Bites

Published: July 7, 2015
Publisher: NAL
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn… (goodreads.com)

INK AND BONE is a fun, exciting book if you’re not familiar with Alexandria’s, or Egypt’s, history and don’t think about the world-building too much. Otherwise it’s an alternative history where A LOT has been set aside and not even touched or expounded upon for the sake of telling a story. So I’m torn on this one.

On the one hand I did enjoy the story. I thought the development of Caine’s library as this outwardly sentient being being run by corrupted men from behind the curtain was interesting and unique and wholly refreshing in a market of broken dystopias or supernatural worlds. It offers something different, where literacy and knowledge have gone to an extreme so much so that’s it’s reversed back over itself and knowledge is, once again, fully controlled for the sake of “protecting” the population.

I enjoyed the characters, each and every one of them, especially Jess’s teacher there, whose name escapes me at the moment. All were incredibly lifelike and jumped off the page and held their own. While some were less appealing than others, they all brought their own special brand of life to the table that was hard to ignore, especially as the story progressed and everyone was thrown into battle and forced to protect each other.

The world itself is incredibly intriguing if considered on its own, mutually exclusive to anything even remotely historically accurate. If you view it from within a bubble and don’t associate it to anything, it’s spectacular and imaginative and compelling.

However, taking the story into historical context it completely falls apart. There’s no why or how answered at all. In fact everything is pretty much brushed aside except for the concept of “the library at Alexandria never burns.” The implications of that are massive yet the world we get is vaguely Victorian. It’s set in the future, but our current technological path never happened and everything’s a bit more steampunky with elements of magic if we’re talking about the people who run the library. And then there’s some random war between Wales and England that felt really contrived and set entirely for the sake of creating a hardship for the characters. Not sure what was going on there.

To call INK AND BONE alternate history is kind of a misnomer. It assumes that historical context is even considered. It’s not. Literally it’s just the concept of “the library at Alexandria never burns.” It ignores literally everything else and aside from a couple of poignant known historical inserts like Gutenberg, it skips ahead a couple thousand years to give us the current story.

I liken this book to the Red Dawn remake. If you take it on its own, not related to anything else, it’s a good movie. But the second you relate it to its predecessor it just goes up in smoke. INK AND BONE does the same thing. Taken as its own self-contained story in a world that’s entirely made up except for the library at Alexandria and it’s a good book. But the second you actually try to relate it to its real thing it turns to sand and blows away. Look, I liked the book enough that I want to read the next one. But this is not alternate history. There was not nearly enough care taken to make this an alternate history. It’s a futuristic steampunk dystopia with an ancient library at its core. The name merely makes it relatable. It could have been named something entirely fictitious and it still would have worked. And I wouldn’t have bugged out about the world nearly as much, if at all.

3

Published: May 8, 2012
Publisher: Square Fish
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city’s most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.’s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidently poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she’s to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight–at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family. (goodreads.com)

I’m . . . underwhelmed by ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE. I was expecting more. More tension, more drama, higher stakes. Instead I got a vague world that doesn’t really carry any relevance to its own existence, characters that are a bit stilted, and a ho-hum plot that left me wondering when something was going to happen.

This felt like Zevin wanted to write about someone associated with organized crime without having to do any research for it, which would have been required if writing about something inspired by a current or past crime family. Instead she fasts forwards the timeline a few dozen years, makes chocolate illegal, and builds a “crime family” around a rather lazy idea spawned from watching The Godfather. Except a really light version of The Godfather. It’s very superficial and just skims the surface of organized crime which, I’m sure, would be excused away because it’s told from Anya’s perspective, who really wasn’t involved in much.

But then you have the world. There isn’t any real reason why the world is the way it is. Just that it got bad. Chocolate is illegal because it’s a stimulant? Maybe? Coffee is illegal too because I guess it hops kids up and people do crazy things when on coffee? It’s all very . . . nice try, but no. It’s all just very weak, a poorly developed futuristic New York that felt less like any kind of New York I know and more like this blurry watercolor painting of New York painted by someone who only has some vague idea of what New York, and world building, is actually like. I was disappointed.

And then you have Anya, who isn’t much her own character because she lives her life based on quotes her Daddy gave her. And it always annoys me when an author doesn’t use contractions, whether in dialogue or within a character’s head. I don’t know too many people who don’t use them and to have characters that constantly use words like ‘it is’ instead of ‘it’s’ really bugs me. It just comes off very stilted and unnatural and makes the characters seem stiff.

At the same time I can appreciate Anya’s logical approach to life. It’s a very emotionless approach, and doesn’t necessarily translate well onto the page, but I can appreciate it and I can definitely relate. She also had good interactions with people like Scarlet and Win and even Gable. The way she felt for her brother Leo and how she watched out for Natty were endearing. Her interactions with other characters were good, but her emotionless approach to comprehension and problem-solving proved to be a barrier.

The world was the biggest disappointment for me with ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE. Because of that everything else just crumpled around it. It was just fuel for a lazy fire and it’s all underwhelming, at best. I won’t be reading on in the series as a result.

3

Published: March 22, 2016
Publisher: HarperTeen
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Jen Noonan’s father thinks a move to Harmony House is the key to salvation, but to everyone who has lived there before, it is a portal to pure horror.

After Jen’s alcoholic mother’s death, her father cracked. He dragged Jen to this dilapidated old manor on the shore of New Jersey to “start their new lives”—but Harmony House is more than just a creepy old estate. It’s got a chilling past—and the more Jen discovers its secrets, the more the house awakens. Strange visions follow Jen wherever she goes, and her father’s already-fragile sanity disintegrates before her eyes. As the forces in the house join together to terrorize Jen, she must find a way to escape the past she didn’t know was haunting her—and the mysterious and terrible power she didn’t realize she had. (goodreads.com)

Decent concept, poor execution. The pacing was always just slightly off, the language at times stilted and at other times overly forced. And I couldn’t help but think that it was set in 1997 solely to remove cell phones from the equation. Because a cell phone would have solved this book’s problem real quick. Well, it would have removed the story entirely but, you know. Regardless, it being set in 1997 felt arbitrary. Aside from the absence of constant connection there doesn’t appear to be a reason for setting it twenty years in the past.

I like the concept of the house doing something to people, or seeming to do something to people. HARMONY HOUSE plays around with this concept and a little bit with mental illness and what fanaticism can do to someone. But because it can’t really figure out its own pacing, and the element that ends up saving Jen isn’t very developed, it all falls flat.

Jen finds out she has this power except you see very little of it. It’s mentioned a little bit at the end and then when it comes to save the day and pulls Jen out of the wreckage. Literally. Total deus ex machina plot element that I think was supposed to tie her to her mother, but didn’t.

The whole book just felt very amateur. Jen’s voice was that of what an angsty teenager in the 90s was supposed to sound like, saying goddamn a lot (A LOT, I don’t take offense to that term at all, but most of the time it felt like forced character development) and being moody and listening to classic rock. It wasn’t necessarily a caricature, but Jen certainly didn’t feel like a real person.

The situation with Alex felt really overdone. Not sure if it was supposed to be tied to the house and have it all loop back, but it felt like really forced tension because there wasn’t anything else going on.

HARMONY HOUSE feels like the sort of story that a younger person would write, or someone who isn’t very experienced with storytelling. It also didn’t answer the whole “is something evil in Jen” question because she did react to the exorcism. So was the miscarriage the purge her body needed or is the “evil” still there? Was it ever evil? Or was what’s in her good and her father was evil and it was reacting to him? None of that is really developed or answered.

It just felt unfinished, undeveloped, and all around mediocre. Definitely far better horror out there.

1

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

Published: June 24, 2014
Publisher: Scholastic
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

To tweet or not to tweet . . . what a deadly question.

When Briana loses out on a starring role in the school’s production of Hamlet, she reluctantly agrees to be the drama department’s “social media director” and starts tweeting half-hearted updates. She barely has any followers, so when someone hacks her twitter account, Briana can’t muster the energy to stop it. After all, tweets like “Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark . . . and a body’s rotting in the theater” are obviously a joke.

But then a body IS discovered in the theater: Briana’s rival. Suddenly, what seemed like a prank turns deadly serious. To everyone’s horror, the grisly tweets continue . . . and the body count starts to rise.

There’s no other explanation; someone is live-tweeting murders on campus.

With the school in chaos and the police unable to find the culprit, it’s up to Briana to unmask the psycho-tweeter before the carnage reaches Shakespearian proportions . . . or she becomes the next victim. (goodreads.com)

FOLLOWERS actually has a full point lower rating than DEFRIENDED on Goodreads, however, I think this is the better of two books. At least FOLLOWERS has actual tension and the author doesn’t act like the readers like dolts when it comes to technology. Although she is rather insistent that her characters can’t live without their phones, which I found a little annoying. And I’m not sure what the creepy ten-year-olds with yellow eyes have anything to do with anything. I guess yellow eyes are mentioned once, but that’s it.

This book, I think, was a little more reminiscent of the older Point Horror books. It’s kind of campy, kind of kooky, people die in weird ways. It’s more of what I would expect of an old school reboot. It’s harkening back to those older YA horror novels. But it’s still trying pretty hard to fit into the current technological climate. It does a far better job of it than DEFRIENDED did, but it still kind of misses the mark with how Twitter is used. The entire premise focuses on this one account called Hamlet’s Ghost that’s seemingly following Bree around and her only followers seem to be her schoolmates. On Twitter. Like Twitter is a silo for only school people to know about. No.

The a ha moment at the end of the book seemed a little out of nowhere despite its subtle build-up. It’s just that one moment when Bree put all the pieces together, after everything, seemed kind of hackneyed. I wasn’t thrilled with it. There’s also not a whole lot of character development going on and a lot of suspension of disbelief that I have to go through in order to get on board with the plot. Like Forsythe students being allowed to come in and audition for a play at a private school. Yeah, no. Totally contrived. There is no outreach in something like that. Parents are paying for their children to go to this performing arts school yet they’re okay with their opportunities being shanghaied by locals who get it for free? Yeah, that school would have a lot of angry parents to contend with on that one. Not to mention one student dying under mysterious circumstances would shut down the school, let alone two, let alone continuing with a stupid play.

So yeah, while it’s a better book than DEFRIENDED, FOLLOWERS still has its own hurdles to get over. It just gets more points with me because it actually had some semblance of tension in the story. I can appreciate that.

3

Published: May 3, 2015
Publisher: Self
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

For eighteen years Aia Wynnald has lived a lie. Raised as a highborn in the Kingdom of Tharien, she’s filled her days with tutors and archery lessons. But simmering beneath her polite surface is a dangerous gift, one which she must keep a secret. Aia is a Bender. And in Tharien, Benders are feared and hunted.

When her unruly power breaks free with dire repercussions, Aia’s lifelong goal of independence shatters. As she scrambles to piece her life back together while evading capture, she disturbs a vengeful force intent on destroying the kingdom.

Now, with the help of an unlikely ally, Aia will decide the fate of Tharien. To rescue those she cares about will require accepting what she is. But can she risk becoming the monster she’s dreaded to save the very citizens baying for her blood? (goodreads.com)

It’s a good premise, and the writing was compelling enough, but ultimately Morrison is in her characters’ heads WAY too much and it kept pulling me out of the story. Certainly not a bad book, but I think it could have been significantly better if more was focused on keeping the plot moving instead of constant internal monologues from the characters. Way too many questions asked within their heads as a means of substituting tension where, considering the plot, there was tension enough going on around them.

I liked the basic story and I think the premise itself was compelling. People born with this magical ability are hunted out of society for being dangerous and demonic. They’re called Shells, basically just flesh sacks for demons to take over. What they have to look forward to is a Cleansing, which will kill them, or a Draining, which is effectively a magical lobotomy that leaves them a numb husk of a person.

The story is told from two points of view, Cole’s and Aia’s (who’s also called Maia, but I don’t know why she drops the M). One is a Bender hiding in plain sight and the other is a Bender being hunted. Both end up working together to topple a theocratic regime more bent on ruling by fear than by reason.

Cole doesn’t experience a whole lot of character development throughout the story. Not really. Aia has somewhat of a lurching shift in character when she finds out about a characteristic of another character she’s supposed to be spying on. She then becomes infuriatingly passive to the point where it’s almost illogical when I just wanted her to crack some skulls. But that’s just me.

But the biggest issue I had with FROM THE ASHES, and why I’m probably not going to read further into the series, is that the characters kept getting in their own way. There was just way too much internal pontificating and in many cases it was a substitute for tension, but it just became glaring and annoying the more I read of it. It really slowed down the plot for me to the point where I was getting jarred out of it every time we got sucked into a character’s head to see how they were going to work something out. It’s one thing to be privy to the internal workings of a character when in first person point of view. It’s another thing when a scene pauses so the character can ask themselves questions about what’s coming up next. I can only handle so much of that.

Ultimately one of the better self pubs I’ve read. It’s not a bad book, by any stretch of the word. I think the world is compelling and Morrison has something good going here. I just wish the characters got out of the way more.

3

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