Review: The Giver (The Giver #1) by Lois Lowry

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Summary:

Jonas’ world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

Review:

Goddamn it, Alexander Skarsgard, you finally make a second movie that I’m willing to see (insert plug here for the excellent What Maisie Knew) and when I finally read the source material, it makes me weep.

Why?

Why does this movie exist?

This book is lovely and quiet. It’s basically a book of moments, a book of discovery of simple things like color and emotion; things that we take for granted. If anything, I’d say this book is almost unfilmable. Oh, sure there are ways it could be it done – certainly many expected this to be in black-and-white with gradual reveal of color (like a more gradual Wizard of Oz) – but still, outside of the memories that have been passed along, there is very little action here. And when there is action, it’s certainly not action in the modern movie sense. There is some stealth…then nothing. This book has no real conclusion. There is no uprising. There is no battle. Jonas has no love interest. This is a book of moments, and I can’t see how they’d turn it into a film, especially since, despite being a quartet, there are no true sequels.

I appreciate how long it took to get this made, and I can understand why Bridges wanted it to be made, and why people have such fondness for the book . But. Sigh. It’s going to be one of those movies, isn’t it?

I’ll try and hold out hope, but I honestly can’t see how a faithful adaptation will be made based on what we have seen. I guess time will tell.

In the mean time, go read the book. It’s simple, it’s effective, and I can see why so many hold such high regard for it. And you can easily it pick it up for $5 or less, it’s a no brainer.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now (Film out 8/15/2014)

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Review: The Emperor’s Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1) by Brian Staveley

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Summary:

The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again . . .

The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.

His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.

Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?

Review:

I know I’m in the minority on this but I did not care for this book.

I should have. The elements of a good book are here. The writing is solid as is the world building. And yet, the parts never came together into a coherent whole for me. Enough things are just off about this book for me that it just didn’t work. I didn’t care for the way that Valyn’s primary antagonist (that he knew of anyway) was painted as a one-dimensional sadistic bully. It’s the most lazy form of villainy there is, especially when you throw misogyny on top of the sadism. I didn’t care for the way that Adare’s story, while ostentatiously there to give us an eye on the capital, may as well have not existed for as little time as we spent there. Learning what she uncovered ultimately doesn’t mean much when over the course of a nearly 500 page book we know learn little more about the plot against the Emperor and the Empire than we knew at the beginning. Hell, we don’t even know much about the Empire. Was the previous Emperor good? Bad? Indifferent? Maybe he deserved to be overthrown, we don’t know because see absolutely none of it.  Ultimately, I almost feel like this book was bloated – that for as long as the book took, very little actually happened once you boil everything down.

Finally, there’s just something about the way this went down that I felt like I didn’t really form attachment to these characters. Kaden, Valyn and Adare all seem like decent enough people, but I don’t even know that I ever felt like I learned enough about Kaden to judge whether he’d make a good Emperor. He wouldn’t be sadistic, but beyond that? Is he intelligent enough that he’d be able to swim the political waters?  Does he have the strength to make the decision to send men to their deaths in the name of war? We see Valyn begin to figure out how to control his group of Kettral at the end, but is really going to be a good leader? How good of a minister is Adare?

I just don’t know.

And I should know. I should have a connection and investment in these characters and I just don’t.

I was going to tentatively list this as a borrow it, but when a book so utterly fails to leave an impression on me, I really can’t.

Verdict: Skip it. The book seemed so promising, but just couldn’t deliver.

 

 

Novella Review: The Shadow Prince (Mortal Enchantment 0.5) by @StaceyONeal

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Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Rowan has spent most of his life living among the mortals—learning to control the element of fire, impatiently awaiting the day his vengeful mother, Queen Prisma, will abdicate her throne. When he finally returns to Avalon for his coronation, his mother insists he must first prove his loyalty to the court by completing a secret mission:

Kill Kalin, the half-human, half-elemental daughter of the air court king.

Willing to do anything to remove his mother from power, he agrees to sacrifice the halfling. He returns to the mortal world with his best friend, Marcus, determined to kill the princess. But as he devises a plan, he starts to question whether or not he’s capable of completing such a heinous task. And what price he will pay if he refuses?

Review:

I’ve made it no secret that I’m not a generally a fan of Young Adult novellas. Generally speaking, I find them too short, too expensive and too lacking in worthwhile content to ever recommend.

I am happy to say I have finally found one that I can recommend, because The Shadow Prince is none of these things.

I think the author is to be commended her, because instead of using a novella as a means of milking more money from fans, instead they’re using the novella as a way to create fans of the series by giving it away for free. It’s a brilliant idea and I would love to see this approach from other authors in the future. Why? It gives fans a sense of the world that’s been created and the characters that inhabit it, without being a simple chapter sampler which seems to be the preferred method of introduction in the industry today.

And what I really like here is that not only is this a meaty introduction (the novella itself is a whopping 74 pages – nearly double the length of the average YA novella) but she uses the opportunity to give us the backstory on a character who isn’t actually narrating the main story. So while we will inevitably get some kind of recap in the first book, it shouldn’t feel like a simple rehash because our actual narrator Kalin will be learning it from Rowan. We will get to experience both her reaction to the story and possibly get insight into Rowan based on how and what he chooses to share. It could really be a great way to further his character.

As for the story itself? It seems genuinely promising. I enjoyed the concept of the four courts, I thought the characters we were introduced to all seemed interesting in their own ways and it seems like there will be some good intrigue here. While this book will surely have a fairly heavy romantic component to it (Rowan is crushing pretty hard in this), I’m not so concerned about it because while Rowan may not be a White Knight, he does genuinely seem like a good guy which (bizarrely, might I add) is actually a bit unusual in Young Adult where the trope normally dictates that the guy be “bad” and find redemption thanks to our heroine. Rowan has an attitude, but I don’t think he needs it. It’s a nice change.

All this combined, if you like Young Adult, there is really is no reason to not check it out. You may just find a book to add to your To Be Read list.

Verdict: Buy It (it’s free!)

Available: Now

 

Review: Unearthly – Cynthia Hand

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Summary:

In the beginning, there’s a boy standing in the trees . . . .
Clara Gardner has recently learned that she’s part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn’t easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place and out of place at the same time. Because there’s another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara’s less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she’d have to make between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

Unearthly is a moving tale of love and fate, and the struggle between following the rules and following your heart.

Review:

There is pleasure to be had in a simple read, the joy of losing yourself in a book on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

This was one of the the last books I picked up during my end-of-year binge. When I picked this back up again, I’d completely forgotten what it was about, so I was pleased when I found myself reading an enjoyable story about a girl discovering her Angel powers while navigating the treacherous waters of high school and relationships. It’s one of those books where there really isn’t a lot here, but what is here is enjoyable enough fluff that you don’t mind.

If you get the sense that I’m struggling to find something to say, it’s because there really just isn’t much to say. The story is light, the characters are more or less likable and it’s a fun read. You probably won’t remember it in a day or two, but it’s a great book if all you’re looking for is something fun.

Verdict: A very strong Borrow it. It’s unremarkable, but it does what it does well and if this is a genre you enjoy, you should have a good time with it.

 

Divergent (2014 Movie) Review

Warning: This review contains spoilers for Allegiant.

I am going to say something I never thought I would say.

See the movies before reading the books.

Or, if that thought is untenable, then do yourself a favor and at least hold off on reading Allegiant until after its attendant film comes out. Why? Because simply put, reading Allegiant more or less ruined this movie for me. And if you have any Erudite in you at all, it’ll probably do the same for you.

It’s no secret that I hate that book, that I found the pseudo-science to be rage-inducing at best. But in watching the movie, I discovered a new problem. One that I feared would arise and that the movie could not overcome:

The description of Divergence as genetic perfection renders the first film incomprehensible.

The entire premise of the climax of this film hinges on the fact that those who are not Divergent can be controlled by simulations. Okay. There is some suspension of disbelief needed in order to make it work, but it’s doable. But knowing now that Divergence is a state of genetic perfection (or in the case of Four, some kind of weird blip) makes it impossible to keep that suspension going. How the fuck does a serum work on DNA? It doesn’t. It can’t. You can get away with saying that mind control or simulation serums can be made, and that maybe Divergents just have some resistance to them so you need more or something stronger to work, but fundamentally these serums should work on all. Because nothing that alters brain chemistry works on the genetic level. Science doesn’t work that way. It was always one of the weaker points of the books, but if you assumed that Divergence was something maybe more magical, it worked. Now though. It’s completely and utterly broken. And it can’t be repaired.

Outside of that, the movie does a gut job of pretty much any and all side-plots. We don’t get to know the other faction transfers. We don’t see the bullying, the violence, the voluntary quit of those who realize that they’re going to end up factionless anyway. They may as well have not even mentioned that they don’t train with the Dauntless-born in phase one because there is no other sense of separation in the film at all. The iconic zip-line scene does show up in the film, but it feels like padding, something kept for its visual value because the meaning of the scene – that she was the only transfer allowed to go and that alienation that it caused – is completely gone when no one even blinks and you can see the other transfers on the screen. Al’s suicide is so cavalierly handled that I am convinced the only reason they kept it at all is because they wanted Tris to still get attacked to further the relationship with Four. The other initiates have no personality here, no purpose in this story other than to give Tris a place to vent her feelings. Again, I get why they cut them (the film was almost 150 minutes long with trailers) but it is a weakness here.

The story that it does keep is mostly faithful, I guess? Whether or not you like this film will probably come down to how much you liked what was cut. Personally, I found those parts the best parts of the book, so I found myself board. If you are truly vested in Tris as a character though, you may still like it.

The theater where I saw this was almost evenly split between teens and adults, so it’s clearly finding a wide audience.

I’m glad that another YA genre film will succeed, I just wish a better movie had been so lucky.

ARC Review: White Hart

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Summary:

The realm needs magic again, and the the King of Aegunlund has been waiting for the first craft-born girl to marry his son, Prince Casimir.

In Mae’s town of Halts-Walden, the ambitious miller claims his daughter Ellen is craft-born. Mae knows this is a load of hogwash, but she’s glad Ellen will have the unfortunate pleasure of becoming queen instead of her. All she has to do is sit back and wait until Casimir and Ellen are married, then she will finally be free of the threat of her fate. But on that day an event so shocking and terrible occurs that Mae finds herself entering the neighbouring cursed forest on a quest she never thought she’d have to follow.

Join Mae as she rides her white stag through the Waerg Woods with a pampered prince at her heels. She’s out for revenge and nothing, no one, will get in her way.

Review:

This is one of those books I wanted to like. In theory, it has a bunch of great parts that should have come into a great whole. In execution however….eh. I hate doing laundry lists, but in this case, it seems appropriate, so here we go:

  • Magic woods are awesome conceit except for the fact that many of the challenges they face seem like they’d be more fitting to one of the Arenas from the Hunger Games. Things like birds that cause showers of acid or fog that literally freezes people to death in seconds but only exists in small self-contained portions of the forest? I doubt that that was the author’s intention, but it is how it was perceived, and ultimately my perception does mean more than the reader’s intention because it does impact how I view a book.
  • Prince Casimir is a useless tool. Yes, he does do some questionably stupid things to help save Mae, but he literally spends the majority of the story more or less dreaming about marrying a gal he met in a village for maybe an hour or two before the quest got going. I honestly do not get why Mae knocked herself out falling for this guy or telling him that he was a great guy. He fell in lust with Ellen and spends more or less the rest of the books generally being oblivious to everything going on around him. He doesn’t necessarily trigger rage like say, Dante of The Collector did, but Prince or not, he isn’t worth Mae’s time either.
  • And as for Mae, she is very (to use the book’s own words) surly throughout a large chunk of the text. I get it. She’s grieving, her attitude is her shield, but it also means that for a large part of the book she’s unlikable. Combine an unlikable MC with an unlikable would-be partner and it’s hard to care about the pair. She did become more sympathetic as her walls came down as the book came along towards the end. Probably was, my sympathy was tinged with pity because of how she was falling for Casimir. And hell, even one of the side-characters seemed unimpressed with her mooning too.
  • Natives covered in mud who first worship Mae, than want to sacrifice her.
  • Prince’s brother is considered a “heathen” because he got over-eager in a fight. Kingdom is going to be better off with Casimir in charge…because he moons after Ellen? I don’t know. He doesn’t get enough development to justify him as “the good brother” but that’s what the book has proclaimed him, so we we have to run with it, I guess.
  • While the main plot of the book did technically wrap up, the book literally ends on a fade to black cliffhanger. You practically can hear the dramatic music as you read it.

As I wrote this list, I find myself sitting here trying to think of reasons I should recommend this book. And frustratingly, I’m sitting here coming up blank. Wait. I take that back. I love the idea of the Craft-born. Too bad its sole purpose seemed to be to help the plot along at convenient paths. There is so much that could have been done with this, but as it stand we got so little in the way of mythology or how it works that it just feels underdeveloped. Anta too, is pretty great. I don’t know how she afforded the multiple saddles he probably needed, but still. Awesome.

Like I said at the top, I wanted to like this book. But at the end of the day…I just can’t. And that saddens me.

Verdict: Skip It.

Available: Now

Crewel (Crewel World #1) – Gennifer Albin

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Incapable. Awkward. Artless.
That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: She wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen to work the looms is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to manipulate the very fabric of reality. But if controlling what people eat, where they live, and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and used her hidden talent for a moment. Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her dad’s jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because tonight, they’ll come for her.

Review:

Hello, young adult dystopia. It’s been a while since we last met. If I remember correctly, my last foray into you was Allegiant and we both know how that didn’t fare. I was already feeling put-off by your genre, that made me want to wait even more. But still, I bought you. You were on sale over Christmas and the cover was pretty and so I gave in. Were you worth it? Are you the one that is going to turn my opinion on the genre upside down?

Well.

No.

But you gave it a good effort. The concept of weaving is a great one. It reminds me of the Moirai: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, they who wove new live, determined its length and ultimately ended it. For that is, what in a sense, these girls do. But it can only carry a book so far. Your science is very fuzzy, but for the most part it isn’t the kind that pulls you out. The ties between Arras and our world though, that is when things get tenuous. Why did you need to go there? And since you did go there, why a world where women are subjugated and homosexuality frowned upon? Your timing clearly indicates a present date where such backwards would truly need explanation, but we are given none.

Also given no time is why Adelice’s parents were such rebels. I know, I know, I’m surely meant to read future books to be bestowed that information, but I wish more authors would learn that actually giving answers is a better incentive to get people to carry on than withholding. When I get answers, I often want to know more. When it is withheld, reading on becomes an obligation, and a reader should never feel obligated to carry on. The only reading that should ever be done on an obligatory basis is that which is assigned in the course of school or employment. But for fun? No.

Finally, characterization of some of the minor characters feels on the weak side, with thin threads of development serving to explain all the hate. You also indulge in that most dreaded of cliches – a love triangle with a twist that is tiresome. Oh? And what’s this? You have novellas available as well? Sigh.

I will give you some credit because at least you were a light and breezy read. I can also see why you’re popular and understand why the audience for you is likely rather sizable. You may not be my favorite and you will not change my mind on the genre, but I have certainly have frittered away afternoons reading less enjoyable fare. I just don’t know that I will come back to find out how our protagonist’s journey ends.

Verdict: A tepid Borrow It.

Available Now