Category: series


Hey look! It’s that review I’ve been talking about for months. It’s here before Christmas even. For real though, sorry about falling off the world like that. Enjoy!

arcanum-unbounded

I’m kind of skipping the blurb this time, since this is a collection of short stories.

So, Brandon Sanderson’s The Arcanum Unbounded is an interesting book both as it is written and for what it is. Unfortunately it also relies pretty heavily on the reader not only being a fan of Sanderson’s work but also having read all of his previous works. That more than kind of cools me on the book, though it is more or less exactly what’s on the label. This is going to be a bit of a weird one.

There are two big issues that I have with Arcanum Unbounded. The reliance on the reader having read everything in Sanderson’s Cosmere is the lesser of the two. The more major issue I have is his habit of including an afterword on the stories, on its own it wouldn’t be too bad but as part of this particular book it clashes terribly with the framing device introduced at the beginning and make the book very easy to put down. A pretty easy fix for this would have been removing either the framing device, which ties the book together as a concept, or the afterwords, which feel a little like reading the author’s blog rather than a book. I’m much more interested in the framing device, that someone has collected these story bits from all over the Cosmere, because it ties in. But I’m also a “death of the author” kind of reader and feel like if the author has to explain something outside of the story itself, then it isn’t written well enough. Obvious biases are, in fact, obvious.

The issue of it feeling like everything else prior to this is required reading bounces around a bit. The first story is by far my favorite and feels like a whole entity unto itself, I don’t feel lost for details and could enjoy myself freely. It’s immediately followed by a short story set towards the end of Elantris that, having not read that novel, I was completely lost on which made it feel super long and just draining to get through. It’s not bad in most of the stories but, combined with the afterwords, can feel tiresome.

That said, the stylistic choices made were interesting and in several stories it felt like the author was having fun with the writing. The novella about the Survivor was great once I got into it and it started feeling like its own thing instead of a spin on something else. So this is ultimately a pretty mixed bag for me. The writing is solid throughout, but then the plotting is overly referential. The stories that stand alone are a ton of fun, but then others feel like fragments of something bigger.

At the end of the day, I give Arcanum Unbounded a three out of five. If you’re a big fan of Sanderson’s you’ll probably enjoy it immensely. If not, maybe check it out from the library first or give one of his other books a shot.

Not a ton to say here. Thanks to the nice folks at Crown Books, I’ve got a review of the final book in the Thrones and Bones trilogy for you. Enjoy!

thrones-and-bones-skyborn-cover

Thianna and Karn have lost the Horn of Osius, key to controlling the wyvern and all dragon kind. To keep its power from being misused they’ll have to journey to Thica, the country Thianna’s mother fled years ago, and face down an entire empire. They won’t be alone though. A battle is brewing that will determine the very fate of the empire and, possibly, our heroes as well.

Thrones and Bones: Skyborn by Lou Anders is definitely an interesting read, and a fun one as well. It builds on the previous books well. It has higher stakes, as benefits the last book in the series. It still keeps its balance between Thianna and Karn really well while expanding the cast as well.

So, with the first two books in the trilogy I had a lot of the problems I tend to with most kids or young readers’ books I review. The first one was very black and white in its morality, the heroes were good because they were the heroes and the villains were evil because they were the villains. The second book did better, but still projected its eleventh hour new hero pretty hard. That’s standard in kids’ fantasy, but it does get old, which is something this one does a fairly mixed job on. We have an empire that’s crushing other city-states and forcing them to do its bidding, that’s how it’s done and how it has been for as long as anyone can remember. We have the city-states not wanting to work together because of old grudges. Both are kind of a wash early because it is a ton of new stuff all at once, but then we get into it more and it works.

We also have some party friction from the last book that gets worked though, I really appreciate that bit. As well as I feel Karn and Thianna work as a team, seeing them having to work with new characters and deal with new situations is one of the strong points of the book. The expanded cast did take some getting used to, mostly just because it split the story more than the first books did, but that helps give the story a greater feeling of scope.

The added cast does have one big downside that I can think of. While it’s great for adding scope to the story, it also has the effect of leaving what should have been important character moments out for more minor characters. A little more focus on what was going on with the big villains would have been great. It also has the effect of introducing and then completely leaving out representative characters for the city-states that didn’t get involved in the plot. That feels like a missed opportunity more than anything.

So, where do I sit on Thrones and Bones: Skyborn? It solved a lot of the standard kids’ book problems the first two had, though it still has a few. Those are mostly pacing related, and nothing really big at that. I would have liked to have seen more build to the final confrontation; it was pretty standard for the series on that front. As evidenced by the rest of the review though, I enjoyed the read. This is one of the few series that I not only enjoyed myself, I’m also getting the first one for my younger cousin. So, again, where do I sit on this one? I think it earned a four out of five.

The Burning

Happy Halloween everyone! I’m wrapping up the weekend’s festivities with the last Fear Street Saga novel today. This is actually the one I wimped out on last time. I admit the last thing I’d remembered from it was a lot earlier in the book than I’d thought. Bonus, the Jonesy cat seems to like Oxenfree and has been cuddling her whenever I’m in the room with both of them. It’s cute. Anyway, on to the review!

 

Over a hundred years ago Benjamin Fier framed an innocent girl for witchcraft and burned her at the stake. Over a hundred years since his brother Matthew robbed the girl’s grieving father. Over a hundred years since everything began, but just two since the curse was reawakened and Franks Goode murdered the Fier family in cold blood. Only two years since Simon Fear changed his family name and forswore good. The chain is completed, and the end is beginning.

The Burning is the third and final book in the original Fear Street Saga by R. L. Stine; it’s also the first of the three to give us a villain protagonist. That’s actually a thing that I appreciate about the book. Having Simon as both our starting protagonist and, ultimately, the antagonist of the book ties things up nicely in a way that the previous two books didn’t. The reader has known that the Fear Mansion was going to burn down at the end, leaving Nora Goode all alone; it’s just been a matter of getting there.

The big down side here is that I feel like the first half of the book was really rushed. Pacing has been a problem throughout the trilogy, so it isn’t a huge out of nowhere thing. It’s more another example of needing to get things in place for what comes next and not having the room for much build up. There’s some out of nowhere stuff that I would have liked to have seen more support for, but it’s par for the course at this point.

I can’t say that The Burning is the strongest of the three books, which probably still goes to The Betrayal, but it does pretty well for itself. While rushed in a lot of ways, I feel like a lot of the things that are rushed could or would probably be hand waved with the curse if the extra space had been taken to go further in.

There’s really not a lot for me to say here. The Burning has its points that work, and work well, but it also shares the same weak points that the rest of the series has. It also has an unfortunate side effect, since the reader knows about how it ends and that Fear Street is ultimately still cursed, of not having a really satisfying ending. It’s just kind of done. So, at the end of the day I think it earned a three out of five. If any single part of it had been a touch better it would have been a four.

Missed a day there. Nothing really big happened, the spooks freaked out a little when a friend came over. I think they aren’t fans of new people. Going to work up something to fix that. Any way, on to the review!

the-secret-cover

Forty-five years have passed since Benjamin Fier had an innocent girl and her mother burned at the stake. Forty-five years have passed since Matthew Fier robbed the girl’s father of everything he had with false promises. Forty-five years have passed since a curse was cast from betrayal and a mourning father’s grief. Following his great uncle’s notes Ezra Fier seeks the last of the Goodes to have revenge for his family’s downfall. Another link in the chain of vengeance is forged.

The Secret is R. L. Stine’s second book in the Fear Street Saga trilogy. Sometime after the end of the first book Ezra Fier has dragged his family to Wickham village in search of vengeance, only to fine the village empty of all but the dead. That makes Ezra great material for a villain, but I feel like I want more of why he’s so driven for revenge. Guy has a family, including protagonist Jonathan, which he drags along on his quest. I think that’s a big part of where this one falls apart for me.

See a big thing with The Secret is that, while we’re left with an Ezra who is totally out for revenge at the end of The Betrayal, a ton is left out from point A to point B. If his whole life is revenge, then when did he stop and court his wife, Jane? What kind of notes of Matthew’s is he following that it’s taken him this long to get to Wickham? It’s just kind of weak writing because the plot requires it. Ezra has to have a wife and kids so that there’s room for both a body count and enough Fiers to get through to modern Shadyside. It has to take awhile so that Jonathan is old enough that we have a relatable protagonist. That kind of works out for me, I don’t like it because it feels weak, but it works.

The bit after the century long time skip is where that weakness just kind of goes off the rails for me. After a hundred years of the curse not acting up in any way that is important enough to show, it wakes back up stronger than ever. We get the actually completely innocent Fier family, living happily in their ancestral home, taking in a charming drifter. The drifter is, of course, a Goode out for revenge because the plot demands it. Not just a Goode though, the last Goode, who watched his entire family die of apparently nothing so the Fiers must be at fault. This whole section of the book gives me so many issues.

Frank Goode blames the Fier family for his family dying, but we haven’t seen enough from the Goode side of things to know their feelings on the curse or feud. We don’t even actually know enough to know that there are any Goodes still alive until Frank shows up, but we’re shown a bunch of times that he’s been planning this for a long while. I feel like this could have been so much stronger if we were given more from the Goode family perspective, especially since way back in the first book George wanted nothing to do with his father’s revenge scheme. I want to know what made Frank grab on to the curse as a reason for his misfortune so hard. I want this bearing in mind that over the course of a century the Fier family itself completely forgot about the curse. Either that or I’d have liked to have seen the curse angle pushed harder rather than it being suddenly a Goode out of nowhere.

As to what was done specifically well, I liked Jonathan as a protagonist. I liked that Ezra was cast in a bad light because of his obsession with revenge on people he’d never met. The end to Jonathan’s section I thought worked really well for his character. The post time skip Fiers being legitimately kindly people and the implied happy childhood for their kids was great.

Right, so that’s a lot of words. What’s the verdict though? Ulitmately I don’t think The Secret is as good a book as The Betrayal, and it doesn’t really work well enough as a standalone novel to not get that comparison. Where it’s weak, it’s really weak. Where it works well, it still tends to be kind of thin. That said, I did read it in a single sitting without forcing myself in the least. So that happened too. In the end, it gets a three out of five for not being a bad book but also being one that could have used a lot of expanding upon.

So, day one of posting stuff for Halloween. I’m pretty excited, not gonna lie. Even the spooks around the apartment have quieted down some, either they’re getting used to us or they’re getting ready for Halloween too. But, regardless, on to the review!

the-betrayal-cover

Fear Street is cursed. Since Shadyside’s founding, the town and the street bearing the name of its most infamous residents have been haunted by murderers, vengeful ghosts, and all manner of horrors. When an innocent girl is burned as a witch, the first link in a chain of vengeance that will span centuries is forged. A curse is cast, and a legend begins.

The Betrayal begins at the end with Nora Goode staring in horror and disbelief as the Fear family mansion burns down, taking her beloved Daniel with it. The story, however, begins over two hundred years earlier in the village of Wickham in the middle of a witch scare as several girls have already been burned at the stake. A girl, Susannah Goode, is framed for witchcraft by her beloved’s father, Magistrate Benjamin Fier. She and her, also accused, mother are innocent. Her father however is not and, after having his family taken from him and being robbed by the Fier brothers, William Goode vows revenge and places a curse on the Fier family.

Right off the bat, this is pretty gory for a kids’/YA book, and that fits the Fear Street Saga trilogy pretty well. It also does a good job with build, even knowing how things ultimately end there’s this sort of looming sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I think a good part of that is that our protagonist for most of the post betrayal book, Mary Fier, had nothing to do with that whole situation. She hadn’t even been born yet and is just a girl. Even knowing what her father and uncle did, having her as the protagonist makes the rest of the Fier family look better because she cares for them.

Unfortunately, while I do adore Mary as a protagonist for what she does for the story, The Betrayal is still very much set up for the other two books. The ending also feels a bit rushed, like Stine knew where his start was and where the ending was but he only had a certain number of pages he was allowed. It gets the point across, but it also feels pretty cheesy.

So, I know that my review and score here are ultimately pretty heavily influenced by nostalgia, but even rereading this as an adult I enjoyed it a great deal. So, The Betrayal by R. L. Stine gets a four out of five. Let’s see what happens next.

I mentioned figuring out what I was planning to do here for Halloween earlier, so I figured I should talk about it a bit.

So, back in the nineties and early aughts R. L. Stine’s Fear Street novels were the slightly more mature option to the Goosebumps books if you were a kid and wanted to read horror novels. For the most part they were pretty good, kind of formula after awhile but not unforgivably so, and genuinely fun to read to boot. So of course, as a kid, when I had the chance to read the origins of Fear Street I jumped at the chance. I never actually finished the Fear Street Saga trilogy back then, I wimped out.

That’s a lie. I got so scared that I quit reading the trilogy and split the books apart so that they couldn’t scare me any more. I gave one to a friend that I haven’t talked to in forever. Another I donated to the library of a school I wouldn’t attend until much later. As to what happened to the last book, I don’t remember in the least. It could be on a shelf at my parents’ house waiting to be opened and to allow terror to spill forth once more.

Alright, got a little purple prose-y there, but point made. Right? This trilogy scared my child self to pieces in ways that no other book I’d read at the time had been able to. So badly that I apparently decided that a fantasy novel approach to a mass market printed book was the most logical thing possible.

And the nature of fear fascinates me, especially my own. So what to do about a series like that? Read it as an adult of course. I want to see what freaked me out so badly and if it still does. So, for Halloween, I’m reading the Fear Street Saga trilogy!

Navigators of Dune Giveaway

Alright everyone, I’ve got something super cool for you today. It’s a giveaway of the final Great Schools of Dune novel, Navigators of Dune!

navigators-of-dune-cover

Set ten thousand years before the series began, the Great Schools of Dune trilogy sets the stage for everything that has happened in the long running series. And, thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, this is your chance to get a copy.

I’ve got three copies of Navigators of Dune, that means three lucky winners!

How do you enter? It’s easy, follow my blog and leave a comment, tell me what your favorite bits of sci-fi are whether that is a series of books, a trope that gets played with, or something else.

The giveaway runs from today as of posting until midnight central time on the 20th. Winners will be selected using random.com and announced on the 21st. I can ship the book to anywhere in the United States or Canada. I will also need you to be willing to send me your email and mailing address if you win, so that the book can be sent to you.

Alright everyone, good luck!

Late as always, but not by months this time. It’s a review! Enjoy everyone.

Some years ago humanity began settling a new planet so that they could leave the polluted shell that was Earth and once again feel the sun on their skin and breath without respirators. They terraformed their new home, built cities, and started shipping in colonists and animals. The planet is a perfect place for humanity to start again, or would be if not for one minor issue. The planet’s natives, the Indigenes, aren’t happy with their aggressive new neighbors and want their home back from the beings that drove them under ground. Not all is what it seems and, between an alien world and an inhospitable Earth, it can be impossible to know who to trust.

Eliza Greene’s Becoming Human is the kind of book that I really wanted to like. It had enough elements that I usually love that I should have liked it. Unfortunately, it also feels very much like a first attempt at writing and had a lot of pitfalls that go with that. I’m imagining that she will improve as she continues writing.

Becoming Human’s biggest issue, to my mind at least, is that it spends the first half of the book introducing characters but giving the reader no time or reason to care about them. Most of the characters who are given point of view chapters could have been safely omitted from the novel to focus more on Bill, Stephan, and a couple of others who were directly important to the plot. The flip side to the lack of character development winds up being one of the villains, Bill’s boss, she gets a couple of chapters of focus and they don’t do anything to make her a more engaging character or a better villain. I’m certain that I, as the reader, am not meant to like her. But rather than not liking her because she’s doing terrible things, I don’t like her because it keeps being drilled into my head that she doesn’t like other women and that she has to have things done “the Japanese way”. It’s acknowledged in text that Japan was where she was trained, but that’s pretty easy to forget and the focus on doing things “the Japanese way” feels less like she’s an exacting highly organized villain, and more like the author didn’t really have characterization set for her.

So that’s my biggest issue, the other big one I can think of is the ending. The author spent the first half of the book or so introducing characters and not really going anywhere with the plot. When the plot finally shows up it’s jumbled and feels rushed and then, just as the heroes are actually going to do something, the book ends. It’s a painful set up for the next book given that the reader doesn’t actually get much story in this book, just a lot of characters that don’t go anywhere and build up. This one actually bothers me more than the characters not being well done, but it winds up being a smaller issue as a whole because not being invested in the characters leaves me not invested in the series.

So, with those as my big issues for the book, what works? I did enjoy the idea of the Indigenes and the initial deal with Stephen sneaking around trying to figure out how humans work. There were a number of ideas on the Earth side of things that, while fairly stock at this point, could have been pretty awesome with a little more work. This being stuff like going more into how Earth wound up with a single government for the whole planet, how people dealt with the air being poisonous if you didn’t wear a mask, or even what was done to prevent near endless worker casualties with the combination of ridiculous work weeks and stimulant pills.

How, then, does it rate? Being Human has a lot of minor issues and two really major ones and, unfortunately, the parts it does well don’t do well enough to make up for those. It felt very much like a first book and could have done with a bit more polish before being released. That said with work from this point I think Eliza Green could become a solid author. So at the end of the day, it earns a two out of five.

So, once again, I’ve been gone for what seems like forever. I know, I know, shouting into the void here seeing if anyone’s still there. So, I’ve got a review for an older book that I picked up ages ago. It goes long with this one, I’ve tried several times to slim it down but when I have I’ve gone off on tangents or felt like I wasn’t getting my point across. Enjoy!

When her favorite sword is broken by a clumsy actor at her night job Sara Beauhall, blacksmith by day prop mistress by night, agrees to reforge the blade to avoid reshoots. That’s when things get weird. An extra claiming to be a dwarf tells her that she has become the guardian of Sigurd’s blade, Gram, the bane of Fafnir and that she is now destined to slay a dragon. A dragon that shows up not long after triggering events that may make her a heroine fit for the tales of old or destroy her utterly.

So, J.A. Pitts’ Black Blade Blues is interesting, using a main character who is into weapons and combat and renaissance faire stuff but who doesn’t really have any interest in fantasy and throwing her into a situation out of Norse mythology. It has a lot of promise there and in some ways it lives up to it, in a lot of others it falls entirely flat.

Fairly early in the book we are introduced to two important things for Sara. One is her religious upbringing and the attitudes her father sought to impose upon her.  References to Sara’s father came up way too often for my taste given that they really didn’t affect the plot and in a lot of ways seemed contradictory. The other is her girlfriend Katie. These two are actually where a lot of the falling flat came from for me since a lot of the drama of the book comes from Sara’s discomfort with her sexuality as a result of her father’s parenting and the fallout from her not dealing with it at all. This of course means that instead of talking to her girlfriend about her discomfort like an adult, she snaps at people because she thinks they’re making reference to her relationship and immediately assumes Katie is cheating on her when she starts hanging out with one of her ex’s. This hurts the book a lot for me, in part because of how excited I was when I first realized that the main character was gay in a book that wasn’t specifically LGBT marketed. I can understand that how she was raised effecting her feelings about her sexuality, but I would have liked for her and Katie to talk about it rather than it being step one on her path to rock bottom.

The rock bottom thing was, at best, badly handled. In the course of the book Sara loses her relationship and both jobs and has one former boss who hates her, but none of that sticks and again isn’t really necessary to the plot so much as it adds cheep drama. Because she and Katie don’t communicate, when Sara winds up borrowing a coworker’s sweats and doesn’t think to change out of them, Katie assumes that Sara is cheating on her. At one point she gets bodyjacked by magic and nearly has sex with some guy her boss was flirting with, grossness aside, it only serves to ruin her job and isolate her. Events towards the end could have taken the place of both events without the unnecessary grossness. It all ties into a feeling that the author has never met a woman and was writing the characters based on what he’d seen on tv and in video games.

Part of being the guardian of Gram is that Sara gets, essentially, branded with runes that give her powers but also affect her personality. Sara becomes a berserker with anger issues and unstable emotions to go with it. Thing is we aren’t really shown her personality before hand for a comparison, so its left feeling like this is just how she is. The issues with Sara are made worse by the fact that every other major female character also seems to share her emotional instability. That thing about her and Katie not talking like adults and Katie’s assumption of cheating based on cloths and nothing else, check. Boss jumping down her throat, ending their friendship, and firing her so hard she barely got to grab her stuff before she left over a guy she’d only recently met, while she knows Sara is a lesbian, check. It’s all very over blown and deeply uncomfortable. Again, it seems to be there mostly for cheep drama. Give me a reason for all this in the book its introduced in.

So, after all that, what did I like about the book? The minor characters, especially the Black Briar lot, are interesting. I’m left wanting to know more about the dragons and what happened to the Norse pantheon. One of the side characters has an interesting arc happening that promises to have far reaching effects for the series. And the hook for the next in the series almost has me interested enough to give it a shot and see if Pitts gets better about the stuff that’s bad. There’s a legitimately interesting story under all the contrived drama and pointless extra stuff. I’m interested in the world more than the people in it with this one.

Unfortunately, despite its potential, I don’t trust Pitts as an author not to have done the same things in the next book. That leaves Black Blade Blues with a one out of five.

Someone said my name three times, drawing me back from where ever I’d dissapeared to.  So in the immortal word of Beetlejuice, it’s show time!

Angie Smibert’s latest distopian novel, The Meme Plague, takes up shortly after The Forgetting Curve with our intrepid team of heroes still scrambling to find a way to dodge the TFC chips and spread untampered information to the rest of the world.  The TFC is also stepping up its game as well though with the new chips’ ability to remove and add memories without anyone being the wiser.  It’s a race to see if normal people can stand in the face of a monster they set loose.

So, is it any good?  I’m actually kind of on the fence about this one.  Memento Nora had me excited about a smart YA distopian novel and was enjoyable for its tension and well written side characters.  The Forgetting Curve did a great job of introducing the next step in the TFC threat, interesting new characters, and built on everything that came before.  This one kind of petered out for me.  While it was great to see that the adults are also preparing for what happens next, and in more baseline sensible ways than the teen heroes are, it also felt like the second half of The Forgetting Curve being published as a separate book.  I was really excited reading the blurb for this to be Micah’s book, but ultimately he got shuffled off to one of the many side stories while everyone else chased their story threads.
That said, I can’t knock The Meme Plague.  It does a good job of upping the ante, making the problems that our teen aged heroes have been dealing with bigger by showing their parents and adult neighbors also preparing for them.  It adds a couple of new levels to the mystery of just how the TFC got as huge as it is and what happened to other people who have tried to fight it, and it does an amazing job showing the effects of their new chip and how that stacks the deck even more against regular people.  One last little thing that got me was all of the Matrix refferences, it was kind of cool at first but became almost overly self refferential pretty quickly.
So, final thoughts time, while I really enjoyed The Meme Plague it is probably my least favorite of the three books.  I’d really like to see Smibert take a little more time with developing some of the characters that she’s introduced. I’m entirely confidant that she will, and that the next book will go deeper down the rabbit hole.  I’m giving The Meme Plague a three out of five.