Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: After the Golden Age

Most people dream of having superheroes for parents, but not Celia West. The only daughter of Captain Olympus and Spark, the world's greatest champions, she has no powers of her own, and the most exciting thing she's ever done is win a silver medal in a high school swim meet. Meanwhile, she's the favorite hostage of every crime boss and supervillain in Commerce City. She doesn't have a code name, but if she did, it would probably be Bait Girl, the Captive Wonder.

Rejecting her famous family and its legacy, Celia has worked hard to create a life for herself beyond the shadow of their capes, becoming a skilled forensic accountant. But when her parents' archenemy, the Destructor, faces justice in the "Trial of the Century," Celia finds herself sucked back into the more-than-mortal world of Captain Olympus—and forced to confront a secret that she hoped would stay buried forever.

I'd heard of Carrie Vaughn, but had never read anything by her. I decided to change that. Her Kitty Norville novels are pretty popular, so she probably knows what she's doing. I’ll get around to reading those one day, too. I swear I could have an entire year dedicated to urban fantasy… Anyway, After the Golden Age sounds like a fun read. I doubt it will be anything too spectacular (the premise is really Sky High-y). I just hope the main character, Celia, isn't annoying, and there will be a decent romantic arc. I could use a little romance. Ahh, romance…

If I had to define this book in one word, I'd choose "average". It was entertaining, but there was something about it that felt... flat. I don't know how to describe it. The characters were fine, the plot was fine (only slightly predictable) and the romance was fine. I guess that's the problem. It was all just "fine". It was missing "the spark". I’ll admit I read the entire book in one day, but not because I frantically wanted to know how it was going to end. Mainly because I didn’t really have anything else to do (well, that’s a lie. I always have something to do).

How could After the Golden Age find its spark? Beats me. There wasn't anything horrible dragging this book down. It just... wasn't. I hope Vaughn's other books have more… life, I guess. I have a bunch of titles by her on my to-read list. But this was a disappointing introduction to the author. I won't be rushing to read the sequel about Celia's daughter, Anna. Though, I do want to know if Typhoon stays in retirement forever. Which, in retrospect, is sad because Typhoon wasn’t a main character. She only appeared in 40% of the book. But I care more about her future than Celia’s.

What to give After the Golden Age? I want to give it 4 stars because I was engaged and enjoying my time reading it. But that seems too high. So... 3 out of 5 stars. It wasn't excellent, it wasn't horrible, it was just "fine".

Next week I'll be reviewing... Pure by Julianna Baggott

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book Review: Vicious by Victoria Schwab

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

WARNING: This review is dark and full of spoilers.

I don’t expect much from this book. I’ve never read any of Schwab’s other works. I usually read novels with female POVs. I love romance, even if there’s just a hint. From the summary, Vicious doesn’t seem to fit my usual mold at all. But, hey, maybe it will surprise me. It sounds like it could be fun.

Well, that was the most wonderful, fucked up thing I’ve ever read in my entire existence.

I’ll admit. I was skeptical. The timeline in this book was all over the place (we jumped from two days ago to ten years ago to half-an-hour until midnight). Sometimes there were POV switches within a sentence. It was jarring to say the least. But the characters saved the day.

I love morally ambiguous characters. It’s probably the reason I’m such a huge Game of Thrones/ASOIAF fanatic. But the characters in Vicious were more than morally ambiguous—some were “morally lacking”. Being in Eli’s head was a real treat because he was a great psychopath. Being in Victor’s head was a real treat because he was a great psychopath. I know people think this book is about superheroes and supervillians (that is how it was promoted, anyway), but it’s really not. It’s actually about two supervillians, with one worse than the other (but both are pretty bad). The only characters in Vicious anywhere close to being “good guys” were Sydney and her dog, Dol. That’s it. Just a girl and a dog.

Of course, morally ambiguous/corrupt characters can’t carry an entire novel by themselves. They need a good story. Schwab weaved an exciting one of betrayal and revenge. I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen. The ending was definitely something I couldn’t ever predict. Actually, I’m a little disappointed with the ending, but only because it ended. I wanted to see how Victor, Sydney and Mitch moved on with their lives after Eli. Did they stay together? Did Victor keep his powers? Did they become true heroes eventually? But I guess I’ll never know. That kills me a bit inside. I think that speaks volumes to how much I enjoyed Vicious.

Vicious was a thrilling, messed-up ride of a novel. I loved every bit of it. It’s worthy of all of the five stars I’m giving it.

Next week I’ll be reviewing... After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn (another superhero book!)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book Review: Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland

Zephyr Mourning has never been very good at being a Harpy. She’d rather watch reality TV than learn forty-seven ways to kill a man, and she pretty much sucks at wielding magic. Zephyr was ready for a future pretending to be a normal human instead of a half-god assassin. But all that changes when her sister is murdered—and she uses a forbidden dark power to save herself from the same fate.

Zephyr is on the run from a punishment worse than death when an unexpected reunion with a childhood friend changes everything. It seems like Zephyr might just be the Nyx, a dark goddess who is prophesied to change the power balance. For hundreds of years the half-gods have lived in fear, and Zephyr is supposed to change that.

But how is she supposed to save everyone when she can’t even save herself?

WARNING: This review is dark and full of spoilers


How did this get published? The summary makes is sounds like an ordinary paranormal story with a want-to-be-normal supergirl destined to save the world. Is every troupe that ever existed going to be in this story? ‘Cause it sure sounds like it. Also… Zephyr Mourning? What kind of name is that? Why can’t the want-to-be-normal supergirl destined to save the world ever be named Sally?

Surprisingly, this book was awesome! It’s nothing new or inspiring, but it was a fun read. Zephyr, despite her Special Snowflake name, was a down-to-earth, modern girl (despite being a Harpy). She reacted exactly how I think most people would react if they were told they were the Chosen One. I’d personally go for “Bitch, you’re crazy”. While her denial got a bit annoying right at the end, it was a refreshing change from some heroines who wholeheartedly embrace their destiny minutes after finding out about it. Zephyr didn’t believe she was anything special, which made her a tolerable character.

For me, it really was the humor of this book that reeled me in. Without any of the laughs, Promise of Shadows would’ve been dull and clichéd. But the characters, and some of the situations, were really funny. I was able to read this book in a day, partly because of the humor. While a strong concept will make people pick up a book, I think humor is what makes people continue reading. It really is the best entertainment, especially when paired with fight scenes and a smoldering romance.

I think some people will find the clichés and troupe in this book too hard to ignore. There was one point where Zephyr’s father reveals himself by dramatically stating, “I am your father.” I burst out in laughter and almost had to put the book down. I don’t know anyone who could read that line without picturing: 

Promise of Shadows was entertaining and amusing, but heavily clichéd and troupe-y. If you’re looking for something like you’ve never read before, you won’t find enjoy Promise of Shadows. If you just want to have a good time, though, give this book a chance. It will surprise you. It surprised me, so I’ll give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Next week I’ll be reviewing... Vicious by Victoria Schwab


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

WARNING: This review is dark and full of spoilers

I’m drawn to this book because of the cover. It’s very pretty and artsy, but probably doesn’t have a lot (or any) symbolic meaning. But it caught my attention, so I guess it worked. The story summary sounds interesting enough (I’m currently binge-watching Doctor Who, so, “yay, time travel!”). The last line about everything changing when Prenna falls for Ethan made me gag. My favorite books are ones where romance is the sub-plot, not the entire story. If the romance is the entire story, why bother with the time travel? Just to suck in fantasy readers like me?  But I’ll still read it. The book isn’t very thick and the font is pretty big. It’ll be a quick read. And it’s by Ann Brashares, author of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. I’ve only seen the movies, but she can’t be that bad of a story teller if she has a bestseller under her belt. Can she…? We’ll see.

I didn’t like the first half of this book. At all. It started with the prologue. Ethan, the love interest, is fishing all by his lonesome when Prenna James appears in the middle of the forest, butt-naked. Ethan describes her as “supernaturally beautiful, like a mermaid or elvish princess”. So, basically, Prenna looks like a blended version of Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Arwen from Lord of the Rings. When we meet Prenna later in the books, we see she’s a timid girl with only a few friends. Egh. Beautiful, shy and friendless. Where have I seen this before? Oh, yeah, in 50% of the YA books I’ve ever read. If Prenna’s going to be a Mary Sue, we need her Gary Sue. And we find him in Ethan. He’s a popular guy who’s friends with everyone, but he’s also a good-hearted, kind person. I just threw up in my mouth a little.

Once you get past their stereotypical characterization, Prenna and Ethan aren’t that bad. By the end, Prenna isn’t making stupid decisions and Ethan becomes an actual character. They’re tolerable. But it wasn’t just the flat characters that bothered me in the first half. I think The Here and Now needed a bit more editing. There are a few places where the writing is choppy because Brashares didn’t use contractions. If she was trying to make Prenna sound old-fashioned (which makes no sense since she’s from the future), Brashares should have had every possible contraction removed instead of just a few random assed one. There were also multiple occasions in the first half where Prenna broke the fourth wall and started talking to the audience. They were gone by the mid-point, but it was a huge distraction to be ripped out of the book like that.

This book was very predictable. When the homeless man, “Ben Kenobi”, asked to speak to Prenna and started telling her she had to change the future, it was obvious the man was her father. He was mentioned so often, anyone reading would’ve known he was going to show up any second. On a site note, Prenna said she had great deductions skills, but she was in denial about “Kenobi” being her father even after she had solid proof. I guess Brashares could defend herself by saying Prenna didn’t want to believe he was her father. I’ll accept that, but it’s kind of weak. Moving back to the predictability of the story, I guessed Ethan was the important one Prenna had to save and not Mona, whom they spent the entire story trying to save. While my guess was never 100% confirmed, it was validated by Prenna stopping his death and the revelation of his potential future as a great scientist.

The second half of the story was better. There was more time than I wanted focused on the romance. They ate a lot of meals, shared secrets and played cards. The good part came when they actually got around to saving the future. The ending was strong enough that I’d read a sequel to find out what happens to Prenna, Ethan and the whole time travelling community.

Random Thought:
-This book is going to date itself real quick. The first chapter is titled April 23, 2014. I understand why they needed dates. It’s a time travel novel. But I feel they could’ve kept the future dates and found a way to work around the current dates. Anyone reading this book in a year will find it “old” just because the events happened in 2014.

Despite the weak writing, poor characterization and predictable plot at the beginning, The Here and Now wasn’t a complete waste of time. The end of the story, and how it unfolded, was interesting and kept my attention. But to get to the good parts, you have to wade through all the bad. I think the starts of The Here and Now deserves 2 stars. But the end gets four starts. So I’ll average it out to 3 stars.