The biggest problem I had with Wither was maintaining my suspension of disbelief. DeStefano created a...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
The biggest problem I had with Wither was maintaining my suspension of disbelief. DeStefano created a harsh dystopian world that, I think, took backseat to the romantic story. In her world women die at 20 and men at 25, and it's not very clear whether this was a virus or genetic disease (although the desire for perfect mates made me think it might be genetic). Our heroine, Rhine, is kidnapped from her tragic life with her twin brother and is inserted into this mansion in Florida that also holds two other girls (wives). One thing I didn't understand was, if the world was so full of orphans, why do people have to kidnap girls to marry? Why not take the orphaned girls rather than ones not wanting to go? Also, if the girls are so precious, why kill them so easily?
Rhine is chosen to live (according to her) on her unique trait of having one blue and one brown eye. A lot of the selection of girls was based on appearance, which confused me, because if you were trying to cure this virus/disease, why would you base it on certain looks of the women? Why not use all girls, since who knows who will be the one to have the right traits?
In the end, I thought that the world would have been better explored if not for the huge focus on a love triangle-type romance. Rhine didn't do anything for me. As another reviewer pointed out, if you had four years to live and you were starving to death, why wouldn't you be more interested in living the high life for the last years of your life in a mansion? These questions sat in the back of my mind as I read and finally decided I wasn't interested in the romance and relationship between Rhine and the other characters.
Review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.(less)
When I saw this book months ago, I was really excited and intrigued by the premise. So much so that I...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
When I saw this book months ago, I was really excited and intrigued by the premise. So much so that I requested a review copy and was kindly sent one by the publisher. Unfortunately, the book did not live up to my expectations, however, I do believe I have gained an interest in Emily Gee as an author.
One of the reasons I had trouble with the book is that it is very long while not having much in the way of action. There's a lot of traveling and repetition in actions by the characters, such as the shapeshifters changing back and forth as the armsman. You see, the Prince loathes mages and ironically must be protected by them. Instead of the mages forcing him to get over his prejudice, they decide to break one of their laws and take the shape of a man. One of the mages charged with this task is Innis because she can stay shifted for long periods of time. On the one hand this seems interesting, but on the other, why? Why go through all that trouble? I just wanted someone to say to the Prince, "get over it!"
I also had problems with the magic. I like to have a lot of magic but only if I can believe it. In this story, mages have special abilities usually ranging from shapeshifting to healing to fire spells. I found that the magic was interesting but I couldn't grasp the cost. Mages are constantly shapeshifting to animals without any apparent harsh effects. Also, people will get seriously injured and a mage will come along and cure them fully. I started to lose the sense of danger quite easily.
Another reason I had trouble is that the story itself lacks the spark I like in my epic fantasy. That spark could have been the conflict of Innis shifting into a man and then falling for the Prince and having to explain everything, but I just didn't get into it as I would have liked. What didn't help was that the prince wasn't very likable. For hundreds of pages he would look at a mage in disgust or perform another childish act of hatred. Innis was more likable but I often found myself frustrated over her passive and naive nature.
On the other hand, the thing I enjoyed most about this book was Gee's writing. It's very direct and concise but also satisfying. I found myself able to consume so much of it in a short period of time. It has an immediacy that encourages you to go forward, even if the story itself isn't doing it for you.
Overall, I would only recommend this book to someone who is particularly interested in this premise. The Sentinel Mage is part one of a planned trilogy.
Going into Zoo City, I didn't know what to expect. This is my first novel by Lauren Beukes, but I hav...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
Going into Zoo City, I didn't know what to expect. This is my first novel by Lauren Beukes, but I have heard great things about her other novel, Moxyland. What I found was a very unique and exciting experience in an urban fantasy world, one I haven't enjoyed as much since I read War for the Oaks by Emma Bull.
The story centers around Zinzi December, a young woman living in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her life isn't going so great, having once had a job as a journalist, she is now writing scam emails to pay back a large debt. Things change when she is approached by a music producer who wants to hire her to find a missing recording artist. You see, Zinzi has a special gift: she can find lost things. Not people, she insists, but she cannot turn down the job, which can essentially pay enough to cover her debt and beyond.
Zinzi can find lost things because that's her ability she manifested when she became Animalled. In the world Beukes has created, something called the Zoo Plague emerged, causing anyone who commits criminal acts (we don't know the extent of the requirements) is bonded to an animal for life. This situation is coined Acquired Aposymbiotic Familiarism and no one really know why or how it works. We are shown very little, mostly through separate pieces of information such as web pages or magazine/newspaper articles.
Zinzi was burdened with a Sloth (and that's what she calls it). One of the fascinating aspects of this novel is realizing and imagining what kind of an effect this sort of thing could have on society. Zinzi murdered her brother and she will forever be seen as an Animalled. Society has shunned these people, creating a whole new social class beneath everything else. Some have even used this to gain fame. It completely changes what we know and think about people; just by looking at someone and seeing they possess an Animal, you know they have done wrong at some point in their past.
The story itself is a noir mystery: the search for the missing young singer, Songweza. We follow Zinzi through her telling of the story while she uncovers a larger plot after some twists and turns. At times, you really lose yourself in the investigation and actually forget you're reading a novel about people with Animals and special abilities. Beukes has the ability to create such an original and fascinating world so subtly I forgot there was any other.
What I did yearn for more was more information on the Zoo Plague: why did this happen? How did it happen? I don't know if we will ever know, and I'm fine with that, but I did wish for more. Overall, I recommend this book for anyone looking for a great urban fantasy not quite like anything else.
I received a review copy of this book from the Angry Robot Army program.(less)
In Dust, Bear creates a vast and wonderful society living in large spaceship that is often referred t...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
In Dust, Bear creates a vast and wonderful society living in large spaceship that is often referred to as the world. Something I didn't know because I am new to hard science fiction is that a generation ship is a known occurrence in the genre. It's a ship that is created and outfitted to last several generations traveling in space, and thus required to sustain its occupants so that when it eventually reaches its destination, the species are still thriving. This is what Bear does except she enhances it with her own flare. She injects medieval-like family intrigue and politics, forced evolution, and religion.
It's quite difficult to get into the complicated dynamics of the world, so I will just highlight some of the things I found most interesting. The ship the story is based around is Jacob's Ladder, once created by a religious cult and has been crippled for hundred of years. The ship's AI has splintered itself into fragment's that specialize in certain functions and come to be known as Angels. The ship carries many species of wildlife in biospheres often called Heavens. The interesting part is that most of the human inhabitants have forgotten or don't know what has happened so their view of the world is altered. The way they govern themselves, I find, is very feudal like, as if society has regressed. There are definite social classes: on the top are the Exalt, the genetic cream of the crop, who have the benefit of symbionts in their bodies to protect against pretty much everything. They also have wings. Another class are the Mean, who don't carry symbionts.
One of the things I liked about Dust is that it has a lot of diversity. It has diversity in range of themes it crosses, in characters, world building and issues. I particularly loved reading about this world. It is so alien and yet familiar that I was mesmerized. Bear also introduces a wide range of characters, from one ungendered to one hermaphrodite, named Mallory. Mallory was a very captivating character who I would have liked to have seen more of.
Another aspect of this book is that Bear includes incestuous relationships, with the idea that because there is no longer any genetic repercussions, it has become more normal. This isn't a huge surprise because we find that many of the characters are actually related to each other.
As for the main characters, there's Rien and her half-sister, Perceval. I liked Perceval more than Rien, for her steadfast determination and her kindness to Rien. I thought Rien herself was often too juvenile for me (okay, she is 15 years old but still).
The only issue I had with this book, unfortunately, kept me from absolutely loving it. That was the way in which Bear takes us into Jacob's Ladder. She doesn't give us much background information and so I spent much of the novel trying to figure things out. This was magnified because of my inexperience in this type of book. However, I did find Bear's prose itself worthwhile and I would like to try out the sequel, Chill.
I would recommend this book to all who want something very different, aren't afraid of tackling a science fiction of this nature, and are open to new ideas. I really enjoyed it and am only disappointed that I couldn't find myself more at ease with the writing.(less)
For Valentine's Day I thought it would be appropriate to read and review a romance book, and after se...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
For Valentine's Day I thought it would be appropriate to read and review a romance book, and after seeing the good reviews Happy Hour at Casa Dracula has gotten from places like Dreams and Speculation and Dirty Sexy Books, I thought it would be a perfect pick.
There are many things I appreciate about this novel. Normally I don't like these flirty, light romantic reads because the contents usually don't appeal to me (characters, plots). However, I really enjoyed reading Happy Hour. We experience the story through the protagonist, Milago, and boy, is she ever a character! She's funny, smart and even has some flaws. Milagro was a believable and well drawn character I was able to connect to throughout the story. She falls for the engaged Oswald and spends most of the book reasoning with her feelings while also being pursued by a secret organization. I wish there was more action from her instead of being largely passive but I was dazzled enough by her clever narration that this was a minor issue.
Of course, this is all due to Acosta's clever and fun writing. I was able to zip through this in two days (which is fast for me) and I had a smile on my face pretty much the whole time. I would call this book largely a comedy and it had me laughing out loud many times. I also enjoyed Acosta's take on vampires which is unique yet still yields the same effect vampires have in romance novels.
My issues with the book lay with certain character and plot elements that remained a minor annoyance throughout my time reading. For example, I was a bit frustrated about how rudely Edna would treat Milagro for seemingly no good reason. It felt very unrealistic and over dramatic. Sometimes it was how some plot points were skipped over, like what happened between Winnie and Sam. I just wanted more out of it.
Overall I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to read a highly fun, energetic paranormal romance, especially if they want a different take on vampires. The series continues with Midnight Brunch, which I already have and look forward to reading.(less)
I think this review might be hard for me to write since I feel like this is a book that is just so uni...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
I think this review might be hard for me to write since I feel like this is a book that is just so unique and fun that it would be hard to talk about it to people who haven't read it. So that's a long way of saying: read this book!
I've never read a Jones book before (they somehow escaped my childhood) but I was always interested in them since they are so loved by so many. I picked up Howl's Moving Castle after I heard of her death and read it quickly after that. This book was so much fun and so clever and I found that Jones' voice really shone through. She created pretty lovable characters, my favorite being Sophie. Sophie grows up thinking nothing great will happen to her because she's the eldest of the siblings, only to find herself cursed and living in the body of a 90 year old. I felt this was so appropriate since Sophie was living her life before as if it was over, and once her body changed to match her mindset, she started to act differently because she thought that an old woman didn't have to worry about acting a certain way. I thought the curse sort of freed her from her own issues and while living this way throughout the book, she discovers what her life means and what she can make of it, whether she's young or old.
I also enjoyed the little tidbits of magic such as the seve leage boots and the magic door that ingeniously connects Sophie's world to ours. The ending was surprisingly more awesome thant I thought it would be (which I won't reveal for spoilers).
I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for a light children's fantasy with a fantastic ending. Really, to anyone who was hesitant about reading Jones before, just go do it already!(less)
This is my second Bujold book, the first being Beguilement. I wasn't crazy about that one; I might ha...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
This is my second Bujold book, the first being Beguilement. I wasn't crazy about that one; I might have expected a lot due to Bujold's reputation as a great author. Needless to say Chalion exceeded my expectations.
The best way I can describe it is that it's a big, juicy piece of court intrigue plumped up with twists and turns. Which is exactly my kind of book. I can't say much else without ruining the plot, so it might not sound as good as it really is. In my opinion there are two major aspects of this type of "court intrigue" fantasy that makes it a success: great cast of characters and a smart plot. Chalion has both of these.
The cast is fairly large and diverse and represents people from many areas: religion, court, military, men, women, foreigners, friends. I particularly came to like Cazaril, the main character. He becomes a character to root for, which is great, since the plot follows him. I think my admiration of him came when he decided to give up everything in order to help Iselle out of a very bad situation she was forced into. I was surprised because in many books I read, characters, especially protagonists, don't usually make huge, life-changing decisions. It was great to see a character take fate into his own hands and not let the plot resolve itself. He wasn't the only one willing to do this: Betriz had her own plan, and I believed she would have went through with it if Cazaril had failed. I also liked Iselle (the princess) due to her tenacity and strength as a major political power. I loved that she didn't have a nonsense romance that screwed up all her decisions (which happens a lot in other books). As for the plot, it's a great story that has some slow points but the more you read the more you'll be absorbed into the story. There's a lot to chew on.
I should also mention that there's not a lot of magic in this book. Actually, I think the magic is based in the religion which manifests itself as miracles. When a person hosts such a miracle, they are called saints. There's also powers beyond everyone in the mortal world called gods, but we didn't learn very much about them. I heard the sequel, Paladin of Souls has more on that.
Overall I really enjoyed this book and will be reading Paladin of Souls in the future. I recommend this book to anyone who likes long fantasy books centered around characters rather than magic or action. It's unique and definitely worth a try. A(less)
The usual reason I don't finish a book is because I reach a point where I realize that the book just...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
The usual reason I don't finish a book is because I reach a point where I realize that the book just isn't for me. Many people love Divergent, but after reading about a quarter of it, I knew I should call it quits. This is another YA dystopia and I think I've been really burnt out from them. I find I'm harsher on the worldbuilding because there's just so much others to compare it to. I was generally interested in the premise and the set up of the world: how people are divided into factions based on the traits they feel they need to exude in order to keep the world peaceful. However, I just couldn't grasp fully onto this idea and in particular, I thought the Dauntless faction was disappointing (which is the one that's focused on highly). I didn't understand why dangerous stunts and fighting each other (even in unfair fights) was brave. Once I got hints to a romance I decided to put the book aside since I was not feeling the worldbuilding and characters.
Obviously I'm in the minority, so if you like YA dystopias, there's a good chance you'll like this one. If you're someone like me who will really question the worldbuilding, then perhaps it's not for you. (less)
As you can see from my rating, I had reservations about this book. They mostly had to do with the plo...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
As you can see from my rating, I had reservations about this book. They mostly had to do with the plot. I enjoyed the writing and the pacing and I found that while I did have problems, I sped through this novel quickly and found myself enjoying certain parts. These were often the times the main character, Emma, showed her strong side, like when she stood up for her cousin at school. What can I say? I enjoyed myself well enough to keep reading despite my problems with the fundamental parts of the plot, which is saying something. Oh, and huge props for the author not using a love triangle!
Basically, I didn't like how the romance was portrayed. Emma and Brendan fall for each other and aren't sure why their feelings are so strong and why weird things keep happening. We're told their love is special (I won't give anything away) and I don't have a problem with that. I have a problem with the fact that their love seemed to be portrayed as any teen infatuation. There was no depth as I expected; I couldn't really distinguish their love from anyone else's, despite the reminder that their love is special. Part of this is because, at least from Emma's point of view, her perception of Brendan was often superficial. He's smart, gorgeous, rich, and nice. Well, who wouldn't fall madly in love with that?
I also thought Emma was given a past that was especially tagic in order for us to give her our sympathy, but her past really never made any impact on herself or the story at all. Why make her life so tragic? Why make Brendan so perfect? Is it for the 'fairy tale' effect? I don't think I like that.
Thoughts on the cover: I really like the font and the black background.
I'm sort of torn on this. On the one hand I felt engaged and interested enough to read the book quickly and enjoy most of it. The problems I had with it came afterward as I sat thinking about the story and the characters. I began to think I didn't like the idea of soul-mates between two teens which often came across as obsession and infatuation. Perhaps if I could have believed it more, I would have a different opinion. I'd recommend this only if you're really interested in this type of romance or if you are looking for a light beach read
So, this is one of those times where I couldn't finish a book not because I hated it or felt it was r...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
So, this is one of those times where I couldn't finish a book not because I hated it or felt it was really horrible, but because it just wasn't my cup of tea. It had many elements I like in my fantasy: a pairing that stems a romance between two people who come together with many differences, a special/mystical/psychic "bond" and a fun fantasy setting. However, the reason I couldn't continue is because I really, really disliked the main character and narrator, Dunleavy. She's absolutely horrid to her partner, Shintaro and at one point I just became fed up with it. I know characters aren't suppose to be perfect but I was having trouble suspending my disbelief with the way she mistrusted and treated him. Either this is constructed to create a conflicted and unlikely romance or the character is just a jerk. Either way, it's not my kind of story. (less)
There's a lot to like and love about Shade. First, I was completely absorbed in how original this stor...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
There's a lot to like and love about Shade. First, I was completely absorbed in how original this story is. What would happen in a story about a girl who loses her boyfriend but can continue to interact with him as a ghost? I just liked the premise so much and I thought it added a lot of weight to the theme of grief and how you cope with losing someone you love. While the book is very entertaining I always came back to the feeling that I felt so sorry for Aura and the situation she's in. She has to juggle a ghost-boyfriend who very much still loves her and the attention of a new boy at school while also trying to figure out what happened to her mother. It might not sound like much the way I'm describing it, but Smith-Ready does a great job of balancing a fast-paced plot and heart-wrenching story.
I also loved the worldbuilding and thought it very well developed. People 16 and under can see and talk to ghosts because of a mysterious event that happened called the Shift. As you can expect, this event changes the world in ways such as how crimes are solved. I mean, things can really change when a person who's murdered can testify at their own murder trial. As for the Shift itself, we don't get much answers but I suspect we will as the series continues.
There's not much I didn't like, really. Sometimes I became fustrated with Aura and her insistance of continuing her relationship with Logan, but I ususally ended up feeling bad and thinking that most people would do the same thing in that situation, so soon after losing someone like that.
I definitely recommend Shade to anyone looking for a great young adult read with a paranormal slant. I really liked it and plan on snatching the next book in the series, Shift, as soon as I can.(less)
I have to say that I never really heard of this book or author before and decided to take a chance wit...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
I have to say that I never really heard of this book or author before and decided to take a chance with it, especially since I had enjoyed reviewing for Dreams and Speculation before and wanted to do so again. The premise looked fine enough but didn't really stand out to me. Fortunately, this turned out to be quite an enjoyable read despite my (wrong) expectations.
The story is pretty straightforward: a twenty-one year old druid named Atticus (who is actually around 2000 years old) lives quietly in Arizona while trying to keep his distance from his enemy, a Celtic god who wants to reclaim a sword Atticus had taken centuries before. Atticus routinely converses with gods, witches, vampires, werewolves and all manner of mythological creatures that inhabit his world while trying not to get killed. He's accompanied by his dog Oberon, who he has taught to communicate mentally through his magic.
There's a lot to like about this book. First, Atticus himself is pretty hilarious. Humor is a large part of why I enjoyed Atticus' adventure. He has a great repertoire with Oberon and I found myself laughing out loud many times at their conversations. Oberon himself stood out to me as a great character who acts very much the canine best friend of the main character. Another highlight is the world building. You don't find many fantasy novels featuring druidic magic and I liked I got a taste of something different. Atticus draws his power from the earth and is able to shape shift. He's actually really powerful (he's had 2000 years to master his magic) but I never felt like he was invincible. Hearne populates his world by the idea that any and all mythological people and creatures actually exists in our world, however much of our experience is focused on Celtic mythology and witches and werewolves.
I found that the pacing and action was good and kept me turning the pages however, I felt like something was missing. This changed when a new character emerged near the end, a young woman named Granuaile. She makes a deal with Atticus to become his apprentice and I felt like this would be a great idea so we can see how a druid becomes a druid. This isn't yet explored in Hounded and I'm not sure it's in the sequels either. I think what I was missing was a connection between Atticus and another character (other than Oberon). The closest we get to this is with the Morrigan who has some great scenes with Atticus but they are few.
Overall, I'd recommend this book for someone looking for a good urban fantasy sans romance with extra humor and action. I enjoyed it and would like to read the next books in the series, Hexed and Hammered.
Review copy was provided by Dreams and Speculation. (less)
This book starts off in Abby's point of view while she starts high school. She is like many teenagers who...moreOriginally posted on starmetal oak book blog.
This book starts off in Abby's point of view while she starts high school. She is like many teenagers who have low self-esteem, problems at home with the family, but is generally an all around good student. She doesn't do drugs or drink and she gets great grades. Even so, she is targeted and groomed online by a predator posing as someone who claims to understand her home problems and fills that void for her. Soon after, the situation escalates and the point of view switches between Abby's younger sister and her best friend. We see how lives can be disrupted and destroyed as easily as someone logging into a chat room and saying the right things to a vulnerable child.
This is a hard review to write because I can't say I enjoyed the book. It was gut-wrenching and hard to see Abby go through things that I think many young girls go through; lonliness and lack of self-confidence. However, Littman does a great job in describing the grooming process and how a star student can be made to do things she would never normally do. We also see how this effects the family and friends in the aftermath of such a situation. I believed the story that Littman told and I think a lot went into the research of writing about online predators and how they work. I really felt connected to Abby because I was a lot like her at that age and it made me think what would have happened if I had been targeted the way she was. It shows that anyone can fall prey to these online predators.
While the subject matter of this book can be rough and graphic at times, I think this is great book for young adults and their parents, one they could read and talk about after. It provides a gripping story and yet is informative and certainly a wake up call for parents out there. I wouldn't advise anyone sensitive to the issue of sexual assult to read this because it can be explicit.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher. (less)
One of the most intriguing things about this fourth Mistborn novel is that it’s set about three hundr...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
One of the most intriguing things about this fourth Mistborn novel is that it’s set about three hundred years in the future from the last book, Hero of the Ages. The characters of the trilogy we’ve come to know and love are legends, myths or religious figureheads (sometimes all three). I wanted to see what Sanderson did with this since one of my favorite things about his stories is the religions he creates and how they integrate into the society. I’m not disappointed with this; there are many nods towards the previous books through the new culture.
The Mistborn world has advanced since the events of Hero of the Ages and now there are trains, guns, and other steampunkish technology. This makes for great entertainment since the magic systems are all based on metals. We see two of the systems featured prominently, Allomancy and Feruchemy. Allomancy is the ability to burn certain metals (by ingesting them) and each metal has its own effect. For instance, burning steel gives the Allomancer the ability to push on metallic objects. Feruchemy uses metal to store power (it’s not consumed in the process). You could use gold to store health, so when you really need it, you can heal yourself.
That’s right, the Mistborn series has not one awesome magic system but three! Although the third isn’t mentioned that much in The Alloy of Law.
Aside from the setting and magic systems, I really enjoyed the plot. It follows Wax and his friend Wayne (yes, that’s really their names), who worked together in the outskirts of town keeping the peace. There’s a very western feel to this story, with hats, dusters, guns and shootouts. It fits the setting very well. Wax and Wayne inadvertently come across a series of robberies and they team up with a character named Marasi to solve the crimes. Wax is definitely the exalted hero type and Wayne was the snarky sidekick. I think I would like to see more of these characters to give them more time to develop, but I feel like the purpose of this novel was to give us more Mistborn and also tell an exciting action-packed story.
I really loved it. There were so many awesome tidbits such as the references to the past books and even newspaper prints placed throughout the book. It really added to the western feel. I'm not a Wheel of Time fan, so when this came out I was super excited to read it, since I don't know when there will be more Mistborn books. I don't think this is the end though. I loved what Sanderson did with the setting and he created a fun mystery packed with Allomancy and Feruchemy to satisfy me until the next book comes out.
Review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.(less)
I've come away from The Highest Frontier feeling very dichotomous about the book. Overall, I did enjoy this book very much but I alo had some reservations.
I'll start by saying that there are many awesome things Slonczewski did with this story. It follows Jenny Ramos Kennedy, a college student from a family of politicians and presidents, who loves plants and goes to study at Frontera College. Frontera is located in a spacehab ('space habitat') and is accessible by going up an anthrax lift. There we meet many interesting characters: Dylan, the college president and his partner, Father Clare, the college chaplain. Then there's the eccentric roomate, Mary Dryer, and Jenny's best frend, Anouk. One of the advertised benefits of Frontera is that there are no ultraphytes, alien organisms that have been populating on Earth. However, Frontera isn't as perfect as everyone's made it out to be and slowly, Jenny finds out there are issues going on in the spacehab.
Politics and religion is another large part of the book. Through Jenny we witness the presidental election on Earth, mostly between two parties: the religious Centrists who don't believe in outer space and Unity, the part of Jenny's ancestors. What I really enjoyed is the mix of politics and religion in a futuristic world where often times religion is replaced by science. That's not the case here. There are still many conflicts between church and state despite it being around a century in the future.
But the aspect I liked the most about this book is the science. Slonczewski injects this future world with so much interesting and fun concepts that it really kept me reading out of sheer fascination. Biology is a big part of this world, where ultraphytes are mixing DNA with Earth life and Jenny spends a lot of her time with her Life class professor learning about organisms. Everyone wears a diad on their head where they use their brain to navigate the Toyworld, a virtual place where you can chat with people, watch news and basically do anything you could think of.
The only downside that I found to The Highest Frontier is that we don't pass through too much time (about one semester of college) and the story moves at a slow pace. There wasn't a specific plotline. Instead we follow Jenny through school and through her political life, learning as much as we can about this world. I would have liked to see a bigger climax at the end, but I did feel the conclusion was satisfying enough.
Like I said earlier, I have mixed feelings. I thought this was one of the most interesting and unique science fiction books I ever read and I really appreciate it for that. There isn't always a lot of action or a clear direction in plot, but it's supplemented by grabbing your attention with a myriad of ideas and concepts that Slonczewski has thought up. I would recommend this book for people looking for more hard science fiction with a great side dish of poltics and religion. However, if you're looking for an easy, fast-paced action book with a clear storyline, then this isn't for you.
Review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.(less)
This novel is seperated into four parts spanning the years from 2008 to approximately 2091. It follow...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
This novel is seperated into four parts spanning the years from 2008 to approximately 2091. It follows the story of a group of genetically modified children who were created to not need sleep (called Sleepless), but who are also of superior intelligence than the rest of humanity. By covering so much time, Kress is able to explore their creation, their persecution, their evolution, and everything inbetween. On top of the ideas surrounding genetic modification, there also is the underlying theme of how you treat others and how society should work. This is where the title comes from, to the Sleepless, unenhanced humans are beggars since they cannot begin to compete with them in terms of economic and intellectual power. The question that arises is, should you offer charity to the beggars in Spain?
There are characters that take different stances on how Sleepless should conduct themselves in a world where they are a minority, but in fact control most of the economy. I found the entire novel fascinating, and in particular, I loved following Leisha Camden's (one of the original Sleepless) journey. Kress creates an intricate web of characters that illustrate how nearly 100 years of genetic modification can change our world. I found myself steadily interested throughout the book, but Part IV titled 'Beggars' really catapulted this book into awesome territory for me.
This is the type of science fiction book I live for - one that offers unique scientific ideas (sleeplessness) and uses that to further ideas on our society. I was absorbed in Kress' view of our future based on these scientific ideas, but also on her ideas about people and what drives us into community or self-preservation. On top of that, I felt this novel had one of the most satisfying and exciting endingsI have ever read. I would definitely recommend this book to others interested in genetic modification, or just looking for a novel that speculates on our future over many years. This books is part of a trilogy, but I don't know if will continue, just because I feel so satisfied with Beggars in Spain as a standalone. We shall see.
In Eyes to See, there are a lot of things Nassise does right. The choice of first person POV is one o...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
In Eyes to See, there are a lot of things Nassise does right. The choice of first person POV is one of them, since getting into Jeremiah Hunt's head is the bread and butter of this story. I really liked his voice, his struggles, and his humor. The POV does change near the end quite often, which I thought disrupted my enjoyment a little. I often preferred seeing things (no pun intended) through Jeremiah's perspective, since his was unique. He traded his eyesight of the normal world in return to see that of the other world, the one where all the ghosts and creatures we only heard stories about are. Eyes to See takes place in the past and present distinguished by "Then" and "Now" chapters, one telling the story of how Jeremiah came to be in this place, when his daughter went missing years before. The other is the present time while he is working as an exorcist while also helping the police solve crimes while hopping for more information about his daughter's disappearance. I really liked the "Then" chapters, since they were so heartbreaking, raw and real.
Another aspect I thought was done well was the mystery. I really didn't know what to expect at the end, and that kept me reading. I wanted Jeremiah to succeed in solving the mystery of his missing daughter. Along the way we discover more things about this world, which is a pretty standard urban fantasy setting. It contains magic and various paranormal creatures. Unfortunately I thought Jeremiah to be the most interesting because we knew more about why he came to be what he is.
Where the book faltered for me was finding enough interest in this world. While I thought there were unique ideas and a good protagonist, I wanted the other characters and world building to be stronger. For example, I thought Denise, the main female character, to be a little too predictable and not very developed.
After reading this series debut, I feel a bit on the fence. I liked some things and didn't like others, but I'm leaning towards a more positive opinion of this book. I feel like it's not completely there yet, but that I want to read more to see it get there. Nassise wraps up the mystery quite nicely while leaving room to continue the series and I believe that it could be headed in a great direction. If you are looking for that popular urban fantasy setting with an entertaining and humorous male protagonist, then this is for you.
Review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.(less)
This novella takes place in Bear's New Amsterdam world. I haven't read this author or that collection...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
This novella takes place in Bear's New Amsterdam world. I haven't read this author or that collection yet, so this is doubly new to me. This is published after New Amsterdam, and although I didn't find it confusing, it might be better to read its predecessor first.
Bear has created a unique and intriguing world, taking place at the turn of the 20th century. In this world, there exist vampires, one of which is Don Sebastien de Ulloa. Each vampire has a court where mortals are chosen to become companions to these vampires. Members of the court wear rings that contain a signature gem of the vampire to show their allegiance. This society is lightly touched on, probably more has been revealed in the previous collection, New Amsterdam. I would have liked to have seen more about this world and how it works.
Primarily, this novella is about a mystery. The story is divided into two times, 1897 and 1903, and two murders that are somehow connected. The mystery aspect of this story is very prominent, giving room for little else. I thought the mystery was good and kept me turning the page, however, there was no mind-blowing reveal that I had hoped for. I felt like it flowed nicely but there was never any intensity or sense of danger for any of the characters.
What was the most enjoyable about The White City was the setting: Moscow. Bear deftly created an animated and lively setting, poised for revolution. Another was the character Doctor Abigail Irene Garrett, the forensic sorcerer. She uses her mystical abilities to discover evidence of a crime, such as scanning the aura of an object to see who has come into contact with it. I found it very entertaining and original, but alas, she did not feature as big a part as I would have liked.
Overall, I found Bear's writing to be very delightful, however, I think it could have been more exciting. I think this world she has created has something for those interested in mysteries with a dash of fantasy, especially if you like vampires. I would like to check out New Amsterdam one day, if only to read more about Abby Irene.
I received an ARC through a contest with the author.(less)
The novel starts off interestingly enough: we're introduced to Rosie Fox as a young girl whose family...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
The novel starts off interestingly enough: we're introduced to Rosie Fox as a young girl whose family is from the fairy realm, accessed through the Gates. These Gates are closed to them by Lawrence, another Aetherial, due to his belief of evil lurking on the other side, ready to escape.
Through the next 200 pages or so, we grow up with Rosie and her family and all the drama that goes with it. It reminded me of a soap opera, where all the characters are fae, yet they merely only talk about it. It's rare we get to see any Aetherial action. Enormous amount of time is spent on love affairs, adultery, and drugs. I felt this annoyance in the plot events was doubled by the fact that I never really liked Rosie. Everyone would say how nice and good a person she is, but she's rather selfish, passive and abrasive. I never understood why she made certain desicions such as those relating to her romantic life. I felt like drama was created for the sake of drama. I also didn't care for Sam very much: the stereotypical bad boy the main female character can't help fall in love (or lust) with.
For 200-something pages we are given all this backstory and I ultimately stopped reading for lack of movement of the main plot: getting the Gates open or defeating the evil presence beyond them. I wasn't interested in the family saga.(less)
I first discovered The Buntline Special months ago after seeing the cover on various blogs. I was inte...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
I first discovered The Buntline Special months ago after seeing the cover on various blogs. I was interested in the idea of a steampunk/wild west story. When I found out I could review it for Dreams and Speculation, I jumped at the chance.
The premise of the book is simple: Thomas Edison and Ned Buntline have joined forces; Edison with his genius ideas and Buntline with his expert engineering skill. Together they have created multiple inventions such as carriages that need no horses, automatons, special guns and other steampunk gadgets. Their success has made them a target and so the US government whisks them away to Tombstone, to work on their technologies in hiding. While there, the Earps take the responsibility for protecting them, especially after Edison gets his arm shot off and then replaced with a mechanical arm. They enlist the help of the best in the business, Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson. The tale centres on Holliday and his experience in Tombstone; his encounters with the magic-using Native Americans, the Cowboys, and Kate Elder, who owns the local brothel.
Unfortunately, the book did not work for me. It seems that it has the recipe right for a great action adventure story, but the execution failed. The writing is quick, smooth and overall easy to read, however, it is focused too much on dialogue. Often the dialogue between characters became bogged down by really cheesy statements. You might expect that from a western movie, but when reading a novel, it can get old really quickly. While you might also expect some great action, most of the book’s scenes take place in the saloon while characters ate breakfast or drank. I didn’t understand why there was so much time dedicated to these scenes. Even the big showdown at the end was disappointingly over in a page or two.
Adding to that, there were many subplots integrated into the story to the point that the main plot was often pushed to the side. I found that this didn’t help the pacing since I often wondered where the story was going.
Lastly, I thought that while some characters were interesting (Holliday, Geronimo), others were found lacking. One example is Kate Elder, the only female character of the book. I really wished she either had more development or there were other females. A lot of the females were the whores in Kate’s brothel, and even then, they were automatons! There was too much attention paid to the mechanical prostitutes rather than real human women. It made me wonder, who is that woman on the cover? Kate? I don’t think she ever left her brothel.
Overall, I would say that Resnick missed the mark with The Buntline Special. If you’re a die hard western fan, I’d say try it, but don’t expect a lot of action.
I have mixed feelings about this one. I've read Carey's Kushiel's Dart a long time ago and I had mixe...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
I have mixed feelings about this one. I've read Carey's Kushiel's Dart a long time ago and I had mixed feelings about that one, as well, but for different reasons. I really enjoyed Kushiel's Dart for the worldbuilding and plot, but had issue with the characters. In Santa Olivia I had issue with the worldbuilding and plot (and I suppose some characters). What I liked about it was the originality in setting (an Outpost where residents cannot go in or out due to the threat of war) between Mexico and the USA. I also liked the mythology used about the figure of Santa Olivia and how this played into the lives of the townspeople. My favorite part has to be the beginning where Loup's mother meets and falls in love with two men and has two children (not at the same time). I thought her struggles with life and romance was sympathetic and I admired her for the decisions she had to make.
Where the book changed for me was when the focus changed to Loup. It became, not about a superhero (which I thought) but more of children orchestrating events to do good to some people or to send messages.Then, to me it seemed like it suddenly became a book about boxing. A good chunk of the novel focused on boxing and I definitely have no interest in that. I wasn't connected to Loup enough to care about her goal or her problems in her romance with Pilar. I would have rather seen more about the engineered men and the world outside Outpost, because in Outpost, there wasn't much going on at all (except boxing).
I finished the book, which may be a surprised since I had a lot of negative things to say. It was interesting but I felt what I was interested in was always happening elsewhere or outside the view of the main characters. I liked the world that is hinted at but I needed more. If this is a series, I'd definitely be interested in continuing because I think the next books can only reveal more of the world. If someone is interested in a book with a strong female protagonist or a different take on werewolves and don't mind a lot of boxing, you will probably like this.(less)
I've read two other Bear books to date, The White City (review) and Dust (review). All the Windwracke...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
I've read two other Bear books to date, The White City (review) and Dust (review). All the Windwracked Stars is my favorite so far. I really loved the integration of Norse myth into a fantasy setting that also included some science fiction elements. Bear's creativity and aptitude in creating this word, called Valdyrgard, is really what caught and held my interest the whole way through.
Muire is the last Valkyrie, an angel and Child of the Light. She's lived thousands of years since Ragnarok, and she is called to attention when Mingan the Wolf starts attacking people in the last functioning city in the world. She investigates and in finds that there is a larger game being played which involves the Technomancer, the only being keeping the city alive. She pairs up with the only other survivor of Ragnarok, Kasimir the valraven, and joins forces with others in the city to put right the things that have gone horribly wrong.
Like I said, I really enjoyed Bear's worldbuilding. There are many interesting characters and people and magic. Muire can harness the power of the Light which keeps her immortal and able to heal, but she's lost a lot of the Light since Ragnarok. Juxtaposed is the magic of the Technomancer, able to manipulate technology and people in often weird and uncanny ways. Part of the Technomancer's creations is the moreaux. a collection of anthropomorphic people to work for her. I really liked Selene, one of the Technomancer's trusted moreau, a humanoid cat.
Lastly, I really connected to Bear's writing style. Her prose flows expertly and she always creates a great picture in your mind. The ending was unexpected and a little heartbreaking. Just the way I like it!
What I didn't like: My only major criticism with Bear's books is that it really takes me a little while to figure out what the heck is going on. She doesn't info dump and doesn't give many explanations to the basic things of the new world we are exploring. I got into the groove eventually but I would have enjoyed, say, a glossary or map.
Definitely recommended for fantasy lovers or those interested in Norse mythology. I really enjoy Bear's work because I'm always pleasantly surprised at what she comes up with. This book is followed by two more in the series, By the Mountain Bound, a prequel, and a direct sequel called The Sea Thy Mistress.(less)
A lot of what I liked about Hounded is present in Hexed. Atticus' world is pretty much filled with many riduculous and awesome mythological creatures...moreA lot of what I liked about Hounded is present in Hexed. Atticus' world is pretty much filled with many riduculous and awesome mythological creatures including but not limited to vampires, witches, Celtic goddesses, werewolves, Maenads and demons. Hearne manages to include everything but the kitchen sink (which I wouldn't be surprised if one made such an appearance in one of his books) while keeping everything seemingly under control. Of course, hilarity ensues but it's just so much fun watching Atticus interact with all the different characters. Everything is done very cleverly.
One thing that keeps me smiling is Atticus' dog, Oberon. He's able to communicate mentally with him through his magic and the things this dog says is just so funny! At one point Atticus tells him the story of the Merry Pranksters and hippies and Oberon has it in his mind the whole book of 'sticking it to The Man'.
I was really hoping for Granuaile to take more of a prominent role after the last book. I really like the chemistry between her an Atticus and I think there's room for a female main character. Unfortunately, we don't see her much while Atticus is busy with trying to take care of all the crazy supernatural shenanigans.
Also, while this book had a main goal, I felt like most of the plot was filler and could feel it lagging a bit in certain areas. I would have liked a more unified plot line, but perhaps some things were being sorted out for the next book. It didn't bother me too much but I hope the next installment has a more concrete path.
If you liked Hounded, you'll like Hexed, and you'll most likely want to continue the series after this as well. It has all the great fun Hounded had; humor, adventure and supernatural craziness. If you haven't started the series yet, you really should, if you're interested in urban fantasy. This is turning out to be a pretty good UF series, one that I'm looking forward to continuing. The next book is called Hammered and I'll definitely be picking it up!
Thank you to Dreams and Speculation for providing the review copy. (less)
The story is told in a unique way. Astrid is talking to some kind of hostage/police interviewer while...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
The story is told in a unique way. Astrid is talking to some kind of hostage/police interviewer while she is being detained for suspicion of commiting crimes. The interviewer, Will, tries to find infomation about an enemy, Sahara, who is currently reaking havok with a cult following. He wants info on Sahara, who is close to Astrid, but what he (and we) get is the story of Indigo Springs and what we know as the reemurgence of magic into the world. The story is thus told in the past and present and we get to piece together the situation.
The characters were good. I enjoyed Astrid. She is flawed: somewhat weak willed and easily succumbs to the pressure of others around her. I liked watching her grow and the person she becomes by the end of the book. Sahara is perfectly wicked, although she's portrayed as human enough to garner some sympathy. A breakout character, for me, would be Will, the interviewer, because even though he has a pretty specific role in the story (to interview Astrid and thus extract the story) he really develops as a character. By the end I felt like I knew as much about him as any other character.
The most awesome thing about this book is the magic. Magic is literally blue liquid and can enchant objects. This leads to all sorts of fun (such as a flying carpet) but it is also dangerous. If people come into contact with the liquid it can corrupt and infect them. I found everything about this system well thought out, utilized well and really just plain cool.
I really really, liked this book. I enjoyed reading it all the way through. Never once did my interest wane and I found myself staying up into the wee night to finish it (which is something that rarely happens for me). It has everything I love about what urban fantasy can be. There's characters and a world we can identify with, but there's also the worldbuilding as intricate as an epic fantasy. I cannot wait for the sequel, Blue Magic, to be released next year.(less)
As you can see by the rating, I didn't finish this book. I didn't get very far but I strongly felt th...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
As you can see by the rating, I didn't finish this book. I didn't get very far but I strongly felt that I wasn't connecting to the characters, setting or circumstances at all. Rebekkah loses her grandmother in the first pages, and I didn't really feel the emotional impact this had on her. We didn't have enough time to really know the characters before their lives are turned upside-down, which causes there to be a lot of telling about past events and relationships. It just wasn't working for me. You can tell from the beginning that romance is going to play a major role in the plot and I just wasn't interested in that either. (less)
Although when it comes to books, I haven't read many Jane Austen's or Victorian novels (I know Jane Austen isn't Victorian), but I do enjoy them and love the type of humor and situations they describe. Anything to do with manners, society, romance. Anyways, this means that on paper this novel would already be enjoyable to me, but the fact that the whole cast of characters are dragons is just icing on the cake. I think this is something really awesome about this novel - I didn't feel like the dragon thing was gimmicky. I would have enjoyed it were they human, but I enjoyed it even more that they were dragons. I thought the world building was clever. I smiled every time a dragon was described sleeping on their gold. Another aspect I enjoyed is that female dragons are gold-ish colored as maidens, but when approached by males (sometimes just being touched by them), they "blush" and turn a rosy pink. At this point they need to be married, and if not, it's a big scandel. I love how this reflected the real world situation of women in the past where they had to remain pure maidens before marriage.
The only negative thing I experienced while reading Tooth and Claw was that for the first one hundred pages or so I felt that the pace was slow and I wasn't totally absorbed into the story yet. This changed after the characters and plot strings were all layed out and then it wasn't long before I'd completely devoured this novel.
I really loved this book. I wish more books were like this. I love discovering novels that are clever, well-written and just plain unique. The world building is very strong and enables Walton to effortlessly create a Victorian-like world featuring dragons and their societal problems. I also really appreciated the humor. Definitely recommended! (less)
I feel like it will be hard to review this book because it's just the beginning of a larger story. Fo...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
I feel like it will be hard to review this book because it's just the beginning of a larger story. For a first volume, though, I enjoyed it and found it to be interesting enough to persue.
The story, at least from what I hear (I never read Ender's Game), is similar to that book in that it has a young protagonist that goes into training in space. In this case it's a girl names Roberta ("Robbi") and the story follows how she is accepted to a school called Laddertop Academy. There's a large cast of characters most of which is classmates of Robbi.
What I enjoyed most about Laddertop is the world building. There's a healthy plot of mystery and science fiction surrounding the The Givers, aliens who gave humans technology to go into space and progress in many things. Robbi seems to be at the heart of this when she's passes a scan that all students must do (this was installed by The Givers and no one really knows what it's scanning) in order to go up to Laddertop. Robbi's scan results are unusual and this furthers the idea that something else is going on.
I would recommend this if you're interested in a new manga centered around science fiction school life. I feel like I should hold off a little until the next volumes to make a firm decision on this story, since volume one is just the beginning. It didn't start off with a bang, but there is a lot of potential here for a good series. As for the art, I thought it was great and held a lot of detail.
Review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.(less)
This is a very short novel so my review will probably be short as well. The novel is about teenager (originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
M...moreThis is a very short novel so my review will probably be short as well. The novel is about teenager (originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
Mal who has a pretty tragic life, living with his alcoholic mother after his dad left the family. This is very character driven, I find, and it's what makes this short book interesting. Not only does Mal have to deal with some pretty serious problems, he also is trying to cope with being abducted by aliens. He goes to group meetings for the contacted and meets another called Hooper, whom he becomes friends with. I really liked Mal as a character and I felt that what drove his story was the sympathy we had for him and wanting things to be okay for him. Despite growing up in harsh circumstances, he's a really great person. He looks after those that need it and never once does he complain about his life. He has a sort of matter of fact way of looking at things.
One of the heart-wrenching things is that he wishes he could go back into space with the aliens (and who can blame him?). The ending is compelling, since you never really get a clear answer on anything and it leaves you pondering.
I thought this was a very valuable read. It's short but packed with emotion and the characters are detailed and life-like. I really liked Mal and his journey to come to terms with his life and his feelings, and that's what this is about. It's a story about people and what they go through. We are abducted into his life for a brief time but we come out just as effected as he is after his contact with outer beings. I recommend this for anyone looking for a meaningful, character driven story. I think young adults particularly will find this valuable since it deals with so many real issues that they go through.
Review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.(less)
Theft of Swords is aptly named; it is the first two tales of the Riyria Revelations and both center a...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
Theft of Swords is aptly named; it is the first two tales of the Riyria Revelations and both center around the job of stealing swords. They follow two main protagonists, Hadrian, a kind-hearted soldier who can't be matched in combat, and Royce, the stealthy rogue who doesn't always share his partner's sentiments. In The Crown Conspiracy (book one), they are hired to steal a sword but are framed for a king's murder. In Avempartha they are again hired to steal a sword but must face a magical beast that threatens their lives.
The Crown Conspiracy I really enjoyed this debut. It's highly action-packed and contained all the things I like in epic fantasy: politics, adventure and plenty of twists and turns. In fact, I couldn't believe Sullivan had me fooled on more than one occasion. Where the book faltered for me wasn't the plot, which was deftly crafted and paced, but the characters and the tendency towards info-dumping. There is really only one female character, the princess Arista and I felt while she was a decent character, I needed more representation from women. Also, with the other characters, I felt like I was always trying to connect to them, since there seemed to be many and therefore hard to connect to. My favorite was actually the prince, Alric; I felt he had a good story arc and growth through the story.
Avempartha This was another enjoyable read for me. It's set a few years after The Crown Conspiracy and I was happy to see the story moving along. Unlike the first book, I thought Avempartha suffered from a slow start and it wasn't until halfway through did I really get interested in the plot. I noticed that when the plot involved the overreaching story of the series, it was more interesting to me than dealing with the episodic nature of the book's plot. Fortunately, another female character is introduced, but I found myself connecting more to Arista even so. She really grows in this book and I liked following her development.
I think I'm in the minority here where I say I thought The Crown Conspiracy (B-) was the most enjoyable for me. I really liked the even pacing, the action, and most of all, the mystery. Avempartha (C+) was good, but slower and ending on a big cliffhanger. One thing I can say is that while Sullivan uses common epic fantasy tropes (there's a wizard, a rogue, a princess, a fighter), he does know how to craft a story and keep you interested. I was able to overlook any misgivings I would normally have in favor of a good plot and addictive storytelling. There's an overall story arc to this series that gets touched on in each book as we go and I find I am really dying to see what happens. I would definitely recommend this to fantasy fans, but be warned, it's not super unique, but it's going to grab you from the beginning and not let go.
Review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.(less)
When I received this book I was quite surprised, it's a small, cute square hardcover with such pretty...more(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)
When I received this book I was quite surprised, it's a small, cute square hardcover with such pretty artwork. It's quite short, at 96 pages, and even then the pages are quite small.
If Wishes Were Horses is a glimpse into a fantasy world and is driven by the characters. It centers on Tizra, a twin whose father goes off to war to support their prince. This is shortly before her and her brother’s 16th birthday, and when she is supposed to receive a (magic?) crystal from her mother and her brother a horse. We see Tizra's mother through her eyes, how she rallies the people left in the town while the men go off to war. Although it sounds pretty bleak, it's actually a heartwarming story. There's just a touch of magic throughout, and I liked how it was focused around Tizra's mother and the strength of character she has.
The story was entertaining and the ending was definitely gratifying. McCaffrey's prose takes you off into this land and provides just enough magic to be entranced. I definitely recommended this for someone looking for a feel-good fantasy that you can enjoy in a single reading.(less)