Ana's only choice is to run, with whomever will follow her.  But she's not just fleeing.  She has a plan.  A crazy, batshit nuts plan.  Like, seriously certifiable.  Ana could have been crispy-fried multiple times.  There are also incredibly cool parts, like the secret of the sylph and the incredible power of music.  Not to mention a few hints about Sam's past that are illuminated in surprising ways.  I can't say much, but I'm still reeling from how clever Meadows is.  

The tension in this novel comes part from the race to finish the plan before Soul Night, but a large part occurs between Ana and her friends.  Only she and Stef know the price of immortality.  Ana struggles between protecting her friends from shame and sharing the truth, and missteps many times along the way.  There were moments when Ana was so heartwrenchingly lost and lonely that I cried for her.  But it's in these darkest moments that Ana learns to believe in herself and to push outside of her limits.  Her encounters with the dragons are thrilling and lead to an epic battle that goes wrong in every possible way, but also very, strangely right.  This is a rare time when I appreciated an epilogue.  The "official" ending leaves you in shards.  The epilogue brings us to that quiet moment in the aftermath so we can let out that held breath and see whether the sacrifices were worth it.  


concept . 5/5
Everything building in the first two books comes to a head.  If the third has a theme, it is the lengths people will go to to cheat death--whether those people be human, dragon, or phoenix.  The horrors that fearful people will accept.  The limits (if they exist) on forgiveness and redemption.  The difference between protecting our friends and protecting ourselves.  This was a huge discovery for Ana, who realizes that she's been sparing her friends pain in part because she can't bear to see them sad.  Protecting herself more than them.  The more I learned about the world of Heart, the more I recognized it.  It made me wonder what I would do if I had been given the same choice as the oldsouls.  I don't know that I'd have made the right one.  Let no one ever say that fantasy can't deal with tough issues!  

characters . 5/5
All the voices become stronger here.  Ana has really become her own person.  She's not quite there yet, but there's plenty of time for her to grow throughout this book.  Before, Ana learned to have faith in other people.  Now she must learn to have faith in herself.  The transformation she experiences culminates in the final moment that I'll respectfully not share--but it's breathtaking.  Then, Sam finally gets angry!  Like, really, shudderingly angry.  Learning the secret of reincarnation really brings out the true fears and strengths in Sam, Stef, Sarit, Whit, and the others.  Which reminds me, Stef and Sarit really become badass.  We also lose a lot of dear friends.  I cried for them as I would for any other friend.  Meadows had done so well in making them real to me.  And don't forget the villains.  Janan becomes terrifyingly real here, and evil in ways that aren't too far from home.  This was a real world to me.  A real place where I could imagine myself visiting, full of people I'd like to know more.  

style . 5/5
Give me more Meadows!  Even when there were lulls or awkward phrases or stilted voices, they were so rare that I can't believe I'm even mentioning them, except that I'm a stuffy former English major.  Meadows shows every sign of future greatness.  This, her debut series, is already full of beautiful phrasing, tight pacing, lyrical descriptions, and powerful voices.  She gives each character life and she doesn't go overboard on the metaphors.  What more could I ask for?  Oh, how about realistic dialogue.  We get that too.  

mechanics . 5/5
Don't worry, no heavily repeated words this time!  I think I'm losing my cynicism special powers because I can't think of something to complain about.  Maybe the pacing in a few spots?  The middle got a little droopy.  I might have done more with the centaurs.  This is a lot of brainstorming because all in all, yes, it could be a better book, but so could every book.  I'm looking at you, J.K. Rowling.  (Just kidding.  I love you.)  

Also, have I mentioned that these are some of the most beautiful covers I've ever seen? 


take home message
One of the best fantasy series of this generation comes to a stunning close.  A book I won't soon forget.  





Note: I received this copy in exchange for review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.