In the Heartland, genetically modified corn has overrun everything and people struggle just to survive. Young Cael McAvoy is the leader of a salvage c...moreIn the Heartland, genetically modified corn has overrun everything and people struggle just to survive. Young Cael McAvoy is the leader of a salvage crew, finding scraps of a bygone age to sell to bring in money for his home town, Boxelder. But when Cael and his crew find some forbidden plants growing wild amongst the corn, things quickly spin out of control...
Chuck Wendig's foray into YA dystopia is an interesting tale. It reminds me of Ship Breaker, to an extent. A genetically modified corn species has overrun the United States and probably the rest of the world. The haves called the Empyrean, live in floating city ships and the have-nots live on the ground, processing the corn and just trying to survive.
Like all YA, there's something of a love triangle, or possibly a parallelogram. Cael wants Gwennie but she's Obligated to someone else. Cael is Obligated to Wanda but isn't really interested in her. And Cael's arch-nemesis, Boyland Barnes, is Obligated to Gwennie. The teen love isn't an integral part of the story, blessedly. The crux of the story is what Cael and his friends uncover and the secrets they unravel because of it.
There are a lot of interesting concepts in Under the Empyrean Sky, like a lottery that lets one Heartland family a year be selected to join the Empyreans, the Blight, a disease that gradually turns the victim into some sort of corn-based monster, and the corn itself, invasive corn that happens to be carnivorous to some degree.
Pretty much my only gripe is that I found a few of the twists to be all too predictable. It's the first book in a trilogy but stands pretty well on its own. All things considered, I'm glad I spent this month's free Kindle loan on it. Four out of five stars.(less)
On an ocean world where communities live on the backs of gargantuan sea turtles and survival is key, orphan farmer Tenjat finds his lands ruined and t...moreOn an ocean world where communities live on the backs of gargantuan sea turtles and survival is key, orphan farmer Tenjat finds his lands ruined and takes the test to become a Handler, one of the warriors that defends the Turtle. But with another Turtle heading in their direction, will the new crop of Handlers be ready to defend it in time?
I saw this on John Scalzi's The Big Idea and just had to read it. Villages on the backs of giant sea turtles? What's not to like?
The worldbuilding is both my favorite part of this book and the part that kept me from really enjoying it. Allow me to elaborate.
As I said above, I loved the idea of villages on the backs of sea turtles warring with each other and with the nagas, the creatures that harried the Turtles at every turn. I also thought the idea of Handlers and Tenders taking care of the rest of the islanders by protecting them was also very cool. The magic system was fairly unique.
Here's the part I didn't like: As with some other Young Adult books, I found some logical flaws in the worldbuilding. Just as I found the faction system in Divergent to be illogical and the fact that the other three houses allowed Slitheren to exist among them knowing what buttheads they are, I just didn't buy the culture of the Turtles.
Survival is key on the Turtles and people become Handlers, Tenders, or Artisans if they have the aptitude and pass the test. Everyone else becomes farmers and are the only caste that breeds and they are looked down upon because of it. Huh? If survival is key, wouldn't you want the people with the talent breeding? Where do the inhabitants of the Turtles think babies come from? Also, this takes place in the chaste world of YA so there is no thought given to casual sex. Even if people on an island looked down on getting married, I guarantee there would still be people giving in to their throbbing biological urges.
All that aside, I still enjoyed the story of Tenjat rising from his orphan roots to become a handler. The romance with Avi was predictable and seemed bolted on but wasn't nauseating so I gave it a pass. I found the world refreshingly original, despite my problems with it. The ending was satisfying, if a bit pat.
The good and the bad balance out and since I liked it more than I disliked it, I'm giving it a three. It had to work for it, though.(less)
After surviving two Hunger Games, Katniss finds herself as the face of a revolution. Can Katniss lead the rebels to victory against President Snow and...moreAfter surviving two Hunger Games, Katniss finds herself as the face of a revolution. Can Katniss lead the rebels to victory against President Snow and the Capitol?
The Hunger Games trilogy comes to a conclusion in this volume, a conclusion that tends to polarize people. Without giving too much away, the ending was actually one of the parts of the book I liked the best.
The story coming out of the previous volume, Catching Fire, sees Katniss uniting the districts against the Capitol, primarily through propaganda films. Peeta, on the other hand, is used in counter-broadcasts by the Capitol in an attempt to undermine the rebellion. Issues are raised that leads Katniss to believe that Coin, the president of District 13, may not have her best interests at heart.
Sounds good, right? It was, for the most part. I liked that Collins didn't do all the expected things. Characters died left and right. Katniss assassinates someone. Katniss' choice in lovers is finally made for her.
My main gripe with Mockingjay is that Katniss has been on a downhill slide since the Hunger Games, going from being a capable fighter to someone that has meltdowns pretty consistently throughout. Even at the end, I still didn't care about either of her love interests. Cinna or Finnick would have made a better companion.
So that's it for me and the Hunger Games. Overall, I'd give the trilogy a high three. I think Collins may have been better served to condense it into two books, though. Or even leave the Hunger Games as a standalone.(less)
In the wake of The Hunger Games, insurrection brews, an insurrection Katniss has unknowingly become the symbol of. President Snow expresses his disple...moreIn the wake of The Hunger Games, insurrection brews, an insurrection Katniss has unknowingly become the symbol of. President Snow expresses his displeasure with Katniss in the only way he knows how. Can Katniss and the other victors of the Hunger Games survive the Quarter Quell?
Here we are, the middle book of the Hunger Games trilogy. In a lot of ways, it feels like a transitional book. In some others, it feels like a rehash of the first one.
I liked seeing how the Hunger Games changed the lives of Katniss, Peeta, and the rest of District 12. Katniss' relationships with Gale and Peeta both moved along. Seeing the other districts as the Victory Tour moved along was a nice bit of world building. I also liked that Haymitch's past was explored a bit. President Snow and his controlling of Katniss made my skin crawl. I can't wait until someone settles his hash in the third book.
Of the new characters introduced, I have to say Finnick is by far my favorite. The carnage level was ramped up significantly in the death match part of the story. The combatants were a lot more capable and the threats were much much worse. The nerve gas in particular is going to stick with me.
The growing unrest really makes this feel like a transitional book. It almost feels like the Empire Strikes Back at times. Instead of the whole "Ben, why didn't you tell me?" at the end, it's (view spoiler)[Haymitch. (hide spoiler)]
Still, I didn't like it as much as I did the first book. It was a little been there, done that, especially in the end. Also, Katniss seems to have taken a step back. She seemed very strong in the first book but not so much in this one. Also, I know the whole Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle is supposed to be a big part of the story but Gale doesn't get developed enough for me to really care about him and Peeta's feelings for Katniss are a little on the unbelievable side given Katniss barely gives him the time of day most of the time.
Three stars, possibly 3.5. On to Mockingjay! Time to boat this bass.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
In a dystopian future, Katniss Everdeen takes her younger sister's place as District 12's representative in the Hunger Games, a 24 person free-for-all...moreIn a dystopian future, Katniss Everdeen takes her younger sister's place as District 12's representative in the Hunger Games, a 24 person free-for-all broadcast on live TV. Will she walk out of the Games alive?
So, I've been avoiding the Hunger Games for years. It has several strikes against it: 1. It's a young adult book 2. The enormous amount of hype 3. The fact that it appears on the surface to be a combination of two Stephen King books, The Long Walk and The Running Man
The other night, I was talking about the Robert Crais book I just finished and my lovely girlfriend asked when I was going to start reading the Hunger Games. Monday, I said. She was making country fried steak that night. What else could I do? Lucky for me, the country fried steak and the Hunger Games were both great.
Suzanne Collins crafted quite a tale in the Hunger Games. From the start, I was impressed with her lead characters. Katniss's personality reflected her background nicely. She wasn't cutesy or even particularly charismatic when the story started and was definitely rough around the edges. Peeta's questionable motivations kept the story moving for much of the book.
The Hunger Games themselves reminded me of the Stephen King books I mentioned earlier and also Lord of the Flies. I never had the safety net feeling that I had while reading other YA fare like Harry Potter. The way the story was told in the present tense gave it an urgent feel that kept me turning pages until my bedtime had come and gone.
Any gripes? Just the usual curmudgeonly ones about it being the first in the series with a lot of dangling threads left to be resolved in the two subsequent books. It was an easy four star read.
When the Shogun demands someone bring him an arashitora (griffin), a group of adventurers gos on an airship voyage to capture the beast, long thought...moreWhen the Shogun demands someone bring him an arashitora (griffin), a group of adventurers gos on an airship voyage to capture the beast, long thought to be extinct. The airship goes down and a girl named Yukiko befriends the captured arashitora. Can the two of them be reunited with Yukiko's friends and overthrow the Shogun?
I received this ARC from the fine folks at St. Martin's. It's freeness does not diminish its awesomeness.
Not too long ago, I got an email asking if I wanted to give Stormdancer a try. Once I read the phrases "steampunk feudal Japan" and "free," I was sold.
Stormdancer takes place in a fantasy version of feudal Japan, one with an environment fouled by the blood lotus, a plant that blights the land but has many beneficial properties, like being smoked or turned into a super-fuel. Thus, the island nation of Shima has an impressive empire, ruled by mad and cruel Shogun.
Yukiko, the heroine, is the daughter of an aging hero Masaru, The Black Fox, and a yokai, one of the people touched by the spirits. The Yokai are relentlessly hunted by The Lotus Guild, armored machine-men who keep the Shima technology moving forward.
If I had one gripe about the book, it's that it takes a little while for the main plot to kick off. To be fair, though, there is a ton of worldbuilding that needs to be done before then. Anyway, once Yukiko meets the arashitora, the book grabs on tight and doesn't let go. I found myself getting really attached to the characters and probably would have went into seclusion if Buruu had died. The relationship between Buruu and Yukiko was my favorite part of the book.
You know how most steampunk seems to be Paranormal Romance with some gears and brass added on? Stormdancer is not one of those. This book is jam packed with interesting concepts, like the Iron Samurai, the Lotus Guild, ninja cells with agents hidden everywhere, yokai, the list goes on and on. Still skeptical? Two words: chainsaw katana.
The ending was poignant yet satisfying. If one were so inclined, one could read this book and not read the subsequent volumes and be satisfied. I'll be continuing, though. Stormdancer is the most original science fiction/fantasy novel I've read in a long time. Five easy stars.
Note: I did a blog interview with Jay Kristoff here. He's a hilarious guy so buy his book.
Art and Myrtle Mumby live in Larklight, a house that orbits Earth beyond the moon, with their father, their mother having disappeared years earlier an...moreArt and Myrtle Mumby live in Larklight, a house that orbits Earth beyond the moon, with their father, their mother having disappeared years earlier and thought dead in an aethership wreck, until one day, monstrous white spiders attack Larklight and send them scurrying. Can Art and Myrtle save their father, Larklight, and the entire British Empire?
First off, if I was thirteen, this would be my favorite book of all time. Larklight takes place in the 1850s, only it's an 1850's with Jules Verne-esque space travel and space is as it was thought in the Victorian era. The moon is covered with desert and giant mushrooms, Venus is a lush plant-world, and monstrous white spiders from Saturn's rings threaten to topple the British Empire of space. Interested yet?
Philip Reeve crafted one hell of an adventure tale here, fit for kids of all ages. The dry British wit kept the story going, even in the slower parts. I LOVE the world Reeve created for this book, from the pseudo-science of the aether ships to the hover hogs, pigs that thrive in zero gravity and get around by farting.
The characters are very much in the mold of those in Victorian literature: modest, prudish, and very dry. Except for Jack Havock and the space pirates, I mean. Also, Richard Burton, Warlord of Mars, is hardly prudish with his hot Martian wife.
Reeve draws from a lot of sources dear to my heart in Larklight, like Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, and many others. I'm anxious to see what he draws from the well in the next two books. It also reminded me of other books, like Celestial Matters or Beyond the Moons. Steampunk fans also won't want to pass this up.
So what didn't I like? Not a lot, really. I found some of the twists to be predictable but that's owing to the fact I'm about double (or possibly triple) the target age for this. Like I said, if I was thirteen, I'd think it was the greatest book ever written. I'm giving it a four mostly out of sheer inventiveness and enjoyment level.(less)
In a dystopian future wracked with environmental disaster, a young salvager named Nailer's world is turned upside down when he stumbles upon the find...moreIn a dystopian future wracked with environmental disaster, a young salvager named Nailer's world is turned upside down when he stumbles upon the find of a lifetime, a magnificent clipper ship, and and its beautiful owner, a rich girl named Nita...
Paolo Baciglupi crafted quite a tale in Ship Breaker. You've got familial conflict, ecological disaster, young love, dystopia, what's not to like?
Not a lot, frankly. The world Bacigalupi has created is quite something. The cultures are very believable, especially in today's uncertain economic and ecological times. Nailer, Nita, and the others are three dimensional characters and Ship Breaker easily rises above just being another young adult novel.
Did I mention I loved the cultures depicted within? The scavengers had a rough yet believable life and Nita's transformation from swank to pseudo-scavenger was very well-done.
One thing that was foremost in my mind was Paolo Bacigalupi's skills as a writer. When Nailer was in danger of drowning in oil, I found myself getting more and more frantic, even though, rationally, I knew that since 300 pages were left, he'd probably survive.
While a lot of people mention the budding romance between Nailer and Nita, by far my favorite part was the filial showdown between Nailer and his father. Yeah, I'm way past the point in my life where I feel like kicking my dad's ass but I remember those days.
Actually, the plot is my least favorite part of the book. The world-building easily super-cedes it. The characters and the world take center stage. Yeah, it wouldn't have been as good if it had ended differently but what are you going to do.
Four easy stars. Don't let the YA label sway you.(less)
In a dystopian near future, teenagers Connor and Risa are sentenced to be unwound. When their paths cross with a tithe named Lev, they flee the world...moreIn a dystopian near future, teenagers Connor and Risa are sentenced to be unwound. When their paths cross with a tithe named Lev, they flee the world they know and become fugitives. But how long can they run before the past catches up with them...?
Imagine a world where abortion is illegal but it's perfectly acceptable to have disagreeable children unwound, that is, disassembled and their organs given to waiting recipients, when they are between the ages of 13 and 18? That's the basic premise behind Unwound and it's not as farfetched as I want it to be. Is forced organ donation really that far outside of what happens today?
Unwind is a fast-paced YA novel dealing with the ethics of what happens to unwanted children and the consequences. Shusterman introduce such concepts as unwinding, storking (abandoning unwanted children on doorsteps), and tithing (people raised specifically to be unwound.) Chilling, yes?
The characters drive the story forward at a cheetah's pace. Connor, the lead, gets most of the time, as does Roland, his bullying nemesis. Lev and Risa, while important, don't shine as much as the approaching conflict between Connor and Roland. While I thought I knew how things would turn out, there were quite a few unexpected wrinkles along the way, like CyFy, the Graveyard, the Admiral, and the Clappers.
I don't really want to get into specifics for fear of revealing to much of what happens. Suffice to say, I found Shusterman's writing very suited to the tale he was telling and the worldbuilding was superb. Much like The Handmaid's Tale, the world seemed alien at first glance but really isn't that far removed from our own, making it all the more chilling. It's a five star read, the only complaint I can think of is that I wanted it to be longer.(less)
Nineteen year old cab driver Ed Kennedy foils a bank robbery and soon finds himself receiving cryptic messages in the mail written on playing cards. E...moreNineteen year old cab driver Ed Kennedy foils a bank robbery and soon finds himself receiving cryptic messages in the mail written on playing cards. Each card bears hints toward three people Ed must help in some way. Will Ed ever find out who is behind is mysterious messages?
Apart from books by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, this is my first foray into young adult literature and I enjoyed it immensely.
I think the first thing that pulled me in was that Ed is a lot like I was at nineteen. I like to think I had a little more confidence but I had no idea what I wanted to do either and I'm reasonably sure I was secretly in love with a girl who was only interested in being friends at the time as well. And hell, I'm damn sure I would have taken up the messenger role like Ed did had I gotten playing cards in the mail.
The supporting cast was very well done, from Ed's friends Marv, Ritchie, and Audrey, to the people he bore messages to, like Sophie, Milla, and the spoilerific rest of them.
The writing was superb. I liked Ed's self-deprecating sense of humor and found a lot of parts very touching. (view spoiler)[I even shed some silent man tears when Marv met his daughter for the first time. (hide spoiler)] The ending wasn't anything I predicted but it ended well.
I had a lot more to say about this while I was reading it but got caught up in the story and forgot most of what I'd planned. Kind of like waking from a dream and resolving to write it down in the morning, then not being able to remember anything at all. It reminded me of G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday for a few brief moments but I'm not sure why.
Five easy stars. I'll be reading more YA and Markus Zusak in the future.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Urged on by his guardian cousins, young Sham Yes ap Soorap gets apprenticed to a doctor on a moletrain, riding the Railsea in search of moldywarpe, gi...moreUrged on by his guardian cousins, young Sham Yes ap Soorap gets apprenticed to a doctor on a moletrain, riding the Railsea in search of moldywarpe, giant moles hunted for food. Captain Naphi of the Medes, the train Sham sails aboard, is obsessed with Mocker Jack, the biggest moldywarpe of them all, & will do anything to find her prey...
Remember that game you used to play when you were a kid, when the living room floor was either molten lava or shark-infested waters, & you had to leap from chair to couch to coffee table & never touch the floor? That's what the world of Railsea reminds me of, covered in miles & miles of rail, most exposed earth harboring moldywarpes, mole rats, worms, & many other malevolent beasties.
In Railsea, China Mieville tells a tale inspired by Moby Dick, the tale of a young orphan named Sham, a captain obsessed with a mole the size of a building, & the other denizens of the Railsea, a world of dangerous fauna, megatons of salvage, & untold parsecs of rail.
The sheer inventiveness of Mieville's world is staggering. As in Kraken, China shook the idea tree hard on this one. As outlandish as it is, the setting of Railsea isn't all that hard to imagine.
The story feels like Moby Dick at first, but with tastes of Treasure Island & Robinson Crusoe as well. It also reminds me of a more accessible version of China's Bas-Lag books. Captain Naphi's obsession with Mocker Jack echoes Captain Ahab's, although Ahab never had pirates, angles, & the edge of the world to contend with.
Sham's meeting with the Shroakes is what makes the book veer away from being a take off on Moby Dick and become its own animal. A colossal mole, perhaps. I had my doubts about Caldera and Dero Shroakes at first but things really came together at the end. And what an end it was! (view spoiler)[I love the final image of Sham, the Shroakes, and Captain Naphi sailing beyond the end of the world. (hide spoiler)]
I don't have anything bad to say about this book, although the use of "&" in place of "and" took a little getting used to. It's the most accessible of China Mieville's books & a damn fine book as well. Don't let the YA label fool you. It's a solid & satisfying read at any age.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
**spoiler alert** Things are hostile toward witches on The Chalk and Tiffany Aching aims to find out why. But how can she with the future mother-in-la...more**spoiler alert** Things are hostile toward witches on The Chalk and Tiffany Aching aims to find out why. But how can she with the future mother-in-law of the new baron gunning for her? Can the Nac Mac Feegle help her clear her name and the name of witches everywhere?
Terry Pratchett has been one of my "buy everything" authors for years now and this book is a good example why. It would be easy for old Pratch to phone it in at this point. He's written something like 50 Discworld books and has been stricken with early onset Altzheimers. I'm proud to say there was no phoning in, or even texting in, in this one.
Like all of the Discworld books, this book is about something. It's about prejudice and mass hysteria, how seemingly rational people can be driven to do some pretty irrational things. It's funny how a lot of people dismiss the Discworld books as fantasy parody when they're so much more.
The Nac Mac Feegle, demented Scottish smurfs that they are, provide comic relief as always. Preston, the guard who's too smart to be a guard, provided a believable future love interest for Tiffany. Tiffany herself has come a long way since the Wee Free Men. Her grace The Duchess was such a foul villainess I couldn't wait to see her taken down a peg. The Cunning Man was pretty horrible as far as Pratchett villains go. And the cameos by Vimes, Nanny Ogg, and Granny Weatherwax were worth the price of admission.
Something that not many people mention, Terry Pratchett does a lot to advance the concept of the fantasy witch as more than juts a cackling hag. He portrays them more like shaman or jacks of all trades, doing whatever is necessary for the people in their steading.
So why a four? Why not five? I'll tell you, Arnold. For one thing, the ending was a little too easy. For another, too many plot threads were swept under the rug. Amber, the girl who's dad beat the hell out of her, was forgotten for most of the book after spending time with the kelda of the Nac Mac Feegle. The Duchess, likewise, was defused at the wedding near the end and it seemed out of character. The thread of Letitia being a witch came out of left field and also didn't go very far. It could be that old Pratch is planning another Tiffany Aching novel but I was under the impression that this one is the last.
All in all, this was a worthy addition to the Tiffany Aching saga and the Discworld series. Lots of laughs and also some thought provoking stuff.(less)
Grandpa Wilde has disappeared and it's up to Doc Wilde and his two kids to track him down. What does Grandpa's disappearance have to do with a mysteri...moreGrandpa Wilde has disappeared and it's up to Doc Wilde and his two kids to track him down. What does Grandpa's disappearance have to do with a mysterious photo of him beside a strange frog-shaped cave?
Doc Wilde is an adventure pulp in the vein of Doc Savage, whom Grandpa Wilde is a dead ringer for. If I was twenty years younger, it would quite possibly be one of my favorite books. How many YA books do you know of that feature dark matter, the Cthulhu mythos, and nanites, all wrapped in a Doc Savage style adventure tale?
My gripes with this book are minor and all involve the format. The two page chapters were annoying, as were the sound effects and word balloons inserted into the text.(less)
A Dark Traveling was very interesting. I wish Zelazny would have written a sequel or three.
Jim is a fourteen year old werewolf. His sister is a witch...moreA Dark Traveling was very interesting. I wish Zelazny would have written a sequel or three.
Jim is a fourteen year old werewolf. His sister is a witch and they live with their father Tom and an exchange student named Barry. Tom works for some kind of parallel universe monitoring agency. At the beginning of the book, Tom goes missing, and the equipment he uses to monitor and travel to other dimensions is damaged. Jim, Becky, and Barry spend the rest of the book trying to find him and in the process learn some things about the fate of Jim's missing mother.
Zelazny is always a treat when you're looking for a short read. A Dark Traveling is a good example of this. I think it took about two hours to read. Although there wasn't a whole lot of action, Zelazny kept me interested with the plot development and details about the world. I like that the parallel worlds were divided into lightbands, deadbands, and darkbands, aka good, lifeless, and evil. The cosmology reminded me of Neil Gaiman's Interworld. Gaiman's a Zelazny fan so that's not surprising.
I'd recommend this to Zelazny fans and fans of parallel universe type stuff.(less)
I pre-ordered this almost a full year before it came out. It was worth the wait.
At first glance, The Graveyard Book reminded me of A Fine and Private...moreI pre-ordered this almost a full year before it came out. It was worth the wait.
At first glance, The Graveyard Book reminded me of A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle. While I'm sure there's some Beagle in its parentage, the afterward mentions the Jungle Book as an inspiration.
Nobody Owens is an orphan boy raised by all the ghosts living (or unliving) in a graveyard. Each chapter in the book takes place in a different year of Bod's young life with his family's murderer lurking in the background.
Each story both stands well on its own or part of a larger whole. The reader gets to see Bod go from being a toddler to a young adult, having adventures and making friends (and enemies) along the way. I have to confess that I squeezed back a few man tears at the end.
Highly recommended but with the caveat that it's a young adult book. Not that that stops it from being a great story.