Review: Sabriel (Abhorsen #1) – Garth Nix

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Kindle and Paper versions purchased by myself

Summary:

Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.

With Sabriel, the first installment in the Abhorsen trilogy, Garth Nix exploded onto the fantasy scene as a rising star, in a novel that takes readers to a world where the line between the living and the dead isn’t always clear—and sometimes disappears altogether.

Review:

Sabriel is the tale of a girl whose Dead Father, the Abhorsen, sends her his sword and bells so she can take over his duties as the new Abhorsen, basically a kind of necromancer who only binds the Dead, and doesn’t use them to do their bidding. The Old Kingdom remains a fun place to visit, and I still love the concept of the bells and the gods that are associated with them. It’s a great world.

Reading this after Clariel was an interesting exercise. On the one hand, it was neat seeing how things tied together – characters like Mogget and places like the Abhorsen house. On the other hand, you can still tell that Sabriel was the earlier book: Sabriel doesn’t come across as well developed as Clariel. Furthermore, where as Clariel was decidedly asexual, here we have an underdeveloped relationship: characters go from barely talking to each other, to “hey, she’s pretty” to “I think I love you” quicker than necessarily feels natural.

Like Clariel though, I will question why this series is considered to be Young Adult. Sabriel is 18, but she feels like an adult from the get go, and her adventure is very much a traditional epic fantasy. Plus, the themes of the Dead and Death feel much more adult than what you normally get out of YA. Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy it feels like adult. If anything, it again frustrates me that a protagonist under the age of 20 is almost automatically seen as YA, even if it has no other connection to that genre.

Regardless how one feels about Young Adult, it’s still a book worth looking at. Nix unquestionably has grown as a writer, and I am confident that both Lireal and Abhorsen will continue to improve. Nix at the top of his game is in a class of his own, and you can certainly see him starting to climb that mountain here.

Verdict: Buy It

Available Now.

ARC Review: Superheroes Anonymous – Lexie Dunne

22138441ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Everybody in Chicago has a “superhero sighting” story. So when a villain attacks editorial assistant Gail Godwin and she’s rescued by superhero Blaze, it’s a great story, and nothing more. Until it happens again. And again. Now the media has dubbed her Hostage Girl, nobody remembers her real name, and people are convinced that Blaze is just her boyfriend, Jeremy, in disguise.

Gail’s not so sure. All she knows is that when both Jeremy and Blaze leave town in the same week, she’s probably doomed. Who will save her now?

Yet, miraculously, the villains lose interest. Gail is able to return to her life … until she wakes up strapped to a metal table by a mad scientist who hasn’t read the news. After escaping–now more than human herself–she’s drawn into a secret underground world of superheroes. She’ll have to come to terms with her powers (and weaknesses) to make it in the new society, and it’s not easy. After all, there’s a new villain on the rise, and she has her sights set on the one and only Hostage Girl.

Review:

First and foremost, can I say this is a fantastic premise? So often in comic-book series, women are reduced to the helpless damsel-in-distress trope. Modern comics are starting to buck this trend to an extent, but the tropes are very much still alive and the general public is still more apt to know about Mary Jane Watson always getting rescued by Spider-Man than know that the extended Bat-family has both a Batgirl and Batwoman or that Thor is now a woman in Marvel’s recent reboot. So yeah, this notion that someone can go from being the villain-bait to the villain-fighter is something I can get behind. Without spoiling it, her origin story is appropriately absurd and fits right in with the likes of Spiderman and the other heroes who need a little outside help to get their powers. The explanation behind the explanation even made me laugh, it was that great.

The bulk of the book is spent with her adjusting to her new life, making new friends and trying to wrap her head around her new powers and a villain named Chelsea, whose new to the gig and still working on the villain name and outfit. While nothing in this story is overly unexpected, it’s well done and you quickly grow to enjoy the group of people that surround Gail: her mentor Vicki, her trainer Angélica and Blaze.  Dunne does take the time to explain how Blaze and Jeremy are connected and it’s well done. It’s a very human feeling story for a group of superheroes and it’s something I always appreciate in my superhero tales because quite frankly, they are still people and perfection is boring to read about.

So yeah, it’s a fun, enjoyable read, and then you hit that ending.

If you can call it an ending.

This is one of those books, where it doesn’t really end so much as just break off and throw a “to be continued” onto the last page. “But wait,” you say, “superhero comics end on cliffhangers all the time!” This is true. What’s also true is that media only allows for 22-24 pages of story per issue. This is a book. This can be as long as it needs to be, especially because this is a genre that allows for longer books. I really do wish they’d done it, because it’s just so hard to shake that feeling that the work is undone, especially when  the cliffhanger feels a bit out of left field. It’s ultimately just frustrating.

Had this book told a complete story, I’d probably be recommending fully: it’s a book that hits sweet-spot of the genre that fans of the genre will enjoy. As it is, I’m going to have to stick with my gut and knock this down a notch. I’ve yet to find a book that was otherwise so fantastic that would let me overlook a non-ending like this, and sadly, this one won’t be the first to do so.

Verdict: A strong Borrow It.

Available: Now

Stacking the Shelves

So it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting another review up before I leave on Sunday: I have, in fact, started to read Superheroes Anonymous, but just haven’t done much reading over the past few days. I’m planning on doing some reading either over the weekend or while on the trip, so I still should have it up before Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, I’ve got two more books for my shelves:

eARC

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Tolkien-era classic fantasy that isn’t Tokien (who I admit isn’t my favorite). The publisher is doing a re-release of the title so I thought it was the perfect time to give it a look. The Norse mythology angle is a nice hook too. Added bonus: it’s actually pretty short for a fantasy novel (sub-300 pages). I’m curious to see how that goes, given that sci-fantasy tend to be longer books by nature due to the need to build up their worlds.

purchased by me

15995747Yep. YA again. I have seen a lot of love for this series, but the idea sounds kind of cool and at $3.00 (on sale right now for Kindle!) I’m willing to grab it and check it out when I’m in the mood for it. We’ll see how it goes.

Stacking the Shelves

Look at me all keeping my word to myself! *pets self on the back* Let’s see how long this lasts 😉  The books purchased are oldies-but goodies.

ARCs/eARCS

22138441ARC, provided by the publisher

I dig the idea of taking the perpetual hostage (think Lois Lane or Mary Jane Watson) and turning her into the hero. I’ll be taking a look at this once the postman deigns to actually drop it off. Should be fun! November 18th

23382840eARC, received through NetGalley

Dystopian YA. I know, I know. But that cover just grabbed me. I’m weak. The story, which involves mind control, seems like it might be a nice twist on the usual YA dystopian fare to boot. December 9th

eBooks, purchased by me

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Fantasy novel about a young woman who killed a man abusing her, and instead of accepting execution, agrees to be a food taster for the Commander of Ixia. You don’t normally see stories about people like food testers, and the fact that this was originally written in 2004 and is still hanging around in print today (without being a blockbuster like Twilight) suggests there has to be something to this series.

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So what does a wizard-thief do when he needs to raise the bounty on his head? Plot to kidnap a king, of course. With a tease like that, how can you not want to give it a shot?

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Traditional fantasy, with griffins, looking for a human who can be turned into something more than humans.  Consider me intrigued.

That’s it for now 🙂 I hope to have at least one more review done before I head out to Vegas pre-Thanksgiving. If I don’t manage to post before then, have a Happy Thanksgiving and stay safe!

ARC Review: Gods and Monsters: Mythbreaker – Stephen Blackmoore

21412497eARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Summary:

The follow-up to Chuck Wendig’s Unclean Sprits is a stand alone tale of new gods facing up to the old ones with humanity in the middle!

Growing up an orphan, Louie had conversations with “invisible friends,” could see patterns in the world that no one else could see. In other times he would have been a prophet – someone to make people believe in the gods. But he grew out of the visions, and then into crime as a drug runner.

Now thirty-five and burnt out, he’s had enough. With access to the mob’s money, he plans to go out in a big way. Only he can’t. A broken down car, a missed flight; it’s bad enough being hunted by the mob, but the gods – kicked out of the Heavens, stuck on Earth without worshippers – need someone who can tell their stories, and they aren’t letting him go.

And there are new gods on the scene, gods of finance and technology, who want him too. Caught between the mob and two sets of rival gods, Louie hatches a plan that will probably get him killed if it doesn’t get him out.

Review:

This was a great surprise. A Paranormal Urban Fantasy about a Chronicler (aka Prophet) named Fitz. As the only (relatively) sane Chronicler at a time when the old gods are dying due to a lack of followers, when word of him gets out, all of the gods want to use his voice to restore themselves to their former glory. Stories of gods dying as they become more obscure is hardly anything new, but I do like how he pairs it with the rise of new gods for the modern times: a trinity comprised of Money (goes by Big, changes forms the way most people change their gum), the Internet (represented by the Amandas, a series of clones that download information at will, she reminds me of Trinity from The Matrix)  and of course El Jefe or The Man (who uses Agents – not unlike Agent Smith) to do his dirty deeds. I’m especially fond of the Amandas, one of the few gods to not come off as a complete dick. The other Goddess that grows on me is Medeina, a minor Goddess of the Hunt who goes from antagonist to aiding our hero. There’s also some nice quieter moments between Medeina and the human Sam (a woman), one of Fitz’ friends from his drug running days that also give the story some needed humanity.

The action moves quickly, story is doled out at a good pace and is just a fun book. As an Angelino, I really love how he represents Los Angeles here – from hitting Thousand Oaks (and a nice joke from Medeina who mourns it looks nothing like the name implies) to Getty Villa, to downtown and Hawaiian Gardens. It’s always great to see Los Angeles as it is, and not just as we portray ourselves on television.

If I have any complaints, it’s that the ending feels a bit too neat, a bit too easy, but it’s so satisfying, that you’re willing it slide.

All in all, I enjoyed myself way more than I thought I would, and I can easily recommend checking this out.

Note: I recommend this book for the 17+ crowd. The violence, language and drug use would easily translate as a hard R or a TV MA rating. Those of you sensitive to such things might want to give it a pass.

Verdict: Buy Now

Available: December 2nd

Review: Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic (The Dowser #1) – Meghan Ciana Doidge

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Summary:

If you’d asked me a week ago, I would have told you that the best cupcakes were dark chocolate with chocolate cream cheese icing, that dancing in a crowd of magic wielders — the Adept — was better than sex, and that my life was peaceful and uneventful. Just the way I liked it.

That’s what twenty-three years in the magical backwater of Vancouver will get you — a completely skewed sense of reality. Because when the dead werewolves started showing up, it all unraveled … except for the cupcake part. That’s a universal truth.

Note: 68,000 words

Review:

Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic is a very short paranormal novel that’s fun to read while it lasts, but can leave you wanting for more due to its underdeveloped word.

Jade is half-human/half-witch cupcake baker who occasionally dabbles in magic by stringing together magical objects as a kind of found-object art project (the trinkets of the title). One day her trinket is found on the corpse of a dead vampire and she quickly finds herself drawn in to the world of vampires and wolves as she rushes to solve the mystery of who is killing these supes so that they can be stopped.

The brevity is important to mention here: the book barely clocks in at just over 200 pages (the remaining pages are taken up with a sample of the sequel) and I think the book suffers for it. This is a world inhabited by witches and wolves and vampires. We meet ONE vampire over the course of the book. We meet three wolves. We meet no other witches than her adopted sister, and at the very end, her mom and grandmother. Why not take some time to show us the rest of this world? At one point Jade mentions that witches don’t run with wolves. Why not? We don’t know. It’s just something Jade says. We don’t know what vampires can do: what we do learn is from Kitt negating myths that Jade has learned. Good paranormal books need ground rules if they’re going to succeed.

Better still: when Jade is examining one of the victims, Jade notes that she “could have loved him.” Their interaction to that point had been a smoothie date after a yoga class where he’d show up to play bodyguard, and that’s about it. Why not show them actually going on a date? Her feelings would have made actual sense then.

Most frustrating is that there’s a mystery surrounding what exactly she is: though we get some answers on her magic (albeit perhaps a bit dissatisfying because the book doesn’t properly explain about why said talent is dangerous) we don’t get answers on what she is (hint: the half-human part isn’t true) and what’s worse, it seems like others know what she is and just aren’t telling. It doesn’t feel like a mystery, it feels like information is being deliberately withheld so that you’ll pick up the next title. It’s especially frustrating because at one point she’s told that she could be strong enough for the a packmaster to help him hold his pack, but how? She’s no Anita Blake. We kind of need to know if this is going to make sense.

Finally, the overall mystery isn’t much of one. I literally found myself going “Oh, it’s going to be [character]” and was 100% spot on. There’s also a bit with some stools that sticks out like a sore thumb for how often they’re mentioned, only for it to have actually played a part in the mystery.

I had fun while reading this, but its underdeveloped nature makes it hard to recommend very strongly. Fans of the genre might enjoy this, if you’re looking for something quick and breezy, but newbies to the genre should look elsewhere.

Verdict: A weak Borrow It

Available: Now

Note: As of today (11/16) the first book is free for Kindle and Nook users. At that price, I’d say go ahead and check it out because you have nothing to lose. I just don’t know it’s worth paying the $3.99 to continue the series. I will say Skip It for the paperback: it’s not worth $11.00.

Burn Out is Burn Out is Burn Out (YA Edition)

If this were a regular post, I’d be posting a review of The Young Elites right about now.

This isn’t a regular post.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been inching towards burn out when it comes to Young Adult fiction  – and there’s been a definite overall decrease in how much I’ve been reading of late. I have definitely binged recently, because some of the books (Mortal Heart and Waistcoats and Weaponry) were books I’ve been waiting a year or so to read. And while I ultimately did enjoy those books, I’d been lying if I said I wasn’t getting the same enjoyment out of it that I once did.

I picked up The Young Elites partly because I was at a signing where Lu was at, and partly because of the raves of people who are into YA. I picked up this book next because I wanted to see if it might be a contender for my best of 2014 list. And as I was reading the book I had two distinct reactions to it: part of me recognized that this is a good YA book. Perhaps not the best I’ve ever read but it is good and fans of YA should enjoy it. But the rest of me just wasn’t enjoying it the way that I should be. And it wasn’t the book’s fault. I should have enjoyed this more, but ultimately the way I saw the genre started to color my reaction to books and that simply isn’t fair.

So to that end, I’ve made a decision to not post a review proper to to this book. I probably should have done this sooner, but it’s still better late than never.

I don’t plan to abandon Young Adult fantasy (and my tentative best of year end list even has three YA titles on it) all together, but I do plan to greatly reduce the amount I read going forward. This year I’ve been averaging 9-10 books a month. I’m going to try and limit myself to 1-2 books a month. If I read less, I know I’ll appreciate the ones I do read that much more 🙂 Sure, I can be objective, but ultimately I do this for fun, and if I have to force myself to finish books, and force myself to distance how I feel from what I’m reading, it’s no longer fun. It’s work. And I never want this to become work.

I suppose this post is as much a message to myself that it’s okay to let go of the genre as it is to you the reader. I just hope you  stick around with me 🙂