Bites

Published: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s been told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the most powerful tyrant and mage the world has ever known. This would be a suicide task for anyone, let alone a reluctant sixteen-year-old girl with no training.

Guided by his mother’s visions and committed to avenging his family, Prince Titus has sworn to protect Iolanthe even as he prepares her for their battle with the Bane. But he makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the tyrant closing in, Titus must choose between his mission—and her life. (goodreads.com)

The YAckers are back! After some breathing room hiatus time we’re back to our monthly reads. For January of this glorious new year of 2018 we read THE BURNING SKY by Sherry Thomas. This was a good book. A perfectly fine book. One of those books that I have no problem with, but it just didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.

It deals a lot with destiny and things are already written in the cards and you don’t have a whole lot of choice but to follow along with it because it’s foretold. And I’m also a big fan of self-fulfilling prophecies. I actually believe, to some extent, in psychics. I think there’s talent there. As the same time I also believe they give an option of the future that, if you were to continue on the current path, would potentially come true. Deviate and it’ll change. Here we have Titus who’s effectively making sure this whole destiny thing plays out to the letter because it’s what’s supposed to happen and by golly his mom predicted it and he doesn’t want her to be wrong.

THE BURNING SKY is very much a Chosen One story because, and if you don’t see this coming from the very beginning you’re not reading with your eyes open or you brain on, Iolanthe is set up to be the MOST POWERFUL MAGE EVAR. Or at least since the LAST POWERFUL MAGE up and died. One a generation or whatever. Kind of like Buffy. And since the next powerful mage can’t be born until the last one dies, it’s even more like Buffy. Holy shit. Just realizing that now. Fun. Are there vampires in this world?

I thought crossdressing Iolanthe was going to be more of a thing in the story, but it’s really not. She has the very convenient skill of being able to play the boy because, even more conveniently, she always played the boy in plays growing up. HOW CONVENIENT. And she’s on the thinner side so she doesn’t have big ol’ titties to have to bind down and I guess a rather androgynous face because all that has to be done is her hair gets cut short and BAM. Boy. But that whole aspect of it came with very little risk on her or Titus’s part, ultimately. There were some insinuated situations but they always squeaked out of them. I guess I’m okay with the reprieves since everything else that was going on.

The world was the best part of the story. Of course I couldn’t help but compare it to Harry Potter because wands and magic and spell-casting and all of that. It’s there. Sue me. But aside from those three things there’s really no other similarities. Thomas’s book stands on its own and I liked the sort of magical stranglehold that Atlantis has on the world and how the magic world exists alongside each other without necessarily touching. Like Harry Potter. Okay, four things.

What I didn’t like, though, was that the Bane was this ultimate Big Bad that they were on the road to fight and he was the true villain, however, he never actually made an appearance in the story until the very end. Like Voldemort. Goddammit. They were mostly trying to slap away the Death Eaters, I mean the Inquisitor and her lackeys (not named Dolores Umbridge, at least) because they’re wrangling for the Bane and the Big Bad needs to make a grand entrance and we can’t have it any other way.

Titus was Titus. I don’t really feel one way or another about him. He drove the story even though I think this was supposed to be more Iolanthe’s book, but whatever. He told her where to go, how to act, what to do, and she bucked against him a little bit, but ultimately fell in line. Until the very end where she developed a sense of agency and finally made a decision for herself.

So I totally didn’t go into this review with the intention of making it sounds as snarky as it’s coming off, but I didn’t realize how similar it was to things like Buffy and Harry Potter until I started writing this and now it’s just like, okay. Knockoff? I don’t want to call THE BURNING SKY a knockoff. It’s really not. At least I don’t think intentionally. It’s a perfectly fine story. But that’s pretty much all it is. It left more of an impression in how similar to other things it was than as a book in its own right, unfortunately. It seems, anyway. Because I did mention that it stands out in its own right just a couple paragraphs north. Shows how quickly I can talk my mind out of things.

3

January 27, 2018

Pub Date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Six months after the end of Wintersong, Liesl is working toward furthering both her brother’s and her own musical careers. Although she is determined to look forward and not behind, life in the world above is not as easy as Liesl had hoped. Her younger brother Josef is cold, distant, and withdrawn, while Liesl can’t forget the austere young man she left beneath the earth, and the music he inspired in her.

When troubling signs arise that the barrier between worlds is crumbling, Liesl must return to the Underground to unravel the mystery of life, death, and the Goblin King—who he was, who he is, and who he will be. What will it take to break the old laws once and for all? What is the true meaning of sacrifice when the fate of the world—or the ones Liesl loves—is in her hands? (goodreads.com)

So without the ridiculous love of Labyrinth to ride me through WINTERSONG’s sequel, SHADOWSONG, I find I enjoyed this book a lot less than the last one. It just doesn’t really hold together all that much.

The pacing issues I had in WINTERSONG are still there in SHADOWSONG, but it’s a different kind of pacing problem. In the former the pacing was such that is felt like two books smashed into one, with two distinct beginnings, middles, and ends that created a rather disjointed story. In the latter there’s nothing. Very little actually happens for about 95% of the book. It’s a lot of Liesl pining over a Goblin King that’s next to non-existent in this story and lamenting about her lost relationship with her brother. It’s this flat line of nothing, no real movement, no agency, and then 96% of the way into the story Lisel finally makes a decision that ultimately makes for a great ending to the story, but there were 350 pages of not a whole lot in order to get there.

The repetition of descriptions was diminished, but still. The only way for Liesl to describe the Goblin King is as her austere young man. Literally the only description. And it’s repeated over and over and over again. It got old in the last book. It’s downright ancient here.

Jae-Jones did preface the book with information about how SHADOWSONG was about her dealing with her bipolar disorder and that’s why it’s so dark. I don’t have a problem with dark. And this book had peeks of it, especially as Liesl was trying to make her way through the hedge maze at the ball. It had excellent moments of dark whimsy that I really did love. But the otherworldliness of the last book is lost here. You get it in snips and fits and starts, but nothing like the beauty of the last book and that’s a shame.

Take this next opinion for what is it because I don’t have a mental illness. However, the illness that Liesl suffers, I’m assuming the same bipolar disorder as Jae-Jones although it’s not expressly named, felt very flat. She seemed to just alternate between using the words mania and sadness or depression, but I felt a detachment from Liesl that kept me from feeling much for her. She talked about her own illness in a way that felt like she was trying to gloss over it and at the same time hammer it home it using very basic language. Where the rest of the book had flourish that aspect of it, that was supposedly so personal to the author, felt flat and simply forced into the story.

Quite frankly I felt this story more belonged to Josef than anyone. He had far more compelling things to say, a better character arc, and a more tragic end. Not that the current ending was bad. I just didn’t feel all that much for Liesl here. I didn’t really care. She didn’t really change much from beginning to end, she had little to no agency throughout the entire story, and when she did try to get personal everything felt all the more distant. It just didn’t work for me.

SHADOWSONG had its moments. There are some truly beautiful descriptions littered throughout the book and I really did love the ending. But ultimately I think this series is hinging way too much on Labyrinth love to drive it forward. There are major pacing issues in both books, and in SHADOWSONG Liesl isn’t much of a character. Those around her are far more compelling as she simply spends most of her time lamenting her current condition as outside forces shove her along in life. It got old and it was a lot to read for so little return.

2.5

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

Published: August 16, 2011
Publisher: Broadway Books
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. (goodreads.com)

Points for being a defective and not liking something that’s hugely popular. Really, I’m not purposely antagonistic. I don’t find it “cool” to be like “I’ve never seen X and I never plan to.” Also I’m 34 and if I were still concerned about the concept of cool at my age I’d be a sad, sad individual. Like, I’m not a Star Wars fan. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I didn’t grow up with it like most people have. It’s not part of my DNA. I saw 4, 5, and 6 fewer than 10 years ago and they were entertaining enough. I’ve still never seen 1, 2, or 3, never seen any of the cartoons or read any of the books, haven’t seen Rogue One, but I’ve seen The Last Jedi and Force Awakens (both of which I liked a lot). They’re just not part of my geek world. So I didn’t like READY PLAYER ONE not because I’m averse to pop culture and “cool” things. I just thought it was a bad book.

In fact, and this could probably get me stoned, I’ll say READY PLAYER ONE is the TWILIGHT of sci fi. In that a lot of people lost their minds over more crudely written books because it touched them in a very particular way. TWILIGHT is often brushed aside because it’s teen romance written by a woman and it doesn’t count and it’s not REAL and vaginas are unimportant unless they have a dick in them. Whereas I’ve been hearing much greater acclaim for READY PLAYER ONE and then I read it and I’m like . . . “Did we read the same book?” Because Cline didn’t actually write a good book.

I read it because my husband read it and really liked it. With the movie coming out, I know he’d want to see it so I figured I’d read the book first. Ugh. We just don’t have the same reading tastes. I don’t know how our marriage is going to last. I mean, I guess as long as we maintain separate bookshelves we should be fine. So it was really at his insistence that I pick it up. He mainly thought I would like it because of all the 80s references. I’m a bit of an 80s nerd. Except I’m not this kind of 80s nerd.

Yeah. Wrong references. I’m more of an 80s movie and music nerd. I’m not a gamer. The last gaming system I played before I bought Wii solely for the purpose of buying the new Mario game that allowed Mario to jump when you moved the controller thus making all my original NES dreams come true, was Sega Game Gear. I had things like Mario and Paperboy and Duck Hunt on NES, Sonic on Game Gear, and I played Crash Bandicoot on, what was that, Nintendo 64? But once 3D rendering started coming in I really moved out of games. Didn’t like it and didn’t care to spend my time playing video games. So I moved on. In order to really enjoy READY PLAYER ONE you need to be into video games, and older school video games. Sure, there are some movie and music references that had me smiling. But it’s all about the video games. If you’re not into those you’ll probably be bored stupid.

Because holy shit Cline knows all about all those video games and he went into pages of extraneous detail that completely stymied the plot. Shit had nothing to do with what was going on but sure enough you would get a play-by-play of how to play whatever video game Wade was playing because there seemingly wasn’t enough plot to fill the pages. And in proper video game style, there’s deus ex machina for everything. A Stone of Invisibility, a Sword of Invincibility, a Bad Guy Killer. Whatever. There was always a solution for every problem that required no work on the part of the characters to obtain. No stress, no sweat, no blood. Just play a game and get this thing and your problems will be solved.

Oh. And spending two months at a virtual gym when you previously had the consistency of an over-boiled potato does not get you all fit and lean and in shape. Just wanted to put that out there for anyone who’s never had to make any major body transformations in the real world or know how human physiology actually works.

Back to video game rules, it played out like that in the 2% of the book that was in the real world too. Things came way too easily for these characters. They always had solutions that were almost always readily available. If they didn’t have them, something or someone else would swoop in and help them out. It was just one convenience after another and it got old. It prevented character growth. No one actually had to work for anything. When a big huge problem game up and it looked insurmountable, don’t worry. Wade could hack his way through it or there was a video game item that could get them out of that situation. It got old. Quick.

Not to mention there was no tension. 98% of the book took place in a virtual world. And maybe this is where I fundamentally don’t understand gaming because it’s not my world. But if their avatar were to die, there’s no real consequence to the person playing it. Oh noes. You lose all your virtual toys and you have to spend more hours gaining back experience points or whatever. But there’s no risk. The risk is you don’t win billions of dollars. Okay . . . And?

And then the minute real world elements were written in such a way that dissolved any shred of tension that could have been. Every scene (and this played out for more intense moments in the virtual world too) was like “Oh I made it out okay, but let give you all the details as to what happened.” Why would you do that? You just told me everything’s okay. Cline, you just spoiled me within your own damn book. Why??? If I know everything works out, why the hell do I want the details? They’re pointless now.

Ultimately none of it is real. It’s all a game. Why do I care about anything? So we have a book with next to no stakes, next to no tension, no character growth, a real world that’s bad because POLLUTION and POVERTY with no development, and that exists entirely in a fabricated world that literally means fuck all when someone can just unplug it and it all goes away. There’s just a severe disconnect with me here and because I didn’t like what I was reading I saw all the flaws far more prominently. I really think READY PLAYER ONE just hit so many fanboys in their gamer hearts so hard that people were willing to overlook mediocre (at best) writing because it beckoned to something they loved. I’ve certainly done that before.

But please don’t tell me this is some master craft piece of writing. It’s not. It spoke to a large enough subset of people and those people made it huge. Like TWILIGHT.

1.5

January 16, 2018

Published: October 3, 2006
Publisher: NAL Jam
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

College freshman Claire Danvers has had enough of her nightmarish dorm situation. When Claire heads off-campus, the imposing old house where she finds a room may not be much better. Her new roommates don’t show many signs of life, but they’ll have Claire’s back when the town’s deepest secrets come crawling out, hungry for fresh blood. Will she be able to face the town’s terror or will she drown like everyone else? (goodreads.com)

Oh what a fun start to a series! This came out a month after the first TWILIGHT book so we’ll just call it square and it’s unfortunate that this got buried (somewhat) under the tripe that is TWILIGHT. Not that this is some small series or anything. It’s not. But the frenzy for it was lacking in comparison, which is unfortunate. Because the book’s awesome.

Just to note, Claire is actually sixteen and highly intelligent so she’s in the awkward position of being at college two years before her peers. So weird situation anyway. And unfortunately it’s a podunk commuter school that’s set up more like high school with it’s one resident big fish in the little pond ready, willing, and able to take it out on Claire simply because she’s there.

Claire’s no Buffy, so don’t expect her to karate chop her way through a horde of vampires. And she needs her fair share of saving because, well, she’s not Buffy and she’s in a town piled with vampires, some of which want to kill her. But she doesn’t go down without a fight, and my favorite aspect of hers is that when the going gets tough she buries her head in a book to find a solution. Her roommates are more about evading and non-confrontation if at all possible because . . . vampires. And none of them are Buffy so screw that noise. But at the same time they’re all bucking the town’s conformity requirement in their own special way so more passive aggressive than anything else. But they’ll swing knives and fire pokers should the need arise.

I also like the world that Caine’s setting up in GLASS HOUSES. You know that this is a town run by vampires. But how does their secret not get out? What do the townspeople think about it all? Why is a house full of people who obviously don’t like living in that podunk town still live there? SO MANY QUESTIONS. And I know GLASS HOUSES is just scratching the surface of what Caine’s world has to offer.

It’s different and I like different when it comes to vampires. I also really like her characters. They’re just so realistic with very believable actions and feelings. I never found myself having to suspend my disbelief like crazy in order to get through the book (just ignore the vampires part) because the character reactions were ridiculous. I could relate to all of them in some fashion, however minor, yet the crew in the Glass House are all markedly different characters on page. I look forward to reading more into this series and seeing what Caine’s developed here.

4

Published: March 15, 2016
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Anouk has finally caught the break she’s been looking for—she’s been selected out of hundreds of other candidates to fly to France and help with the excavation of a vast, underground palace buried a hundred feet below the suburbs of Paris. Built in the 1780’s to hide an aristocratic family and a mad duke during the French Revolution, the palace has lain hidden and forgotten ever since. Anouk, along with several other gifted teenagers, will be the first to set foot in it in over two centuries.

Or so she thought.

But nothing is as it seems, and the teens soon find themselves embroiled in a game far more sinister, and dangerous, than they could possibly have imagined. An evil spanning centuries is waiting for them in the depths. . . (goodreads.com)

This was a hell of an interesting and original book that I just could not put down. Bachmann gave enough details as the plot progressed to keep me intrigued but didn’t deny me too much that I became annoyed. He struck a good balance between intrigue and trickling information in enough to keep the reader turning the pages.

I wasn’t that big of a fan of Anouk as a character. She comes off brash and unlikeable with a really bad attitude. They all kind of do, actually, except Lilly. But she’s annoying due to her way too chipper of an attitude and her need to be overtly nice to absolutely everyone. As more poop hit the fan the sardonic attitude of them all leveled out, to be replaced by the pure need to survive. As that’s wont to happen.

The setting is really interesting and I liked how the storyline toggled between present day and the French Revolution when the underground palace was completed. It’s such a demented place, equal parts vivid in his descriptions and unknowable in its terror, it’s something that truly creeped me out. And that doesn’t happen very often. That overarching unknown of WHY all of this was happening was, I think, the creepiest part of all. And when everything was revealed I wasn’t disappointed! That’s actually a huge thing. I’m so used to horror building up and building up and building up only to be completely let down. So to not be let down at the end was pretty spectacular.

There were still some unanswered questions at the end, but I think that lends itself to being even more creepy, not knowing every single little detail of what was going on. And I liked the darkness of it all. When the kids were down there, running for their lives, there were shadows everywhere in my head. There was just enough description to get me through, but it was shrouded enough in darkness that I really felt like I was there with them as they worked their way through this underground maze. I kept finding myself referring back to The Catacombs movie and the minotaur of Crete, the latter of which was even mentioned as a reference for what they were all going through. It’s apt, that’s for sure.

A DROP OF NIGHT is creepy in its insanity, in its unknown, and in the bits and pieces you do know. Bachmann does have something unique here, even though it reminded me of other things. Mostly horror, part thriller, and just all around creepy, I couldn’t put the book down and I certainly didn’t want to read it when it was dark. Not too many books freak me out, but this one did. Bravo!

4.5

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