Book Review: Piratica

Piratica
(Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl’s Adventure Upon the High Seas)
By My Queen Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Hardcover, 288 pages
2003, Dutton Children’s Books
ISBN: 0525473246

Art has been banished to the Angels Academy for the last six years of her life, learning deportment and other ladylike qualities that bore her to death. A fall down the stairs and a knock to the head suddenly causes her to remember her childhood, which was spent at her mother’s side on a pirate ship. Art quickly escapes the academy, finds her mother’s old crew and revives their spirits by basically forcing them back into a life of piracy as she lives in the spirit of her legendary mother, Piratica.

-screams- TANITH! Er, ok, so, I’ve read a ton of middle-grade this month and, sadly, none of it has impressed me. It was time for a change and I knew just what would do the trick – Tanith Lee! I’ve been sitting on this Piratica series for FAR too long and I don’t know why. I love how atmospheric her Claidi series is and my semi-recent re-read of The Unicorn Trilogy made me recall the special place her middle-grade/teen (I feel like all these series fall somewhere in between) books have in my crusty little heart.

From the first page, I was giddy at the thought of diving into another of Tanith’s worlds and Art’s didn’t disappoint. Tanith has created a semi-Victorian (Regency? I don’t know time periods, sorry!) world in the year of Seventeen-Twelvety (how awesome is that?!) which somewhat resembles the actual year of 1802. This world primarily differs from our own in how the countries are laid out and there’s a handy map in the front that I actually referenced for once. But because this is Tanith and I am a flappy-handed fangirl for everything she’s written (ugh except Greyglass  -tosses if off a cliff-) I felt there was something subtle about her world that differed from an actual historic period. I can’t explain this further and likely I am crazy.

Art is fantastic. She’s bold and witty and smart and super talented at being a pirate, despite not having been one for the past six years. She could potentially suffer from special snowflake syndrome, but she doesn’t because she has to work to win over her crew and she doesn’t have the shining, sapphire eyes and porcelain doll-like features of your usual heroine. And oh, the sun doesn’t shine out of her ass. Anyway! She’s a great lead, but her crew is small enough that most of them actually (I think I’m saying this word too much in this review, but I’m too lazy to change it) feel different and developed, where they could easily have fallen to the wayside (portside?)

There’s a lot to the plot that I can’t talk about or I’ll spoil the fun, but from the moment Art rediscovers her crew and takes on her new life as a pirate, I had this underlying sense of something more. I knew something else was up and it was a nice feeling, knowing that the plot had another element that wasn’t being revealed, even though the plot was acting like everything had been revealed.

Look, I have a hard time analyzing Tanith’s work because I am super biased. But I can say, if you’re looking for a witty, semi-middle-grade-semi-teen pirate adventure with swashbuckling, a fantastically charming ragtag group of pirates, talented parrot and dog companions, a strong female lead and totally hawt boi, but no love triangles and no breaths being held unbeknownst to the holder, then Piratica may be just what you’re looking for! I can’t wait to read the other two books (even though the third was never published in hardcover and therefore doesn’t match the first two.)

Sadly, Tanith doesn’t really have a website, but her Wikipedia page does a decent job of at least listing out all her work.

Book Review: Illuminae

Illuminae
By Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

My Edition:
Hardcover, 599 pages
2015, Knopf
ISBN: 9780553499117

When Kady and Ezra’s home planet is brutally attacked by a competitor in the mining industry, they are lucky to escape the planet alive when a nearby group of military ships responds to their distress call. The small fleet of three ships houses the refugees and they’re fleeing for their lives as one of the enemy ships pursues them. Any useful refugees are quickly conscripted as they try to outrun the enemy, but after a tragic incident, it becomes clear that all is not well among their fleet. Kady, expert hacker, works to find out the truth as Ezra trains to become a fighter pilot. The secrets they uncover are more deadly than the enemy ship that’s hot on their trail.

Ok, my blurb is shit, but there’s a lot going down in this book and it’s hard to sum up without spoiling anything – though why I even tried to sum up Illuminae is beyond me because even if you haven’t read this, I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of it and at least have some idea what it’s about. I should have just said, crazy shit goes down in space and is revealed to readers through found documents.

I bought this book a while ago, primarily because it’s sci-fi and the design was too cool to pass up. I was a little wary of the YA aspect, because, let’s face it, more often than not I’m disappointed or downright pissed off by much of the YA I read. I’m not trying to trash the genre and I always keep my eye out for YA reads that I think I’ll enjoy, but it’s not my favorite group. Anyway, this book is rad looking – you might recall I did a judging post on it a while back. I’ve wanted to read it for quite some time, but without the recent read-a-thon I participated in, I’m honestly not sure when I would have made time for this book.

I’m so glad I did though! This was a fast-paced story and despite the seemingly impersonal, or perhaps, less detailed aspect of government documents, conversation transcripts, journal entries and IM conversations, I was fully immersed in this book and was easily able to picture action scenes in my head. I feel I have a good idea of who Kady and Ezra are and what they stand for and I was hooked from page one.

I also liked that there was no love triangle! Kady and Ezra have a pre-established relationship, so there was no love at first sight, soulmate, which boy should I choose crap that usually has me wanting to throw a book out the window.

There’s even some crazy, overly-poetic artificial intelligence in this book – I love sci-fi where there’s the question of whether the crew controls the ship, or the other way around, and Illuminae delivered.

There are several twists in this book and once or twice I found myself talking out loud about what happened. I did have my suspicions about the ending, that proved correct, but that didn’t lessen the excitement for me.

Overall the format flowed like a regular novel for me and I am hoping to read the next book early next year! For the first time in quite a while, I can say I highly recommend a YA novel and I’m so pleased!

You can visit Jay and Amie’s websites.

Book Review: Timekeeper

Timekeeper
By Tara Sim

My Edition:
E-book, 424 pages (hardcover)
2016, Sky Pony Press
ISBN: 9781510706187 (hardcover)
Expected Publication Date: November, 18 2016

I received this book for free from Sky Pony Press in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.

In an alternate version of Victorian England, time is controlled by clock towers and if one is destroyed, a whole town could be stopped, its citizens trapped, possibly forever. At seventeen, Danny Hart is one of the youngest mechanics to earn his license to maintain clock towers and the flow of time they create. His father is trapped in a stopped town and Danny is desperate to get a position working on the new tower being built, in hopes that it will free the town and his father. But Danny’s obsession with the new tower has instead landed him in the small town of Enfield with a tower that seems to have one problem after another. There Danny meets a mysterious boy who turns out to be a clock spirit and as Danny falls head over heels for him, he’ll risk everything he’s worked for in order for them to be together.

I was very excited about the premise of this book. I love steampunk stories and with the added elements of clock spirits and a gay protagonist, I figured this book would really wow me. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for any of the characters and that left the story feeling lackluster.

Danny felt less like a character and more like a stereotype. Rather possessing a solid personality that evoked empathy in me for his situation, Danny felt whiny and almost pathetic. He felt people around him were treating him like a child, but he was acting like one.  That, paired with the fact that his homosexuality felt more like a stereotypical personality trait than a real part of who he was, made it very hard for me to immerse myself in his life. He is also apparently a prodigy at repairing these clocks, yet (aside from the very end of the book where he randomly develops superpowers) we’re never given any evidence of this other than people talking about how he’s the youngest mechanic ever.

Colton, the clock spirit, didn’t stand out either. He’s essentially a pretty boy for Danny to fall “in love” with. He has no real personality other than curious, because he’s not human and so he doesn’t understand much about human life – despite saying he’s watched the people of his town for an unknowable amount of time. He feels overly innocent (or perhaps ignorant is the right word?) and it makes his relationship with Danny awkward and forced. Their bond borders on insta-love with Danny feeling immediately comfortable around Colton, which leads to them chatting a bit, and then suddenly they’re in love.

The story is mostly from Danny’s perspective, though it is broken up here and there by some interludes about the gods and how time was managed before it fell into human hands. There are also a couple random chapters voiced by a few of Danny’s enemies, but rather than deepen those characters, those chapters felt abrupt and left me wondering why we only heard from them once or twice.

I did like the idea of a clock tower controlling the time of the town it resided in and I found it interesting that a town could stop. I was fuzzy on the details of a stopped town though. Towards the end, we do get a feel for what it’s like inside a stopped town, but the rules of how they work seemed arbitrary and changeable based on what Danny needed to be able to accomplish.

The ending wrapped the book up with a neat bow and made me roll my eyes. Since I never cared for Danny, the conclusion wasn’t satisfying because at that point I didn’t care if he ended up with everything he wanted or not. I do have questions about how one maintains a relationship with someone who is actually made of time, but I don’t want to know badly enough to read another book, should this be made into a series. I wasn’t impressed, but I didn’t hate the book.

If you’re looking for a light, LGBT YA read with some steampunk and semi-magical elements thrown in, I’d recommend checking this out.

You can visit Tara’s website here.

Book Review: Throne of Glass

Throne of Glass
By Sarah J. Maas

My Edition:
Paperback, 404 pages
2012, Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781408832332

Celaena Sardothien is the most badass assassin in all the land, though aside from her title of “Adarlan’s Assassin” we’re given little evidence of this. Young, achingly handsome Prince Dorian, with his piercing sapphire eyes, and his equally young and devastatingly handsome captain of the guard, Chaol, drag her from the depths of a salt mine where she’s been slaving away for a year. The King will hold a tourney, comprised mostly of criminals who he gives almost free reign of his castle to, in order to choose a champion to do his dirty work. Can Celaena eliminate her competition to regain her freedom, tactfully handle the oodles of compliments she receives from two sexy men, and pick which sexy man she’ll fall in love with, all while embarking on a side quest from an ancient ghost?

If you can’t already tell, I wasn’t a fan of this book (and I realize I’m in the minority on this), so if you don’t want to read my rant, here’s the short version: the characters were cardboard cutouts and walking clichés, the dialogue was clunky and full of our heroine and heroes constantly interrupting important conversations with thoughts of how attractive they find each other, and the plot had too many elements with no real focus. I feel like Maas wasted an opportunity to actually portray a badass young assassin and instead wrote a half-assed love triangle set inside a castle and called it a fantasy novel.

Here are a few highlights from my Twitter:

Started a YA novel. Page two and I’m hearing about how beautiful our heroine is 😧

YA adventures continue: page 6, a handsome youth appears! Page 8: another boy! This one “achingly handsome”!

Special snowflake eyes, glimmering golden hair, thin: our heroine is a strikingly lovely, highly skilled, totally average teen! Even when she’s so thin she’s skeletal, she’s still so beautiful!

Yes, I too, often remark mid conversation on someone’s looks when it’s not at all relevant to what I’m discussing.

Confirmed by our hero, our heroine is still beautiful even when sweaty! Thank gourd!

Our heroine is wild and has “impossible anger.” What even does that mean?

Hero B pauses his thoughts of important political intrigue to think about our beautiful, strong but secretly fragile, heroine.

Guest tweet by @redstarreviews: he ponders how her inner brokenness draws him to her while her rough sarcastic exterior confuses his emotions….

I struggled to gather my thoughts on this book. I know it is part of an incredibly popular series and while I don’t read YA as often as I used to, I do still enjoy the genre. Throne of Glass could have featured an intimidating, strong-willed female lead delivering some serious ass kickings. Instead we’re beaten about the head with Celaena’s title of “Adarlan’s Assassin” (re: the best in all the land at only eighteen) but aside from a few fleeting scenes, readers are never given any real taste of her skills or even her past. I at least wanted to know about who she’s killed in the past! Mass failed to impress me with her lead character, to make me feel invested in the story and to excite me.

The majority of the book follows the “tell, don’t show” format. We’re constantly told how beautiful the three young heroes of our love triangle are, what they’re wearing, and how attractive they find each other. Snore! While romance isn’t my genre of choice, if it had at least been well written, I would have considered this book to have some redeeming quality. But the characters lacked personality and their “relationships” lacked depth.

Celaena wavers between a petulant teen starved for the attention of the sexy men who are actually her captors and a tough girl who occasionally thinks of murdering people and escaping. She wants to be seen as a serious threat, but she also wants to be invited to royal parties and play dress up. She wants to hide in her room and read, but really she’s just lonely and wishing she had friends! None of her thoughts or actions solidified her personality for me. Dorian and Chaol are just pretty faces that waver between not trusting an assassin (as they shouldn’t, if she were actually a threat) and wanting to smooch her.

The dialogue is clunky and unrealistic. As I mentioned in some of my tweets, our characters often stop serious conversations to remark, mentally or aloud, about how attractive they find each other. Celaena also fails to exhibit her strong, independent personality with gems like this:

(A competitor tells her that he thought she’d have run off. Celaena “trembles with rage” and Chaol tells her to save it.)

“I’m going to kill him,” she breathed.

“No, you’re not. If you want to shut him up, then beat him. He’s just a brute from the king’s army – don’t waste your strength on hating him.”

She rolled her eyes. “Thank you so much for interfering on my behalf.”

“You don’t need me to rescue you.”

“It still would have been nice.”

Ok what!? Chaol says it lightly, but yes, she shouldn’t need rescuing. ALSO RESCUING FROM WHAT? Ahem – sorry. But seriously, her competitor did nothing but comment that he thought she’d have abandoned the competition. Its conversations and actions like that which stopped Celaena from being a convincing character.

The whole competition aspect of the story didn’t make sense either. I could see no reason why the king would have two dozen or so people competing for the position as lead assassin and allow them (many of whom were known criminals) free reign of his castle and attendance to royal parties. Because there were so many characters and so many weekly skill tests, most of them – characters and tests alike – are skimmed over, draining any tension from this story line and leaving Celaena a lot of down time (for parties and pining over cuties!)

On top of all this muck, there’s a side plot involving the ghosts of dead royalty, faeries, outlawed magic, and evil beasts. Maas spread herself too thin trying to tackle too many subjects and instead left them all feeling haphazard and unfinished.

If you read my whole review – I applaud you! I just had too many thoughts on this book and unfortunately, none of them were pleasant. I can say the cover art is gorgeous though – it’s certainly a beautiful looking series!

You can find Ms. Maas on the internet.

Mini Review: Golden Son

20150510_112008Golden Son
By Pierce Brown

Not My Edition:
Hardcover, 446 pages
2015, Del Rey
ISBN: 9780345539816

Golden Son takes place two years after Red Rising. Darrow has gone through further training at the Academy, this time in a mock-war in space. But Darrow is tricked and when he loses the final battle, his Gold patron loses faith in him. This could devastate his plans to take down the society that has repressed his people for generations. But the tables turn once again and Darrow sees his chance to start a real war between all the colors. 

Okay – I’m done. Yet again, I feel like I’m reading a different book than most. It seems that there’s almost as much hype around Golden Son as there was Red Rising and I am having a hard time seeing the appeal in either book. My biggest problem? I don’t care! I don’t care about Darrow – he lost me when they transformed him from a Red to a Gold stuck him in a forest for 100000 pages. The rest of the cast? I don’t care! I don’t think that any of the characters are particularly well-developed, and while I’m at it, I think it’s so weird that Darrow calls his sort-of girlfriend Mustang. To me, there’s nothing compelling about this series or the characters. It’s still lacking the sci-fi element that I was looking for the in beginning. Yes, they’re in space, and sometimes they talk about grav-boots or weird weapons, but for the most part, I forget they’re on another planet in a distant future. Nothing really sets this book apart from your standard YA dystopia. I’m just thankful they skipped over the space battle training because then instead of feeling like I was reading the Hunger Games, Percy Jackson style, I’d be reading Ender’s Game, Percy Jackson style. The action was repetitive and boring – each battle felt the same and I was just waiting to see if someone “important” died – but since I didn’t care about any of the characters, it really wouldn’t have mattered.

Brown’s writing still left much to be desired. As I mentioned in my review of Red Rising, he’s a big fan of similes and odd character descriptions and I felt they became even more ridiculous in this book. I was tempted to put a sticky note on every page that had a wild one, but I didn’t want to waste the stickies. I’m willing to bet there’s a stupid simile or description at least every 2-3 pages. In the beginning, I highlighted some of the more…entertaining (?) ones:

“Her sensual mouth wide, with lips shaped to purr insults.”

“Bruises, most faded, stain my body like little ponds of blue and purple ringed with yellowing sands.”

“A child could beat the living hell out of this beautiful kitten of a man.”

“He’s built like a squat block of dirty ice carved by a rusted blade.”

Can you hear me groaning? Beautiful kitten of a man!? Are you serious!? I can’t even begin to imagine a body shaped like a “squat block of dirty ice.”

I’ve had enough – this series simply wasn’t for me. If you’re into it, more power to  you, but this did not live up to the hype and I won’t be reading the next installment, cliffhanger be damned.

 

Book Review: The Paper Magician

20150202_152248

The Paper Magician
By Charlie N. Holmberg

Not My Edition:
Paperback, 214 pages
2014, 47North
ISBN: 9781477823835

From the back of the book: Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever. Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic. An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

What I liked:
I was very interested in the concept and world-building  – the idea that you can only specialize in one form of magic, especially regarding materials like metal, paper, glass, rubber, etc. felt fresh to me. Add to the mix that it’s 18th (maybe?) century England, an era that I love to see magical or steampunk elements in, and I’m hooked. Unfortunately in this first book, there wasn’t enough development for me. We of course read about paper-based magic (which was fun), and I realize that’s what Ceony was assigned to, but I was still expecting to hear more about the magic behind the other elements.

What I didn’t like:
I don’t know how I missed this, but when I started this book, I didn’t realize it was YA. Then I started reading about Ceony’s hair and clothes on what seemed like every other page, and as soon as any new character was introduced, I was immediately given a pretty thorough description of them. I got the message. Now, I’m a big fan of YA, but I like to know what I’m reading before I go into it, so I was just thrown off. Also, I had to read about Ceony’s hair way too often. That seems like a very common YA trope and I hate to see author’s falling into that.

The love story was also incredibly obvious and I saw it from a mile away, but Holmberg continued to beat me about the head with it through the entire book. Another black mark in my book of YA sins is the underdeveloped love story and sadly Paper Magician earned that mark. Ceony’s relationship with Thane seemed to be comprised of about three days of working lessons, before she dives “into the chambers of his still-beating heart” in order to discover the secrets of his soul. Somehow, this equals love. Can you picture me rolling my eyes?

The last big issue I had with this book was this whole inside Thane’s heart nonsense. First of all, this may seem stupid, but while I am willing to suspend my disbelief to accept there’s magic based on manmade elements, I’m not willing to accept that one’s memories, hopes and fears are stored in the four chambers of their heart, or that there’s a spell that could transport someone into a still-beating heart and allow them to tromp through said memories. I’m sorry, but your heart is not where love comes from. Ceony spent the majority of the book trapped inside Thane’s heart, slowly building her own love for him just because she was able to glimpse some of his memories and fears. Frankly, it annoyed me to no end. I read along, mostly disinterested, as Ceony squeezed her way through artery after disgusting artery to discover the secrets of each chamber, and then as she somehow bumbled her way out of the thing. By the time she freed herself (without damaging the heart of course!) I was pretty bored.

~

Overall, I was let down by this book. I expected the focus to be on these different types of magic, not the burgeoning romance of Ceony and her instructor. The ending of the book was very underwhelming, and while I realize it’s part of a series, I thought it could have used a more solid resolution, or some sort of cliffhanger to keep audiences (me) interested. I do, however, plan to borrow the next book eventually because I would like to give Holmberg the chance to impress me and I’m hoping for a bigger focus on the magic of this world she’s created. I think, had I realized what I was going into before I read this (yeah, somehow I must have failed to read the back of the book) I might not have had such high expectations.