Mortal Engines (The Hungry City Chronicles #1) by Philip Reeve

 

Mortal Engines (The Hungry City Chronicles, #1)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: July 16 to 23, 2018

This book gets a solid OKAY from me: good for young adult, but just fine overall. There was one thing about it that I couldn’t get behind, and that one thing get in the way of my enjoyment. More on that below.

Generally speaking, this book was too young for me, but this time I say that as an observation, not a critique, because it’s written/meant for a younger audience. Readers who enjoy YA would enjoy it as well, but the writing gave me that feeling that it was written with young readers in mind. Almost everything about it was geared toward young readers, from the young wholesome protagonists who are eager to throw themselves into the fray, to their fight to overthrow a corrupt system, to their grand magnanimous ideals, to the industrialized dystopian setting, to the bleak look at an environmentally devastating future, to the mustache twirling villains, to the non-stop action, and the list goes on, right into the spoilers. So I’ll stop listing things here.

I would recommend this book to young readers and anyone looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation. It’s a little violent for YA with some characters getting killed rather graphically, but the ideas and visuals and hydraulics this book inspire will look incredible on screen.

To get to that one thing that took me out of the story, I have to explain a little about the set-up. The conceit, municipal Darwinism, is really interesting. The execution, though, is… not as interesting. Municipal Darwinism is basically big cities consuming smaller cities. Once consumed, the smaller cities get broken into parts and their resources are used to fuel the bigger cities. The people who are consumed either assimilate and resettle in the new city or they are enslaved; it all depends on how “ethical” the cities doing the consuming are. Not all big cities are predators though. A few of them are peaceful, and survive by trading with smaller municipals. (I find them more interesting than the predators and wanted to find out more about them, but this story’s focus is on predator cities.)

“It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.”

These cities aren’t just cities stuck on land, though. They’re traction cities. Yeah, that’s right, they can move. They can run actually. Up to 100 km per hour, if I remember correctly. Yeah… This was where the book lost me. I could not imagine a city the size of London running around the world eating almost everything in sight at roughly 60 to 100 km per hour. I mean, the weight it carries alone would snap its appendages clean off every time it tries to take a step forward. Unless, somehow, the atmosphere is less dense and/or gravity is no longer a thing in this world… I don’t know. I could imagine everything this book threw at me, everything but cities running around on traction. Apparently not being able to buy into this one thing unravels the whole book because I found the rest of the story hard to take in while I tried to work out how London was galloping across the world, eating other cities. 

I went through the same thing with Updraft by Fran Wilde. The ideas introduced–bone towers and flying contraptions–were really interesting, but the ways in which they were incorporated into the story and dystopian setting didn’t make much sense to me, and that took me right out of the world the author tried so hard to create. And once it lost me, I could not get back into it.

So that was my stumbling block for Mortal Engines. Wish I could have liked it more because it’s got four more books in the series, and I love series (but I love solid world building more). So not dismissing these books completely, just gonna put it on the maybe list for now.

Advertisements

Iron & Velvet (Kate Kane #1) by Alexis Hall

Iron & Velvet by Alexis  Hall

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: June 25 to 29, 2018

Kate Kane is a revised version of Sam Spade for our modern times. She’s a private eye living in urban fantasy London and she investigates cases involving vampires, werewolves, the fae, and other otherworldly creatures. The case this time is the murder of a werewolf outside a nightclub, and Kate is asked to look into it by an alluring vampire. She couldn’t resist.

This is a paranormal romance with a lesbian character at the center, and there’s more focus on the romance than the paranormal. Normally this wouldn’t interest me, but Kate is an interesting subject, so I didn’t mind following her around even when the investigation took various detours through her sex life.

The writing style is hardboiled and done very well, and I say that as someone who’s not a fan of hardboiled mysteries. But since I had heard lots of good things about the author, Alexis Hall, there were some expectations. Fortunately, they were met.

Since hardboiled is not my preferred genre, the writing was a little hard to get into at the beginning. I didn’t really get into the rhythm of the narrative or Kate’s voice until more than half the book was over, but by the end, it was an enjoyable read. A little too romance-heavy at times, but not a big deal.

What is a big deal is Alexis Hall not continuing this series. I think there’s a good thing here, and I was hoping there would be more. Oh well.

What stood out the most to me is the queer female detective angle, which I don’t see much in urban fantasy or mysteries in general, and I appreciate the work the author put into this character to make her seem real and not another tough-acting, hardboiled caricature.

Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1) by Nalini Singh

Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: May 25 to 28, 2018

A quick, unencumbered read and not bad for paranormal romance. Personally I think Nalini Singh is one of the few better (readable) authors in this genre. If you like PNR, there’s a good chance you’ll like her books, and you’ll have a long back list to enjoy. Her style is very consistent and predictable.

I’ve read 4 books from her Archangel series and thought the first 3 were fine–the 4th was awful but that’s another thing altogether. They’re a bit long and too romance-focused for my liking, but fine overall. She builds unique worlds very well and populates them with striking, beautiful, otherworldly creatures who are as beautiful as they are violent and vengeful, and she adds interesting alternate histories to these worlds and characters. The romance can always be counted on to be hot and heavy and instantaneous, if that’s what you’re looking for. If not, it can be suffocating.

The writing is almost always too focused on the romance for my liking, and I find it weird and awkward whenever it shows up in the middle of intense action scenes, like right in the middle of a chase scene. They’re easily overlooked, though, if you don’t mind these kind of things in your paranormal romances. I, however, do–there’s a time and a place for the sexy times. Not in the middle of a investigation or kidnapping is all that I ask for. How is this so difficult to NOT write…

Anyhow. This book is no different than any of the other books by this author because her writing, themes, and content are very consistent. Only major difference is it leans more towards sci-fi than fantasy and features shifters and characters with mind powers instead if angels and vampires. There are factions and conflicts, an enemies-to-lovers story line, various urban settings, and lots of action and sexual tension as usual. And also as usual, there are a lot of explanations. Every character’s motive and background is explained, as is every thought and feeling they have toward each other; this is another trait of this author’s writing style. You never have to wonder why. Everything is laid out in the open. No sense of mystery anymore; hence the 2-star rating.

DNF: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible (The Austen Project, #4)

Date read: May 28 to 30, 2018

This book has been called the modern Pride & Prejudice all over the bookish blogosphere, and that was the first thing that got me interested in reading it. That is until I actually read it and found it to be… ridiculous.

But maybe I should explain further. I personally don’t think it’s possible to rewrite a P&P suitable for our modern times because the social and economic consequences of marrying outside one’s class no longer carry the same stigma (at least not in most Western societies), and so a modern tale about the Bennet sisters’ plight would not have nearly the same impact as the original. It wouldn’t have any impact at all tbh. That whole “want of proprietary” thing and having mortifying parents wouldn’t work at all either.

Plus, this book is a collection of first-world problems and I could not get through more than 10% before wanting to set it on fire.

I mean…

Liz is a writer for a magazine, and Jane is a yoga instructor; both currently living in New York.

After their father falls ill, they return to their hometown Cincinnati only to find the family a mess–mother still high-strung, younger sisters still ridiculous–and their childhood home falling down around them.

Since Jane is single and approaching 40–OH THE HUMANITY–their mother has to get her married off soon or else… I have no idea what “or else” means. This isn’t Victorian England, and the family estate isn’t entailed. Perhaps a yoga instructor’s salary isn’t as comfortable as one would hope, but it isn’t quite destitution either. So I really don’t get the desperate picture the author is trying to paint here.

But anyhow, back to the story.

Enters two wealthy eligible bachelors.

Bingley is a handsome, charming, easy-going doctor who just moved to town, AND he’s got an equally handsome and bankable (bangable?) best friend. But Darcy is a curmudgeon. More than that though, he’s a neurosurgeon. And this was precisely where I stopped reading. Couldn’t take it anymore.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern updates to this classic are surprisingly shallow. I was expecting more, maybe something clever or poignant with a little humor, because of all the praise this book has gotten. But really, it’s like any other contemporary romance out there, and the prose itself is nothing special. I honestly don’t see what everyone sees in this book.

The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister, #0.5) by Courtney Milan

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: May 5 to 6, 2018

Currently available for free on all ebook sites.

This novella is a good start to the series, and I regret letting it sit on my e-shelf for the past couple of years and forgetting about it. Found it again in a bout of spring cleaning, and after the wild ride that was Altered Carbon, I needed something light and happy to take the edge off.

Not expecting much, I went into this book with some reluctance expecting to see the same old regency romance set-up (scandalous aristocrats and nobility, rogues/rakes, strong-willed governesses, “compromised” virtue, various mentions of class and marriage and marrying out of one’s class), and it does have those things. However, it surpassed my expectations by actually being well written and I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would for a few reasons:
1) it’s better written than most of the regency romances that I’ve read (and/or abandoned)
2) it’s smarter than I expected
3) it has self-awareness of its own genre and the tropes/pitfalls of its forerunners
4) it actually addresses some of these tropes and pitfalls.

At only a 100 pages, it’s not long enough to address all those things, but it does a decent job of getting me interested in this series and Courtney Milan’s writing. I’m hoping the rest of the series will be just as good or even better.

Angels Fall by Nora Roberts

Angels Fall

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 18 to 26, 2018

Not bad, but also not good either.

I mean, there are good parts, but they’re offset by little things I find annoying and there were a lot of these little things which accumulated at the end. So it was a bumpy read. The Montana setting and vivid descriptions of a small town sitting at the foot of the Grand Tetons were a nice touch though, and the main character was sympathetic. Easily my favorite part of the whole book was the setting. Everything else was mostly filler.

A couple of weeks ago my neighbor got a new job out of state and I “inherited” her library. Normally this would be exciting–I love sorting through books–but this time, not so much. She and I don’t have much in common book-wise, and her collection consists of fiction, lots of mysteries and thrillers and quite a few romances. All contemporaries and not a single sci-fi or fantasy in the bunch. All huge door-stoppers too. Majority of these will go to charity because I have my own pile of similar fiction that I still haven’t been able to chip at no matter how much I avoid it try.

Anyhow. I now have a huge stash of Nora Roberts books and it’s been a real–chore?–experience sorting through them.

I went into this book expecting–well, hoping–it’s like The Witness which was a pleasant surprise and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. This book has a similar set-up: small town, picturesque backdrop, lots of wilderness, nosy busy-body townsfolk, protagonist with a traumatic past who is on her own, and a murder mystery plot in the background. What’s different from The Witness is the uneven pacing and utterly unlikable love interest who is actually quite an ass. This turned out to be the sticking point with me because I could not get over how much of an ass he was. Moreover, I could not see what she saw in him, and so I couldn’t get into the story whenever he appeared, being all ass-like.

More on this book in particular when I get home.

* * * * * 

I’m home now, but still don’t have much to say about this book. Maybe with a little more time it’ll come to me. For now though, all I can say is this book makes me angry, and not in a good way, because the set-up is good and there is so much potential for the rest of the book to be good. But unfortunately Nora Roberts had to go and be all Nora Roberts all over the damn book. I wouldn’t say she ruined it, because I’ve read worse, but she got very close. So much potential, all wasted.

*angry muttering*

It could have been SO GOOD.

Birthgrave by Tanith Lee

#1. The Birthgrave
#2. Shadowfire (formerly Vazkor, Son of Vazkor)
#3. Quest for the White Witch

These books are intense. Like, INTENSE. Mind-blowing. Ground-breaking (only sort of a pun). And easily the best sword-and-sorcery series I’ve ever read, which might not mean much coming from me since I’m not a fan of the genre in general, but recently I learned it’s because I haven’t read any good sword-and-sorcery. None that fit my particular taste. Until now.

Tanith Lee’s writing fit the bill. Some people don’t like her prose and say she had a tendency to over-write her stories, that she was too flowery with her words, too elegant or too extravagant at times. I like it though. I know it can be hard to read, might take some time getting used to, but I like it. I find it very enjoyable, especially when it’s at odds with the intensity of the stories she was telling.

This trilogy was originally released with Conan-the-Barbarian-esque cover art, complete with scantily-clad women in awkward poses, to convey the style of fantasy its written in… and appeal to its “target” audience? It’s target audience is actually me… but who could have known that back then, right? Recently the whole trilogy was re-released with darker, slightly gothic-looking covers (see below) that are more in line with the characters and apocalyptic world in which they live, which I prefer. 

I still have the last book to read, so below are not quite reviews, just some brief notes and impressions.

* * * * *

The Birthgrave

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: June 21 to September 2, 2015

A hard book to read and an even harder book to like. And I enjoyed it very much, mostly because I have strange taste in genre fiction and strange books always call out to me, but I think, if the mood is right and you’re looking for something with depth, with flesh, to sink your teeth into, you might want to give this challenging book a try.

The writing is subversive and sublime and unexpectedly hard-hitting, and not what I expected from the Conan the Barbarian throwback cover and description. I simply expected Conan the Barbarian but told from a female perspective, which sort of what this book is. It takes Conan as the foundation for which the story builds on to create a whole new world that’s on the edge of destruction and reincarnation.

And I find every part of it fascinating because it really delves into and takes advantage of all the things that genre adventures often ignore, like the inner life of a confusing character who is, by all accounts, an alien. She is definitely not of the world in which she walks. And in most stories written in this genre, she would’ve been ignored or killed early on. Here, though, she gets to tell her tale.

* * * * *

Shadowfire (Birthgrave #2)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: April 14 to 18, 2018

Still good but still a hard read like the first book. Unlike the first book though, we’re no longer following the mysterious nameless woman who emerged from a volcano, broke the world into pieces, and set a host of apocalyptic things into motion.

Instead, we move on to her son’s perspective, Vazkor (son of Vazkor). He’s an angry young man who was raised in a society that valued violence, might, and masculinity. He grew up without his mother, only having heard tales of her in a destructive, demeaning light all his life. So when he grows up, he does the expected thing. He sets out to kill her.

I’m not saying he isn’t within his rights, but the reason behind his revenge journey is… weak. His mother would not have approved.

Still an interesting story and still well written, but maybe not as compelling as the nameless woman’s story because it lacks the nuanced, alien feel of her narration. Vazkor is more in line with the series’ old Conan the Barbarian inspired book covers. He’s more human in his wants, needs, and motivations, and therefore not as interesting to me.

These books though… when I see or hear people say “pillars of the genre” and then name the usual names and list the usual books, I always wondered what my pillars of the genre would have been if I had grown up reading sci-fi and fantasy. I think this series would have easily made my list.