Bites
August 15, 2017

Published: November 1, 2016
Publisher: Ace Books
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

The RAGE tournaments the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a fight to the digital death. Every kill is broadcast to millions. Every player leads a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.

And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.

Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world until one of her teammates overdoses. Now she s stuck trying to work with a hostile new teammate who s far more distracting than he should be.

Between internal tensions and external pressures, Kali is on the brink of breaking. To change her life, she ll need to change the game. And the only way to revolutionize an industry as shadowy as the VGL is to fight from the inside. (goodreads.com)

I’ll admit ARENA started a little slow for me. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying it but I wasn’t engrossed in it either. Just kind of reading the words as words and getting myself from one end of the book to the other.

But once Kali’s issues really started developing, and Rooke came into play, that’s when things got good, in my opinion. It became less of a focus on these games that the group played in order to win some tournament (where there wasn’t a whole lot at stake a la Hunger Games, just contracts and prize money and fame) and focused more on the individual, the group dynamic, and bucking the system through peaceful protests. It all really grew on me the more Kali came into herself and broke out of her role within the Games.

I like the world that Jennings develops, especially since it’s not much different from the world we know today. It’s a relatable distance in the future where tech has changed enough that we have these immersive gaming arenas and virtual gaming is a televised sport (although the fact that the players can actually feel the things being inflicted on them is disturbing in a skirting-the-edges sort of way), but the rest of the world hasn’t changed all that much. It’s not this super-distant into the future look. Just a couple decades where Nintendo is still relevant in a nostalgic sort of way.

Kali is a great character that has to rocket herself over a ton of hurdles in order to get from one side of the book to another. She has a major event happen to her toward the beginning that rocks her world in a rather destructive way. Because of that she practically nose dives off a cliff before being dragged back over by the last person she thought would help her, and the last person whom she thought she’d learn anything from.

I like how the story, despite all of the technological advances in gaming, fell back on very old world philosophy in order to get the team through the Games. It was refreshing. As was Kali working through her issues. It bordered on a Lifetime movie sort of read where things fell into place a little too nicely and a little too neatly, but not so much that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief nor did I stop rooting for the characters. I was okay with some sweetness and the more I read the more I liked the message the book was sending.

If I say much more I’ll spoil things, but I liked it enough to add GAUNTLET, the next book in the series, to my want list. I want to see where Kali takes everything, especially after where she left it off at the end of ARENA. The book was different than what I thought I was getting. It just feels that it’s further in the future than it really is, but that really worked in its favor. Definitely worth a read for older YA and the NA crowd about a young woman trying to find out who she is and where she fits in on her own terms. Really enjoyable.

4

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

August 8, 2017

Published: September 4, 2016
Publisher: Self
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Rhianwyn of the Caderyn is conflicted about giving up a warrior’s life to become a wife and mother, but her love for her new husband is enough to at least make her consider it. However, with the conquering Gaians moving ever closer to her homeland a peaceful life may no longer be an option, for Rhia or for any of her people. With rival tribes, old suitors, and the dangerous General Lepidus to contend with, Rhia soon finds her new family in unprecedented danger, and her choices now must be about more than just herself… (goodreads.com)

It’s a LONG book, that’s for sure. But even with that I didn’t find myself bored with the story. It’s not a fast-moving plot. It’s a slow burn that takes its time developing the world and the characters. It definitely has more plot than something character-driving, but a lot of time is spent on the characters as well and how they react and deal with the situations that arise around them. I was really afraid it was going to be a slog, but it wasn’t. I didn’t begrudge reading the story at all, and I thought Harker balanced detail with story excellently.

Rhia is an incredibly self-aware woman who adapts to change really well despite everything. She’s brutal but sympathetic, able to be demure when the situation calls for it, but not afraid to speak her mind when it’s rendered either. She’s a dynamic character who is a breeze to follow from one situation to the next.

The story itself is vividly painted. I was able to picture everything that happened, down to details, without actually being inundated with them. Sometimes with these books you get authors who go LOOK AT ALL THE RESEARCH I DID and instead of weaving those details seamlessly into the story you get great big heaps of unnecessary detail-dumping. That didn’t happen here. I felt the world-building and the story wove together seamlessly. Some of it was a little strange, like the communal bathing where Rhia’s dad was just hanging out with her and her friends while they bathed, all tits out and making vague sexual innuendos. Not sure how necessary that particular scene was, or how historically accurate, but at least it was a one-off. For everything that happens there isn’t any gratuity in the story, sexual or violent.

Harker created some excellent characters that were really easy to follow and blended them into a great story that felt like nothing to read despite how long it was. Personally I think that’s a sign of a good writer, someone who can write these longer books without having them FEEL like longer books. The only issue I really had was the WHY of the world. The blurb says it’s influenced by Iron Age Britain, which would have heavy Roman influence. Except 95% of this wasn’t influence, it WAS Roman and old Britain. There’s a hint of magic toward the end and I’m wondering if that element of the world is fleshed out better in the next book. But as WILDCAT stands I didn’t really see a reason why it couldn’t have just been set in that real world time period and the magical element thrown in. Not like artists haven’t taken liberties with history before. Just that thought kind of dogged me throughout the book. I couldn’t help but think that a book like AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is Roman influenced. It’s a vague homage, but the author really went her own way with it. WILDCAT isn’t influenced. It’s too heavily and too closely Roman/Britain to be just influenced. It didn’t make the story bad, but it did linger a question mark over my head about it.

Ultimately it’s really good, slow burn story that begs you to take your time reading it. Harker’s taken a lot of care in researching and developing this world and he’s created some really great characters doing it. I look forward to the next book!

4

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Published: August 1, 2011
Publisher: Arthur A Levine Books
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Selene grew up in a palace on the Nile under parents Cleopatra and Mark Antony – the most brilliant, powerful rulers on earth. But when a cruel Roman Emperor takes the country and whisks the princess to Rome against her will. She finds herself torn between two young men and two possible destinies – until she reaches out to claim her own. (goodreads.com)

Whatever you do don’t read CLEOPATRA’S MOON and CLEOPATRA’S DAUGHTER by Michelle Moran too close together. They’re the same story. Luckily it’s been long enough since I’ve read the latter that I can’t remember details although I did remember some of the big details. For instance I knew how the story ended before I got there. Granted if you’re more familiar with the history you’ll know it already anyway. Two excellent authors writing the same story. Other than I loved the latter I won’t be comparing the two because I don’t remember enough detail.

That being said, CLEOPATRA’S MOON was excellent. Shecter did a fantastic job of inserting all of this historical information and making it a part of the story instead of piles of unnecessary information for the sake of having done the research. The world became its own character, weaving itself into the story and thriving around the characters themselves. I saw, smelt, and felt everything Shecter was writing.

The story itself was incredibly moving. It truly is heartbreaking watching what is rightly a child (although don’t tell her that) struggle to remember where she came from and grasping onto the last shreds of her life while being thrust into such terrifying unknown. And the ending, major historical event aside, was fantastic for Cleopatra Selene’s dawning realization. It was exactly what she needed. I certainly found myself tearing up in spots. Shecter has a knack for drawing feelings out of characters and making you feel every little bit of what they do. Little Ptolly. Ugh. My heart.

I loved how Cleopatra Selene fought for her mother’s and father’s memories every step of the way. She never let anyone sully her memory of her parents even when Augustus tried to drown out their excellence in his own smear campaign in order to make himself look better. It’s the author bucking against history too and I love it. History smeared Cleopatra into the dirt and the more books, fiction or non-fiction, that we can get that attempt to erase that craven vixen image the better.

If you want history to come to life before your eyes and read an excellent story with finely crafted characters while you’re at it, read CLEOPATRA’S MOON. You won’t want it to end.

5

Published: October 8, 2014
Publisher: Image Comics
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Everything you thought you knew about witches is wrong. They are much darker, and they are much more horrifying. Wytches takes the mythology of witches to a far creepier, bone-chilling place than readers have dared venture before. When the Rooks family moves to the remote town of Litchfield, NH to escape a haunting trauma, they’re hopeful about starting over. But something evil is waiting for them in the woods just beyond town. Watching from the trees. Ancient…and hungry. (goodreads.com)

Not to be confused with volume 1, which collects the first six in the series. This is just WYTCHES #1.

That being said, it’s creepy as hell. Between the art and the story itself . . . because I needed another reason to be afraid of the woods. Lucky for me I don’t live around them anymore so NO WORRIES.

It’s certainly a compelling story that starts decades in the past with a woman basically being consumed by a tree, which is horrifying. And then fast forwards to the present about a girl being heinously bullied and that ending . . . poorly. Not for the victim, though. Although it’s not anything she’s going to be able to forget for a while.

It’s got a bit of a chosen one syndrome going on with the main character there although I doubt her path is going to be saving the world. Eaten by tree wytches, maybe.

I do like how the witches in this world aren’t traditional witches, which is why they’re spelled wytches. They’re these gnarly, beastly things that require blood sacrifices in order to stay alive. Again, horrifying. Didn’t need another reason to fear trees. Really didn’t. But this is good because I actually find the story creepy. And the art. The art is kind of terrifying too. I need to get me the rest of the series now.

4.5

I received a copy of this comic from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Pub Date: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Katie Wallace has never given much thought to 9/11. She was only a year old when terrorists struck American soil. But now her dad has landed in a mental institution after claiming to know what really happened. He insists the attacks were part of a government conspiracy. And he claims that Katie is living proof: the lone survivor of a massive cover-up.

Hoping to free her dad, Katie sets out to investigate his bizarre claims. Soon she’s drawn into the strange and secretive world of 9/11 conspiracy theorists known as the “Truthers”.

Wading through a dangerous web of fact and fiction, questions and distortion, Katie no longer knows what to believe. But she does know that she’s being followed — and that someone is determined to stop her search for the truth.

A novel for teens, exploring 9/11 & our conspiracy culture… (goodreads.com)

My interest was piqued with TRUTHERS, however, when I started reading I was very afraid of where the book was going to go. I have huge problems with people capitalizing on 9/11 in the form of entertainment, like fictionalized books or movies. Same goes for other big tragedies, like the BP rig explosion and that movie with Mark Wahlberg. Gross. No. You’re making money on the backs of dead people with survivors still alive to tell you exactly what happened. No.

So I was afraid because 9/11 is very close to me. I don’t like to call myself a survivor because I wasn’t downtown when it happened. I was in my dorm at 55th between 2nd and 3rd, having been dropped off eight days prior for my freshman year of college. I don’t feel like I actually survived anything being that far uptown, yet it’s such a monumental moment in my life that I’m still to this day grossly affected by it. I didn’t witness the planes crashing into the buildings or see the towers collapsing, but I can tell you how yellow the air was the next day when the wind shifted and what thousands of burning bodies and cement and steel and asbestos and office equipment smells like. How long it stuck to our hair and our clothes, how news anchors advised people to stay indoors. I can tell you it took between 7 and 8 hours to get a hold of my parents that day because cell services were jammed, pay phones were for emergency only, and no one had long distance on their dorm phones. So my parents had no idea whether I was alive or dead. I can tell you what a silent New York City feels like, what hordes of people walking across the Queensboro looked like because the island was locked down. What’s it like to walk in streets that were previously flat but were now rippled and bulging because of the underground force created by the falling towers. I can tell you what it’s like to have a fundraiser variety show for one of our friends whose dad, who didn’t work in the towers but were nearby, ran in to help people and never came out. They buried an empty coffin that November and in March his body was finally extracted from the wreckage, intact.

I know our government’s down some really shitty things, but I can’t accept that they would allow something like this to happen let alone actually orchestrated it. So I had a hard time going into this book, and I had a hard time writing what I did above, and I was afraid of what Girard was going to do. My 18-year-old self was very directly affected by 9/11 and my 34-year-old-self now is very protective of that piece of me. But I gave it a chance.

And once things started working out and cracks started to form, I stopped reading the book as if I were anticipating a hit. I waited until the very end to see how he would tie everything together just so I didn’t jump the gun and was like WHEW. TRUTHERS ended in a very satisfying place. Not one where I anticipated it ending, but a respectful place.

The basic premise is Katie’s dad has been not well for a long time and at his last breakdown before being hospitalized he drops a bomb: that we was involved in a secret conspiracy to orchestrate 9/11 and Katie is really the daughter of a woman off of Flight 93 who handed her over to him to save before the woman was carted off and murdered by the government. This is at the front of the book, and it’s a very insulting conspiracy which was why I was so apprehensive going into it. I was really hoping the book would ultimately be a comment on mental illness, which is kind of ends up being. It just takes a while for that point to develop.

So here’s the thing: conspiracies are not mathematically viable. Effectively the more people who know a secret the less amount of time that secret is going to stay a secret. That article effectively proves that based on prior real conspiracies that did come to light. The thing about covert operations is that very few people know about them. Exceedingly few. That’s to mitigate leaks. There is stuff that’s buried very deeply within the government that not even Julian Assange can get his hands on. The shit the government really doesn’t want people to know, they hide it well. Everything else . . . well, the government at large is terrible at keeping secrets, if you couldn’t already tell.

One of Katie’s contacts, a guy with the handle Benevolus522, states that people who know too much and who are deemed a threat by the government get eliminated. That’s not untrue. However the government actually needs to think you’re a threat with the information you know. Ben here’s been working on his truther crap for more than a decade and he considers himself hunkered down under hacker protection from the government and in hiding. 1) Hubris to think his tech skills are better than the government’s when it comes to spycraft. Ha. 2) By that same logic if he was actually on to anything he’d already be dead. Since he’s not, by that logic, he knows jack shit. But, you know. Truthers aren’t logical so that concept flies right out the window.

Max is a leveling factor throughout the story, poking holes in Katie’s logic the entire time and he really grounds it all out. He waters down every truther concept, picks it up and turns it around so it can be seen from the other side of the coin. He’s really the voice of reason as Katie devolves into this whole mess.

As for Katie herself, she gets points for the research she does and the time spent. The crux of this whole thing, as outlined by one of the cases she found, it to prove that the truther conspiracies are believable by people of sound judgment and mind, not just by “crazies.” And this is brought up very early on in the story so if you hang on to this notion, keep it in the back of your mind, it’ll help you carry through everything, from the cut-aways to the “men in black” talking about spying on her to the questionable scare tactic moments that arise. She’s also a vaguely inconsistent character, but that’s just one mention that really stood out: considering 9/11 ancient history, however, she quotes the movie Se7en, which is even older than that event. Literally before her time. But whatever. Small hiccup, ultimately.

There are a lot of hidden pieces in TRUTHERS that if I start talking about them they’ll just be outright spoilers. So I’ll just end it with this: it’s a book that ultimately keeps its distance. 9/11 is THE BIG THING in the book, but that’s not how it ends. Girard is respectful and ends up making various comments about the mentality around conspiracies, PTSD, mental illness, and persistence toward truth. It started off rough and ended quite well. I would recommend giving it a chance.

He puts a note at the end, before the bibliography, just commenting on the sites and books he referenced when researching the book and how it’s not an endorsement, just a research list. InfoWars is on there and it made me twitch. Ugh. Talk about conspiratorial drivel. I’m sorry he had to go there, but I think it shows the lengths to which he went in order to understand the mentality of that side of thinking and even that isn’t presented in a mocking way in the book, but just as another way of thinking without being disrespectful to those directly affected by 9/11.

So if you’re looking at the blurb and you’re skeptical in a way that I was, give TRUTHERS a chance. You might be surprised.

4.5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.