Bites
August 22, 2017

Published: July 25, 2017
Publisher: Dutton
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

A wild heart beats within New York City. Amid concrete and skyscrapers, the Wildlife Conservation Society works to preserve and protect the animal kingdom both within and beyond the borders of the five boroughs. But dangerous creatures don’t always have claws and fangs, as Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper and NYPD detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace know all too well. Predators lurk close to home, and in the aftermath of the shocking drive-by murder of an important city employee someone Alex has worked with for years the trio must discover who the bigger snake is: the killer or the victim.

Investigations into the death provide more questions than answers, as a tangled mess of secrets slowly comes to light. From bribes to secret societies, from big-game hunting to the illegal animal trade, from New York City zoos to behind closed doors in government buildings, Alex will have her work cut out for her if she wants to uncover the truth and uphold the integrity of the office she has so proudly served. (goodreads.com)

Like my review for DEVIL’S BRIDGE I had the same issues with name usage in DEADFALL. It must just be a writing quirk of Fairstein’s but holy crap, is it annoying. People literally do not use each others’ names that much when they talk to each other. Ever. Emphasis or not, can the editor get in on that and start striking some of them? Sheesh. Luckily I didn’t get yanked out as much by it in this book. I just reduced myself to rolling my eyes every times it happened. And it happened a lot.

Almost totally in Alex’s head in DEADFALL so the issues I had with Mike in the last book I read weren’t even an issue here. He’s present quite a bit but as the reader I’m never in his head. Just Alex’s. Luckily it’s not a bad place to be. Not the greatest, but not bad. I actually don’t really feel all that much for her. Reading back over my review for DEVIL’S BRIDGE I commented that it would probably behoove me to go back to the beginning so I can get some substance on these characters. I’d say that’s still true for book 19 as it was for book 17. It’s not that I wasn’t engaged with the story. I just didn’t care all that much about the characters. I wasn’t invested. And at least for Alex it didn’t have a whole lot to do with her as a character. Just more about the writing. It didn’t do a whole lot to endear me to her. I just felt like I was following her around as she traipsed through the pages.

The story itself was interesting. Not a whole lot by way of action until closer to the end and by the time the story starts the DA is already dead so as the reader you miss that too. So it’s a lot of cops trying to find out what’s going on and people talking, going behind each others’ backs, that kind of thing. It was different, what with the animal trafficking angle they went. That helped to make it interesting. But overall I was rather meh about it all.

Again, not a bad book but I’m not going to run out and buy more, certainly. At this point I’m not even sure I’ll accept more for review until I can go back and read from the beginning to see if I have the same feelings about the first books as I do this far into the series. Because now it’s two books that I don’t care all that much about and it doesn’t make me inclined to read more.

3

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

Pub Date: October 10, 2017
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Here is a thing everyone wants:
A miracle.

Here is a thing everyone fears:
What it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect. (goodreads.com)

Here’s the thing: I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Maggie’s writing. I HATED the Lament series and as a result didn’t even attempt The Wolves of Mercy Falls series. I read THE SCORPIO RACES and thought it was pretty good. I no (haven’t read the last one yet). And now we get to ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS.

Meh.

I feel like this was a book where the publisher was like, Maggie write a book because you word good. And Maggie gave them a book with words and they published it. I didn’t think it was necessarily overwritten. I did like the fairy tale-esque sort of style she was going for. But I felt it was really rambly in a trying-to-be-quirky sort of way that I really wasn’t digging. This felt like sort of an experiment she was trying and for me it didn’t quite click.

All those rambly, dangly loose ends do end up tied up at the end, and rather nicely. Everything felt far less rambly and random and scatterbrained at the end and I actually rather liked the end. Just not thrilled with the road she took to get there.

I liked the world she developed so close to my own home (Arizona, this story is set in southern Colorado) so I felt pretty rooted in the setting itself. I liked the sort of magical realism she dabbled in with the miracles and the process through which people have to go through in order to come out the other side of them. I just didn’t feel all that connected to any individual character because she kept hopping all over the place to tell everyone’s stories.

It’s a whimsical story in its darkness and light, but for me it was read from a distance. I didn’t feel invested in anything. But that’s the trouble with fairy tales, isn’t it? Personally I think they’re a gamble in that you can tell a tale that either sucks a reader in or leaves them at a distance. Then again that’s really true of any writing. But doubly true to these kinds of tales.

Maggie paints a good scene. She’s descriptive in ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS without being overwritten. I just didn’t connect with the particular style she was going for. Didn’t love it; didn’t hate it. Just kind of meh. I look forward to her Ronan books though. Absolutely.

3.5

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

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.

August 5, 2017

Published: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Down below, she was considered an adult. Now, topside in a town called Salvation, she’s a brat in need of training in the eyes of the townsfolk. She doesn’t fit in with the other girls: Deuce only knows how to fight.

To make matters worse, her Hunter partner, Fade, keeps Deuce at a distance. Her feelings for Fade haven’t changed, but he seems not to want her around anymore. Confused and lonely, she starts looking for a way out.

Deuce signs up to serve in the summer patrols—those who make sure the planters can work the fields without danger. It should be routine, but things have been changing on the surface, just as they did below ground. The Freaks have grown smarter. They’re watching. Waiting. Planning. The monsters don’t intend to let Salvation survive, and it may take a girl like Deuce to turn back the tide. (goodreads.com)

I had two major issues with this book and it looks like, based on re-reading my review of the first book, that I had the same, or at least similar, issues in that one too. But they’ve gotten a bit more pronounced.

Stalker. Rapist, cruel overlord of some gang of Peter Pan kids in the ruins before getting picked up by Deuce and Co. Abused the crap out of Tegan. Gets a pass because he was never taught otherwise. Former abused Tegan eventually comes around and sees things Deuce’s way about Stalker and she’s all like yeah, you’re right. He didn’t know better. I’ll start being nicer to my rapist.

No. No no no no no.

The reason is he did what he had to do in order to survive. Yeah . . . a lot of other people didn’t do anywhere near that and they survived just fine. There’s a line to be drawn between doing what needs to be done to survive and being a sadist. Stalker says he didn’t enjoy what he did. Yet he did it anyway. No. You just have to not be a psychopath to see that once you start hurting someone and that causes them pain, you stop.

Stalker didn’t have a choice. He did what he had to do in order to survive. No. He made active choices. He didn’t have to rape women in order to survive. As a leader he didn’t have to cultivate an environment of sadism and pain in order to survive. He chose that. Let’s not excuse that, shall we? I’m not above thinking that people can do some shitty things when put into certain situations. Hive mind is a thing, but most people aren’t killers for the sake of killing and even more people aren’t rapists. They weren’t on drugs. They were just themselves. Symbiotic relationships, sure. But those proclivities need to be there to begin with in order for them to manifest, especially when it comes to rapists. Stalker is a rapist. Period. And it really bothers me that Tegan was made to forgive him because he didn’t know any better. Not a fucking excuse.

And then there’s Deuce’s language. I wouldn’t otherwise have an issue with it if I wasn’t brow-beaten with the fact that there were so many words she didn’t know. She’s barely literate, can barely write, doesn’t know what hubris means, or adopted, or gas, or weeding, or irrigation. Yet she uses words like immutable, reticent, demonstrative, indolent, prepossessing, and statements like “gleaned their meaning from context.” Make up your fucking mind. Does she have the vocabulary of a college graduate or not? It was so incredibly annoying and such intense authorial insertion I wanted to throw the book. To the point where despite actually enjoying the story and character development I really don’t know if I can suffer another book with this level of inconsistency.

And one more minor thing: seems rather plot-serving to have farmland OUTSIDE of the gated community. No one thought of that? Ever? The original framers weren’t like hey, so why don’t we gate in larger swaths of land so we don’t have to deal with the flesh-eating zombies outside? And in the 100 years of its existence no one was ever like, you think we should extend these walls? It’s such an incredibly unnecessary risk I’m almost like you people kind of deserve to die for that level of stupidity. And the thing is they tried to be self-aware about that but the reasoning was so weak I just rolled my eyes at it. They never did it because it was too dangerous . . . uh . . . what? Does the town itself not exist? And you dunces have to go out there and farm every damn year for 100 years so far? Not much by the way of planners, are we?

Despite all of that, though, it’s actually a really good story. Remove Deuce’s inconsistent voice (and only in regard to that, actually) and the Stalker forgiveness, and the derps in the town, the story’s really good. The character development is really good. Deuce is so unapologetic in the way she fights, both humans and Freaks, that I love her for it. When she has to defend herself against human attackers there are no Hollywood moments of unnecessary conversation or posturing and no moments of conscience about killing and let me just really injure you and leave you here so you can serve the plot later and come back really pissed. Nope. Dude dead. And quick. No guilt, not nothing. He was a useless threat and she eliminated him. I love that about Deuce. I don’t love that she’s a rapist apologist, but you know. I guess you can’t have it all.

This is one of those series that if I came across the next book I’d probably read it just to see where it goes. Like I said, the story itself is actually really good and I think YA needs more hardcore, no bullshit characters like Deuce. But the issues I mentioned above are really pervasive and really huge where they really ruined my reading time here. And considering where OUTPOST ends and where it’s going, I’m really afraid for some Luke and Laura bullshit and I can’t take that (Google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

So I’m not going to completely cross it off my list, but I’m not going to go out of my way to read the next book either. If it happens it happens. If it doesn’t I won’t lose sleep over it.

3