Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #1) by Laini Taylor

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: April 22 to 24, 2013
Read count: 1

Books with cliffhanger endings are difficult to rate, and they’re especially difficult to rate when they’re part of an ongoing series.

With that said, I enjoyed this book, but at times, it was too YA for my taste, but now I can see why people gravitate toward Taylor’s writing. It’s engaging and different from the usual flimsy YA urban fantasy fare. It’s heavy on adventure and character development and light on romance and romantic interest.

Since this book is only one part of the mystery, I will stick to listing things that worked or didn’t work for me as a reader (who has an aversion to YA).

Strengths

  • World building. The story starts in Prague, and just when you’re about to get comfortable and settle in, you’re plunge into mystery and Elsewhere.
  • Sensory descriptions: the otherworldly gothic-ness of Prague, the bustling market of Marrakech, the feel of breezes or heat on skin, tingling or prickling sensations, warm soft pastries, the sensation of flying, tangible loneliness
  • Pain: both physical and mental, especially the beheading scene, this was gruesome in a page-turning way
  • Magic. Although we do get glimpses and short explanations, we still don’t know how the magic system(s) work or how Brimstone’s resurrections work yet.
  • Wishes. I find the very idea of wishing and the wisdom of hoping fascinating or rather I find most of everything Brimstone says fascinating.
  • Brimstone and the rest of the shop.
  • Surprisingly uplifting quotes such as this one: “You were true to her, even if she was not to you. Never repent of your own goodness, child. To stay true in the face of evil is a feat of great strength” (Brimstone).
  • Izil. Poignant and quoting dead philosophers one moment (“Have you ever asked yourself, do monsters make war, or does war make monsters?”), and remarking on their wisdom and “exceptional” mustaches the next.

Eh…

  • Karou
  • Akiva
  • Angels. I’m neutral on this because, on one hand, it’s angels, but on the other hand, no biblical references or tie-ins. So the hands cancel each other out.

Weaknesses:

  • Beautiful creatures. This is not a critique of how beautiful the creatures are in this book, but rather a point I need to make about these things plaguing urban fantasy. Why do most creatures in YA need to be impossibly beautiful? (No sympathy for fugly ones?)
  • This quote: “She moved like a poem and smiled like a sphinx.” …What? There are a few more like it. Fortunately there aren’t that many.
  • Origin mythology. Too rushed, needs more explanation. Why are there so many Chimera tribes? How did they come to be? What is the reason for their various animal parts? Hopefully all will be explained in later books.
  • [ETA] High human Chimeras valued/envied for their looks. I don’t understand why this would be. It would make more sense, since Chimeras hate the Seraphs, that any creature resembling the enemy physically would be caste off or disdained for their looks. It doesn’t seem congruent with what we know about Chimera’s knowledge of humans.

I’m curious enough to pick up the second book, but I heard it also ends with a cliffhanger and the third book has no release date yet, so I think I’m gonna wait.

 

[ETA: 07/17]

My initial rating upon finishing this book was a solid 3 stars, a strong 3 stars, but now that I’ve had some time to think on it and compare it to other YA books, I’d have to say this book is better written. So 3½ or 4 stars, depending on my mood of interpretation.

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: April 22 to 24, 2013
Read count: 2

Very cute, almost unbearably so, almost tipped right into the realm of cutesy–I hate that realm. Fortunately Laini Taylor’s writing style, full of quirks, humor, and quotable moments, saved it from escalating further in cuteness.

This is the story of how Zuzanna and Mik got together, which happened off scene in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I listened to the audio and am glad I did because I don’t think I would’ve liked reading it–too much cuteness makes me teeth ache. The voice actors for Zuzanna and Mik both did a great job, though, of bringing the characters to life and turning their tentative courtship into a believable fairy-tale-like proceeding.

I don’t believe in prayer, but I do believe in magic, and I want to believe in miracles.

I don’t think it full achieved magical, but it came close to recapturing the mystifying atmosphere of the first book.

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Review: Deadhouse Gates (The Malazan Book of the Fallen, #2) by Steven Erikson

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: April 14 to 21, 2013
Read count: 1

* * * spoilers below * * *

Originally 3 stars, but then Coltaine’s death happened and the fourth star is for him. RIP the last of the wickan crow clan.

If you’re looking for a way to get into this series and the first book Gardens of the Moon is just too much of a chaotic uphill climb, skip it and start with this one instead. Come back later if you really want to know how events were set in motion. I wish someone had given me this piece of advice when I first got into this series. It would’ve made all the difference and saved a lot of time.

The thing with Erikson’s writing is that it’s all show and very little tell. It’s plot driven and these events have been put in motion prior to the start of the series. You don’t find out what these events are until you unravel the mysteries, one doorstop of a novel at a time. Like Gardens, this second installment has a couple dozen main characters and a hundred secondary characters, all of whom you should remember but most likely you won’t. Unlike Gardens, there are more character development and explanations (not info-dumps). Also, there’s less chaos, which makes for a smoother read and easy-to-follow intersecting story lines.

This book starts off in the dessert, half a world away from events in Gardens. Without giving too much away, there’s a coup, an uprising, a mass exodus, close-call escapes, pissed off gods, higher powers at work, and, of course, tragedy and deaths. But don’t worry. Tragedy is part of the game and death isn’t always the end…

Original review can be found here.

Review: The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: April 13 to 20, 2013
Read count: 1

Weird stuff happening in a small town, but everything comes together in the end in a believable conclusion (of sorts). That alone makes it worth the read.

Also, this book has hints of Stephen King… actually, it’s more like a bouillon cube of Stephen King. It has Stephen King flavorings, but stewed in a more fortified crock pot (if that makes any sense).

The familiar: sleepy small town, gossipy towns folk, gifted (read: not annoying) children, supernatural happenings, unusual deaths, mental illnesses, and animals with violent streak. What’s different from the usual Stephen King fare is you get a bird’s eye view of the the town and its inhabitants and you get to visit every character’s life (main player’s) and see events unfolding from his/her POV. Another thing that’s different is the horror element. Often it’s more humorous than scary. The central mystery has a real, not supernatural, culprit, and the conclusion is plausible and tidy, which you don’t often see in Stephen King stories.

I can’t shake the feeling that if this story was set in the 60s or 70s, it would have made more of an impact on the towns people and there’d be more of an ominous feel to the central mystery and deaths. Modern setting, technology, and crime-solving methods take away from the otherworldly feel of this sleepy town and its strange happenings.

Original review can be found here.

Review: The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3) by Brandon Sanderson

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: April 08 to 15, 2013
Read count: 1

The last couple of chapters escalated quickly. It’s just one revelation after another. Most of the things that were brought up in previous books get resolved in a satisfying way. A few things remain a mystery, as they should.

Although everything works out in the end and the world is reborn, the journey toward the end is a painful one, even more so than the previous two books. During several moments all hope seemed lost, and for a brief moment, it seemed perhaps things would’ve turned out better if Rashek had lived. Those were dark times indeed. You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you start thinking of Rashek as a good person who only wanted to hold the world together. (I still don’t buy it though. If he was such a decent guy, he wouldn’t have ignored the racial, class, gender, etc. disparities fracturing society during his rule. If he was such a decent ruler, he would have strived harder for unity and equality, instead of dividing the people and holding them under with his ridiculous laws. He had a thousand years to work shit out, and he chose complacency. He deserved what he got. But that’s neither here nor there.)

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* * * *  some spoilers * * * *

Continue reading

Review: The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1) by Brandon Sanderson

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: July 28, 2012 to April 02, 2013
Read count: 2

There were many things Sanderson did right with this book (and this series):

  • characterization
  • world-building
  • magic system

The one that stands out the most for me was the main female character, Vin. She is written in such a believable, sympathetic, and solid way that I haven’t seen in other fantasy series in recent years. Seriously, only a handful of new fantasy writers can actually write a believable girl/woman. Anyway, Vin’s journey from scared street urchin to a force to be reckoned with is done gradually, but believably. And that is what’s lacking in new fantasy–believability.

The world of Mistborn is, of course, full of mist. The plants are brown and the sun is red and everything is covered in ashes. There are no mountains, only ash mounts that spew ashes constantly. Noblemen live the easy life and skaa, like Vin, are forever doomed to be slaves. This is where Kelsier and crew come in, to kill the evil tyrant and change the world for the better.

The magic system in this world is called Allomancy and the people who are gifted with it are Allomancers. They burn metals to enhance their mind, body, and skills (there’s an index at the end of the book to help keep track). People who can burn only one metal are called Allomancers or Mistings; those who can burn all metals are Mistborn, like Vin and Kelsier. Mistborns are special and valued for their gifts, and all of them are assassins.

This book has been touted as the one that flipped the genre on its head (or something like that), and while it was an engaging read, I thought the praises were over done. This book on its own was different and promises a lot of action to come. The series on its own, however, does leave a huge impression–and a few holes in the soul–and blows many fantasy tropes apart. I can’t give examples without giving away important plot points.

Original review to be found here.

Review: Divergent (Divergent, #1) by Veronica Roth

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: March 29 to April 02, 2013
Read count: 1

THIS is the reason I don’t trust anything labeled “dystopian,” and so “dystopian YA” makes me even more suspicious.

I’ll repeat what I said in my Hunger Games review:

authors who do not have a firm grasp on what a dystopian society is or how a dystopian government should act should stay away from dystopian narratives and futuristic fiction altogether.

That aside, the writing is not as bad as I’d thought. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s fun, but it’s fast paced enough to make you forget what a ridiculous flimsy dystopian society Chicago has become (will become?). So, it’s an energetic ride, but ultimately not believable in the least. Such a society would fold in on itself long before it can gain enough control of the population to divide people into personality-based groups. There are too many holes in the plot to deconstruct the story properly or take it seriously.

 

[ETA: 06/25]

OK, I concede. The writing is not that bad. Sometimes it’s even entertaining, but then you come across discrepancies in the plot and they pull you out of the story and then you remember how ridiculous the premise is.

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Initially, after finishing Divergent, there was no way I’d continue the journey (further into post-world Chicago), and there was no way I’d touch the 2nd book, but then the final book’s end game was leaked (on almost every review blog), and now I’m kinda curious. With so many readers “up in arms,” it’s difficult not to take an interest. I’d very much like to know what all the yelling is about.

Review: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: March 23 to 27, 2013
Read count: 3

I read this book every Easter to remind myself of the more “important things” in life around this time of year, such as pastel-colored eggs and bunny rabbits…

Currently looking for a new or like new leather-bound copy that’s reasonably priced.

Original review to be found here.

Review: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: March 07 to 08, 2013
Read count: 2

So this is the vampire outbreak that started the zombie outbreaks.

* * * spoilers scattered liberally below * * *

The book:
Matheson adapts a minimal, “economy of words” style to capture Neville’s loneliness and desperation, and in turn, this limitation of unnecessary words makes the story precise and narrows the scope of the world in which the story is set–post-outbreak Los Angeles. Although I understand the purpose of a limited style, I would have liked to spend some more time with Neville and his past. His story seems unfinished the way it is. His mind is a cluster of grief, guilt, abandonment, hopelessness–all very apocalyptic things–and it’s a wonder he’s managed to stay alive and functioning for this long. So there’s still room in the text to explore the few reasons that keep him going when he himself knows that it’s the end of the world.

One minor complaint:
The events at the end happen too quickly. As the writing rushes toward the climax, it seems as if the story is collapsing in on itself. Perhaps that’s what Matheson was going for, and that the collapse of style and structure mimics the circumstances of Neville’s end.

The movie:
(Un)fortunately, I saw the movie before I read the book this time, and it’s a whole different creature in its own rights, which screwed up my reading experience because Will Smith as Neville is more charismatic than actual Neville from the book.

I like the movie on its own, and I also like the book on its own, and that’s a problem because the movie is an incomplete adaptation of the book. Another problem is when the book and the movie are put side-by-side for comparison, I still like them both.

The movie has a few things going for it that the book lacks. Will Smith, for one. Another is the scenes with the dog, which are only a few paragraphs in the book. In the movie though, it’s a series of interactions and the most intense scenes, to me, because the dog, the only “human” contact Neville has, signifies what little joy and hope he has left in the world. But then the dog dies. You don’t start feeling utter despair until the moment you realize the dog will die. And then it happens shortly thereafter. There is no joy or hope in the book and, perhaps, that’s what the end of humanity should feel like.

The audio:
Another problem is the audiobook, narrated by Robertson Dean, from Blackstone Audio is also good. There’s a sense of self-deprecating humor depicted in the narration that’s not present in either the book or the movie. When you catch on to his sense of humor, Neville becomes less of a “last man on Earth” caricature and more of a person because you’re able to see (hear) him laugh at and berate himself all the while fighting off psychosis. Dean does a great job “showing” how palpable Neville’s loneliness has become over the months he’s survived by withstanding constant attacks from the infected. What stands out the most for me is the way in which Dean slows down the narration at certain moments during a scene and emphasizes them with harsh whispers.

The “I am legend” paragraph is very well performed, and with that, Neville’s story comes to an end as a new “humanity” takes shape.

I’d never before been interested in a single text enough to seek out all of its adaptations. This book is a first. Next up, The Omega Man.