Action/Adventure/Suspense/Thriller, Science Fiction

Review: Genius: The Game

Cover of "Genius: The Game" featuring an iridescent image of a brain above the word "Genius" spelled out in a connect-the-dots style
Image from Fierce Reads

Title: Genius: The Game

Author: Leopoldo Gout

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Trigger warnings: None (I think)

Back cover:

Trust no one. Every camera is an eye. Every microphone an ear. Find me and we can stop him together.

The Game: Get ready for Zero Hour as 200 geniuses from around the world go head to head in a competition hand-devised by India’s youngest CEO and visionary.

The Players:
Rex – One of the best programmers/hackers in the world, this 16-year-old Mexican-American is determined to find his missing brother.
Tunde – This 14-year-old self-taught engineering genius has drawn the attention of a ruthless military warlord by single-handedly bringing electricity and internet to his small Nigerian village.
Painted Wolf – One of China’s most respected activist bloggers, this mysterious 16-year-old is being pulled into the spotlight by her father’s new deal with a corrupt Chinese official.

The Stakes: Are higher than you can imagine. Like life and death. Welcome to the revolution. And get ready to run.

Review:

I picked this up on a whim, partially because the characters looked interesting and partly because my boyfriend and I are thinking about moving into the tech industry and for some reason I was thinking about that while I was at the library. (Also the book feels satisfyingly heavy in your hands despite being not thick, so that was a nice bonus.)

For as much action as there was in here, the book really didn’t feel long. It took me probably 1.5 hours of reading, total, to finish. And it was good.

The characters are pretty much what you get from the back cover: Rex, son of illegal Mexican immigrants, excellent hacker looking for his missing brother Teo; Tunde, Nigerian engineering genius; and Painted Wolf/Cai, Chinese secret activist with epic spy skills. They all had their own “thing” (Rex’s coding, Tunde building things from junk, and Cai’s leadership and spy cameras that solve every problem), and were all so brilliant that I often forgot how young they were. (Although the series is literally called “Genius,” so I don’t know what I expected.) The only bad part was all three were narrators and occasionally I lost track of who was speaking. (The transitions weren’t always obvious.)

As much as The Game features in the back cover, it actually wasn’t as big of a plot point as I expected. It was more of a means to an end. Rex went because he needed access to a quantum computer to find his brother. Tunde went because a corrupt general told him to win or watch his village be wiped out. Cai went to help Tunde and foil the plan of the Indian CEO/visionary who created The Game. The Game was epic and awesome, but it was more of a backdrop for the other plots.

There was also some fantastic tension – every chapter starts with a countdown to “Zero Hour,” the end of The Game, and there’s so much of a time crunch going on that it feels super fast-paced, even though it isn’t.

This book was very unique. Take the Hunger Games but make them a technological competition, add a cup of Mission: Impossible, throw in a tablespoon of hacking, a teaspoon each of riddles, conspiracies, and engineering, and a pinch of death threats, and you’ll get something close to Genius: The Game.

The surprising thing about it is that it wrapped up pretty well. Sure, there’s a lot of loose threads left, leaving a lot of interesting stuff for the sequel (Genius: The Con, releasing in August) to cover. But it also isn’t a bad stopping point on its own and wrapped up pretty satisfyingly. If I happen to run across Genius: The Con in the library, I’ll probably pick it up. But I won’t go out of my way for it.

The Genius series:

  1. Genius: The Game
  2. Genius: The Con (August 1, 2017)
High Fantasy

Review: Huntress

The cover of Huntress, featuring a black-haired girl wearing a black dress holding a long staff in front of her.
Image from Malinda Lo

Title: Huntress

Author: Malinda Lo

Genre: High Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Violence/blood/gore

Back Cover:

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Taninli, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

Review:

I picked this up mainly because fantasy gays. (Seriously, I had been complaining to my boyfriend earlier that afternoon about how there weren’t enough fantasy books with gay people and discovered this on my trip to the library.) I’ve also heard good things about Malinda Lo, so that was also a plus.

Even though there are some chapters from Taisin’s perspective, most of the book focuses on Kaede (but then again, so does most of the action). At the beginning, she’s at a school for sages, but she’s not very good at the magic stuff and prefers to be out in the garden or throw knives with the groundskeeper – kinda the stereotypical tomboy misfit. She has a bit of angst going on, but she’s still a fun character.

Taisin is Kaede’s complete opposite, a quiet, studious, and extremely gifted sage. You don’t get to know her as well as Kaede throughout the book, but I got enough to feel almost protective of her – yeah, she’s crazy powerful, but she’s also just a sweet little innocent girl who’s not really cut out for all the dangerous adventuring. Her and Kaede are a classic case of “opposites attract” and it’s adorable.

As far as plot goes, it was actually a pretty creative one. Most of the story focuses on Kaede and Taisin’s journey to the land of the Fairies, and the adventures and mishaps that happen along the way.  …Put that way it sounds pretty tame, but it definitely was not. (In case you couldn’t tell from the trigger warning.) People die. Sometimes very violently. Our main characters also have to kill some things. It’s a lot darker than I expected, but in a good way.

Some things I’ve seen about this book (online and also on the back cover) talked about its “Asian flair,” but though I was excited about that, it really didn’t come through at all for me. There was nothing in the setting that I recognized as Asian, the fairy part felt very Western … if you stretch a little bit I suppose you could describe some of the settings as Asian, but I didn’t see any of the Asian flair it promised, which was disappointing.

One thing that was refreshing, though, was there didn’t seem to be any homophobia in this society. It’s made clear in the beginning that some students at Kaede and Taisin’s all-girls school had clandestine relationships, and no one seems to bat an eye when they discover Kaede is only into girls (except her father, but that seems to be only because he wants to marry her off to a man for political reasons). It was kinda nice that Kaede and Taisin could be awkwardly and adorably gay without dealing with disapproving people.

Also, if you’re looking for a happy ending, this is not your book. (But it’s still a good read despite that.)

The main plot wraps up really nicely, even if the very end seems a little rushed. But as I thought about it after I finished it, there were a lot of plot threads that were just left dangling and questions that are never answered. And as far as I know, there’s no sequel – you’re just left with the unanswered questions and wondering what happened to those subplots.

Overall, it was a good book. Not great, certainly, but solidly good. I probably wouldn’t read it again, but I don’t regret this read.

Finance/Money

Review: The Total Money Makeover

A picture of the The Total Money Makeover book cover, featuring a smiling Dave Ramsey holding a pair of scissors in the middle of cutting a credit card.
Image from Dave Ramsey

Title: The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

Author: Dave Ramsey

Genre: Finance/Money

Trigger warnings: Fatphobia

Back Cover:

Okay, folks, do you want to turn those fat and flabby expenses into a well-toned budget? Do you want to transform your sad and skinny little bank account into a bulked-up cash machine? Then get with the program, people. There’s one sure way to whip your finances into shape, and that’s with The Total Money Makeover.

By now, you’ve heard all the nutty get-rich-quick schemes, the fiscal diet fads that leave you with a lot of kooky ideas but not a penny in your pocket. Hey, if you’re tired of the lies and sick of the false promises, then take a look at this – it’s the simplest, most straightforward game plan for completely making over your money habits. And it’s based on results, not pie-in-the-sky fantasies.

With The Total Money Makeover, you’ll be able to:

  • Design a surefire plan for paying off all debt – cars, houses, everything
  • Recognize the 10 most dangerous money myths (these will kill you)
  • Secure a big, fat nest egg for emergencies and retirement!

Where Financial Peace gave you the solid saving and investing principles, this book puts those principles into practice. You’ll be exercising your financial strength every day and quickly freeing yourself of worry, stress, and debt – and that’s a beautiful feeling.

Review:

I got this book as a graduation gift … for my high school graduation. It’s technically a reread, but since it’s been over three years since I last read it, I remember very little. (Of the book itself, at least – my parents are huge Dave Ramsey fans so I’ve been through several of his classes and know all the principles.) I’m honestly not sure why I picked it up again, but it’s pretty engaging and didn’t take me too long to get through.

If you’re unfamiliar with Dave Ramsey and his financial principles, this book is a reasonably good introduction (even though I think it’s a sequel-ish thing to his book Financial Peace). This book goes over Dave’s “Baby Steps” to financial security, financial myths that are holding you back, good (and bad) examples of finance management, and even testimonies from people who’ve gone through his program and fixed their financial problems.

Overall, it’s a good book. Not great, just good. It’s inspiring and it teaches good principles and solid money management skills. But it does have some MAJOR problems.

In case you didn’t get the picture from the back cover, the entire book uses the “fat vs. fit” metaphor to talk about budgets. Which honestly, it’s not really a bad metaphor for the idea, but the way he presented it was very fatphobic – bad budgeting/debt/spending more than you make is bad/wrong/negative/stupid … and fat. Good budgeting/saving/investing, on the other hand, gets words like “important,” “excellent,” “fit,” and “lean.” I honestly didn’t notice this when I read it the first time, but now that I’m more aware of fatphobia, it bothered me a lot.

There’s also a bit of subtle ableism going on (or subtle to me as a mostly able-bodied person – if you’re disabled you may find it a lot more obvious). The book is written for people who are working full-time at a non-minimum wage job. And one piece of advice he gives in the “pay off debt fast” section is get a second job (or a third or fourth) to make more money and pay it off faster.

Dave also has a very matter-of-fact way of speaking. In most cases, this isn’t bad – I honestly like how he puts everything in simple English and doesn’t over-complicate anything. The whole book is a remarkably low reading level. However, sometimes his style gets a little too blunt, I think, especially the way he calls financial decisions he doesn’t agree with “stupid.” That’s just a personal pet peeve, though.

If you take a critical look at the salesy part of the book, it actually sounds kinda like a scam. “This way is the ONLY way to do it and it works every time, if it fails it’s because you weren’t intense enough!” is the basic message. Which sounds really like a scam. The only thing I have to say about this is I’ve seen it work for a lot of people. So sometimes it works. I don’t know how necessarily foolproof it is, though.

This book definitely has some huge problems. (For that matter, this is pretty indicative of Dave Ramsey’s stuff in general – it all has similar problems.) But his principles are solid, and if you can look past his “my way or be in debt forever!” preachiness, the fatphobia, and other issues, it’s a pretty inspiring book. And if you want to get your finances under control or figure out how to pay off a lot of debt, it’s worth a read. (Although if you’re disabled in any way it might not be so useful.)

Superhero

Review: Dreadnought

Book cover of Dreadnought by April Daniels, featuring a silhouette of a superhero standing on a hill with a blue cape blowing out behind her.
Image from Booktopia

Title: Dreadnought

Series: Nemesis #1

Author: April Daniels

Genre: Superhero

Trigger warnings: Domestic abuse (verbal and emotional), transphobia

Back Cover:

Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s greatest superhero.

Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, Danny was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But before he expired, Dreadnought passed his mantle to her, and those secondhand superpowers transformed Danny’s body into what she always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.

It should be the happiest time of her life, but Danny’s first weeks finally living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined. Between her father’s dangerous obsession with “curing” her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and her fellow superheroes arguing over her place in their ranks, Danny feels like she’s in over her head.

She doesn’t have time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer – a cyborg named Utopia – still haunts the streets of New Port City, threatening destruction. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

Review:

I heard about this book on Tumblr somewhere when I was looking for some good novels with queer characters. And then I reserved it at the library because A) it was one of the only non-contemporary LGBT books I could find, and B) heck yeah trans girl superheroes!

I read the entire thing in one sitting. Which honestly surprised me because some parts were really difficult – but I just couldn’t put it down.

Not being transgender, I can’t say anything about the realistic-ness of Danny’s struggles, but holy hell were they heart-wrenching. Between her asshole “best friend,” her abusive father (just how abusive gets slowly revealed as the book goes on), and the rampant transphobia among the superhero league in the city, I just wanted to hug her and fix everything for her. And there were several times I found myself mentally screaming to her that none of it was her fault and she’s a wonderful person and … well, I got really, really attached to her.

(Side note: If you’re an abuse survivor, you may find some scenes difficult. I did, but for me it didn’t take away too much from the book – you might have a different experience, though, so proceed with caution.)

The other major character is Calamity, a “graycape” (vigilante) that Danny ends up doing superhero stuff with for a lot of the book. I really liked her – she was the kind of badass been-doing-this-my-whole-life type you’d expect from a book like this, and I liked how her and Danny’s relationship developed. My only problem was that Danny knows her as her alter ego, too, but we only get one (very, very short) scene with her non-superhero side so it felt like I knew a lot about Calamity but nothing about the girl under the mask.

The plot actually has a lot more going on than gets mentioned on the back cover. There’s a major question of “is the Legion Pacifica (the city’s superhero league) trustworthy or not?” There’s Danny and Calamity trying to find Utopia (because besides killing Dreadnought she doesn’t show up until the end). There’s Danny’s coming out to her family and standing up (or not) to her abusive father. And there’s figuring out her powers (which are pretty dang epic), and of course the obligatory rescues and fight scenes and giant mechas destroying the city …

Okay, maybe that last one isn’t obligatory. But it sure made for some awesome mecha-on-apparently-not-indestructible-girl battles.

Overall, some parts were really hard for me to read as an abuse survivor (and other parts would probably be hard for you if you’ve experienced transphobia). But it has a mostly happy ending, the potential for bit of romance in the next book (fingers crossed!) and I couldn’t put it down. I give it two hearty thumbs up and I’m really looking forward to book two!

The Nemesis series:

  1. Dreadnought
  2. Sovereign (July 25, 2017)

 

Science Fiction

Review: The Hues

Banner image with

Title: The Hues

Author: Alex Heberling

Genre: Science Fiction/Postapocalyptic

Trigger warnings: None

Summary:

The Hues is about a group of teenage magical girls who discover their powers just a little too late– the Big Bad is already here and they have only a rudimentary grasp of their abilities and what they’re supposed to be doing. It all hinges on hints and clues regarding the mysterious Jouchi, who may have the answers they seek about how to reclaim their home from the aliens.

Review:

I realize this is not my normal fare for reviews and also that I’ve never reviewed a webcomic before in my life, but bear with me.

I discovered this on Tumblr in a masterpost of … I think it was feminist webcomics? Some kind of webcomic list. Either way, the art and short description (exactly what you see above) intrigued me. So I started reading it. And then I couldn’t stop reading it.

So you know how the Big Bad is already there and they have to discover their powers? Well, the plot starts with an alien attack. And then it just goes from there. There is science fiction alien stuff and postapocalyptic elements . There’s the “who the heck is Jouchi and why are the evil aliens looking for him” thing. And the “most of us are not very good at using our powers” thing. And the “what are we actually supposed to do to stop the aliens” thing. It’s not as much fighting aliens as you might expect, but there’s enough that it satisfies my action-loving brain while still giving plenty of opportunities to grow the characters and their relationships.

The characters! The characters are fantastic and they’re so diverse. There are six of them that the story follows, although there’s one main main one and two secondary-ish main ones (because they come in later in the story) and only one of them is a thin white girl (and only one of them is straight). It’s fantastic.

(I’m not going to give away who is what orientation because that’s part of the plot, but there’s a lesbian, a bisexual, a panromantic asexual, and two who haven’t yet been given a queer identity but who did not deny being not straight. And I’m pretty sure two of them are going to become a romantic thing. I hope. They’re adorable together.)

  • Sami, the main main character, is Indian-American and kinda nerdy – she enjoys writing and spends a lot of time on the internet – and generally cute and sweet and adorable.
  • Andy is white, chubby, and outdoorsy and very friendly and social and generally a wonderful people person that I would love to be friends with.
  • Hannah is the token thin white girl – she’s quiet and prickly and not super friendly but mostly it just seems like she’s got something important on her mind.
  • Lauren is fat and badass and snarky as hell. She doesn’t like being told what to do and can handle herself through anything and is just plain epic.
  • Salime is possibly Hispanic or mixed race (definitely not white, either way). She’s one of the two late-comer characters, and she’s more cautious and analytical and likes to learn things.
  • Addy, the other late-comer, is a dark-skinned fat black girl who is sweet and artsy and creative.

And all of them have EPIC powers!

And just look at this artwork! It’s so gorgeous.

Image with

It’s also set in Columbus, Ohio, which I think is really cool because I’ve been there and it’s not far from where I live now. But that’s just me.

The main downside to it is it’s not finished yet. (Yes, I know I’m reviewing it before it’s finished! But it’s so good I just had to share it with you guys.) But I think it’s almost done, and I’m really really really looking forward to reading the rest of it. And also I plan to buy the books of it. Because reasons.

Okay, this is getting really long, so I’m just going to end with: read it. Seriously, it’s fantastic.

You can read it online for free here!!!

Women's Issues/Feminism

Review: Kick Ass Red Lipstick

All right, first post on the “new and improved” Jalyn Reads! 🙂 

Book cover: "Kick Ass Red Lipstick" in red on a black background; underneath that "Rebel Women Unite" in white
Image from Amazon

Title: Kick Ass Red Lipstick: Rebel Women Unite

Author: Cat Cantrill

Genre: Women’s Issues/Feminism

Trigger warnings: Domestic abuse

Back Cover:

What you thought you knew about yourself was wrong, so very, very wrong…

Our world is ready to explode with a the help of this one thing. We have chapters forming all over the country and world. The author went from a trailer park with two kids to the owner of her own burlesque studio.

Women are given the opportunity to make a real difference

You do not have to settle. You do not have to accept someone treating you poorly. If your husband or boyfriend/girlfriend is a jerk, leave them.

I give you permission to stand up for yourself and do some housekeeping. We, as Kick Ass Red Lipstick, will stand behind you and support you, lipstick ready when you decide that nobody can tell you not to wear lipstick.

There is some adult language in this book. Are you woman enough to deal with that?

Review:

I found this book laying on my boyfriend’s sister’s coffee table over spring break. Any female empowerment message is attractive to me, so I picked it up – and blitzed through it in about 45 minutes, it’s not long.

Overall, the message is good. It’s pretty simple:

  • You don’t have to settle for bad, or even “meh”
  • Follow your passions
  • Take care of yourself – as a priority, not an afterthought

Which is really a message I can get behind, especially since that last point is something I’ve really been getting lately and it’s done wonders for my physical and emotional health.

But anyway.

The only thing that keeps me from giving this book my wholehearted seal of approval is Cat’s approach to empowerment. The book is 50% empowerment and 50% “here’s how you do it, my way is the only way.”

Her biggest thing was the lipstick. Doesn’t matter if you don’t wear makeup at all ever, doesn’t matter if you loathe lipstick with a white-hot passion, you HAVE TO BUY THE LIPSTICK and you HAVE TO WEAR THE LIPSTICK if you’re going to be an empowered woman. Which annoyed me. First of all, part of your message is being true to yourself and if I hate lipstick, forcing me to wear it is the exact opposite of what you’re telling me to do. Secondly, wearing lipstick will have exactly zero effect on anything you’re telling me to do in this book.

*sigh* Okay, rant over.

But besides that, it was a really great book, and it makes a lot of awesome and important points. And if you’re new to the whole empowered woman thing, it’s a good starting point. Just know that Cat’s way is not the only way, no matter how much she thinks it is.

Announcements

Oops! An (Almost) 2-Year Update

Wow, it’s been a long time since I last posted a review! Almost two years, to be precise. I really didn’t mean to let it go this long. But between college and its ridiculous amounts of homework, 2-4 jobs (yes, there was a point where I was working 4 jobs), living on my own, getting a dog, and other adulty things, I just didn’t have the time to read.

Last year, I only read 9 books. (Yes, I am ashamed that I have to write that sentence. But it’s true. Only 9. Less than half of which were fiction and one of which was technically for school.)

The good news

I’ve graduated college (finally!), so I now have time to do things. Like pick up hobbies that I haven’t done in three years. So if you’ve missed me – and even if you haven’t – I’m back!

The changes

You didn’t think I could be gone so long and not make changes when I came back, did you? 🙂 I like to think it’s nothing major, but here’s what’s changing around here.

  1. The book grading system is going to go. It’s too much effort, and honestly it’s nothing I couldn’t put in the review text anyway.
  2. No posting schedule. I don’t need any more stress in my life, and trying to force myself to read and review one book a week is just going to take the enjoyment out of everything. I’ll post a review when I finish a book. (Which will hopefully be around once a week)
  3. More nonfiction. I know in my last changes post (admittedly in 2014) I said reviewing nonfiction was going to be a thing. Well, it’s going to be more of a thing now, since it’s a much larger proportion of what I read now. And self-improvement is going to be a big theme.
  4. Everything is gay and feminist. Because I am 🙂 I’m putting more effort into reading distinctly feminist books (fiction and nonfiction) and novels with queer characters. That’s not to say that I won’t ever read something about The StraightsTM, but I’m prioritizing LGBT+ authors and characters.
  5. Picky, but in different directions. I used to be picky about profanity, sex, homosexuality, and anything that didn’t wholeheartedly support the Christian belief system. Those things don’t really matter to me anymore – now I’m more sensitive to misogyny and sexism, rape and sexual assault, and racism and ableism.

I realize this is a massive change from what Jalyn Reads used to be – but I think I’ve reinvented this blog no less than four times already. Either way, I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.

Science Fiction

Did Not Finish: Maximum Ride Forever by James Patterson

Maximum Ride Forever
Image from James Patterson

Title: Maximum Ride Forever (Maximum Ride #9)

Author: James Patterson

Genre: Science fiction

Warning: This book is 9th in a series, so this review will definitely have spoilers. If you haven’t read the previous books, proceed with caution.

Back cover:

THE NINTH AND ULTIMATE MAXIMUM RIDE STORY IS HERE! Legions of Max fans won’t be disappointed by this encore episode in the beloved series about the incredible adventures of a teenage girl who can fly. As Maximum Ride boldly navigates a post-apocalyptic world, she and her broken flock are roaming the earth, searching for answers to what happened. All will be revealed in this last spectacular “ride”- a brand-new grand finale featuring all of the nonstop action, twists and turns that readers can rely on in a blockbuster Patterson page-turner!

Read to: Page 26 (chapter 6)

Reason for Stopping: Not caring about plot or characters, character death

Review:

This book is described as an “encore,” which explains why I hadn’t heard of it until I saw it at the library. I thought Nevermore was the end of the series. The Maximum Ride series had honestly gone downhill after Max (Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports was the last of the fantastic Maximum Ride books), and I hated Nevermore. I picked up Maximum Ride Forever for two reasons – 1, I felt I owed it to my childhood favorite series to at least try to finish it, and 2, I wanted to give it a chance to redeem itself after the fiasco of book 8.

I made it through 26 pages before I totally gave up.

Admittedly, part of that is probably me. It’s been about two years since I last read a Maximum Ride book, so I didn’t remember much. Also I’m way older than the upper middle grade target audience. But I had hoped.

This book is best read in quick succession with Nevermore, because it jumps right into the action and emotion. And I was just too distant from these characters (who all suddenly seemed really freaking young) to get into it.

Yet another part of me not liking this book was also that I hated the ending of Nevermore, and Maximum Ride Forever is just a continuation of that. But I don’t really want to see my favorite winged bird kids in a post-apocalyptic world, I wanted to see them keep navigating the normal world as oddly-skilled mutants.

But the last straw for me was a death. The only people left alive in the world (as far as we can tell) are our bird kids, and killing one of them off was the last straw. That one was probably my least favorite, but still. Just no.

I was quite disappointed in this book, but I really don’t think I can blame the book. All my problems with the book (perhaps with the exception of killing a character) were 100% me. I think this is just final proof that I’m officially done with my favorite childhood series.

The Maximum Ride series:

  1. The Angel Experiment
  2. School’s Out–Forever
  3. Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports
  4. The Final Warning
  5. Max
  6. Fang
  7. Angel
  8. Nevermore
  9. Maximum Ride Forever

 

High Fantasy

Review: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Cover of "The Well of Ascension," featuring a short-haired girl in a gray skirt attacking what appears to be white, fleshy monsters
Image from Brandon Sanderson

Title: The Well of Ascension (Mistborn #2)

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: High Fantasy

Warning: This book is second in a series, so this review probably has spoilers of book one. If you haven’t read Mistborn, proceed with caution.

Back cover:

Evil has been defeated. The war has just begun.

They did the impossible, deposing the godlike being whose brutal rule had lasted a thousand years. Now Vin, the street urchin who has grown into the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and Elend Venture, the idealistic young nobleman who loves her, must build a new society in the ashes of an empire.

They have barely begun when three separate armies attack. As the siege tightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.

It may just be that killing the Lord Ruler was the easy part. Surviving the aftermath of his fall is going to be the real challenge.

Review:

After how awesome Mistborn was, even as a reread, I jumped at this book (minus a small break to read Waistcoats and Weaponry). I barely bothered to read the back cover, I was so excited to get started.

I will confess, though, it took me a little bit to get into it. Mistborn wrapped up so well that there really were no open ends to explore in a beginning, and it almost felt like starting a brand-new book, plot-wise – it was 95% set-up. But it wasn’t long until I got absorbed again.

Almost all of the characters in The Well of Ascension were the same as Mistborn, but had different roles. Kelsier’s team has much smaller roles; Elend was a main character (and got a freaking lot of development, which I loved). Zane, Straff Venture’s Mistborn, was an insane (literally) but interesting addition to the cast. And kandra OreSeur had a much more prominent role, which made things interesting.

This book was a lot more character-centric than I expected. Half of the plot was the characters’ emotional response to problems. And because the characters felt real and human and full of confusing and contradicting feelings, it was awesome. It would probably be less awesome if you don’t like the characters, but I loved them, so no issue there.

All these characters were freaking smart. That’s most of what made the plot so gripping. The obvious answer is never the answer because the characters are too smart for that. Everything was hidden under two or more layers of deception. They were smarter than me, actually – I could never guess the right answer.

There is a lot of politics in this book. Elend and company are trying to create a whole new government – a semblance of a constitutional monarchy after a thousand years of dictatorship. Normally I don’t like politics, but I was actually kind of interested in these. Part of that was there was so much other stuff intertwined with it that it didn’t feel much like politics, and part of that was I loved the characters.

The two main parts of this plot are politics and emotions. It was fascinating watching idealistic Elend try to put together his dream government with former slaves and position-less nobles, and deal with it when it didn’t work the way he hoped. And then there was Vin. She had a lot of stuff to deal with, from her and the man she loves being (she thinks irreconcilably) different to her main skill being killing things. It had the potential to get boring and overdone, but since there were so many things, it didn’t for me.

I don’t want to say too much because 1, I don’t want to spoil it, and 2, there’s no possible way I could cover all the brilliant little details. So I guess I’ll just say the plot (once it got started) was the kind of plot that makes you want to devour a 600+ page book in a day.

Again, the Mistborn world is AMAZING. And in this book, we get to learn a lot more about this world. And not just the “so this is how that works” stuff – it was mostly mind-blown, “holy crap I did not see that coming” stuff. Even the characters got surprised by a lot of the stuff. Brandon Sanderson is great at writing a lot of things, but world-building has to be his best.

It’s really hard to discuss the individual elements of this book because everything is intertwined. Characters influence plot, world influences politics, and everything has an effect on everything else. But even though that makes it hard for me to review, I love it – because those kinds of books are the best ones, the ones that feel real.

My final verdict in three words: NEED BOOK THREE! Not only was The Well of Ascension fabulous (I might even go as far as to say better than Mistborn), it ended on a cliffhanger. So I definitely need to get my hands on The Hero of Ages ASAP.

The Mistborn series:

  1. Mistborn (sometimes subtitled “The Final Empire”)
  2. The Well of Ascension
  3. The Hero of Ages

The Wax and Wayne Mistborn series:
(a companion series with Mistborn magic in the early 1900s)

  1. The Alloy of Law
  2. Shadows of Self (October 6, 2015)
  3. The Bands of Mourning (January 2016)
  4. The Lost Metal (tentative title)

Steampunk

Review: Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger

(For those of you who were expecting the next Mistborn book today, I’m sorry – but I finally found this at the library and just had to read it first. Also Mistborn books are really long.)

WAISTCOATS AND WEAPONRY
Image from Gail Carriger

Title: Waistcoats and Weaponry (Finishing School #3)

Author: Gail Carriger

Genre: Steampunk

Warning: This book is third in a series, so this review will probably have spoilers of the previous books. This series is too good to spoil, so if you haven’t read the first two Finishing School books, I recommend not reading this review. (Also, go read them right now.)

Back cover:

Sophronia continues finishing school in style – with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapons comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey hijack a suspiciously empty train to return their chum Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. But when Sophronia discovers they are being trailed by a dirigible of Picklemen and flywaymen, she unearths a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos. With her friends in mortal danger, Sophronia must sacrifice what she holds most dear – her freedom.

Review:

I love the Finishing School series. I knew that as soon as I finished Etiquette and Espionage, and devoured Curtsies and Conspiracies as soon as I could get my hands on it. But it took me a long time (over a year) to read this one – mainly because it was never in at the library. Apparently everybody else wanted to read it, too.

We’ll start with Sophronia, who is getting even more epic with training. She now has an awesome signature weapon (I totally want one), some very creative tricks up her sleeve, and a reputation. She is good – really, really good – at the whole spying-while-being-polite-and-fashionable thing. And it is awesome.

There’s quite a few other characters playing main parts here. Lord Felix Mersey shows up, Soap actually has a pretty large role, and Sidheag actually shows emotion. The relationships are a mess sometimes, but it’s a mess that’s fun to read about.

This book’s plot was a little … different. It almost felt like an interim plot until the actual plot got started (I’m assuming there’s something big for the next book). But it seemed a tiny bit unfocused – I can’t even remember what it was in the beginning, besides a slight mystery around what’s happening with Sidheag, and then some relationship problems (I’ll get to those more in a minute), and trying to get Sidheag home, and then they got distracted by technology and Picklemen and a whole host of other stuff. I think that’s the best way to describe the plot: it kept getting sidetracked. Which wasn’t a bad thing and I still enjoyed it, but it was a little different than expected.

There were a few things I found disappointing about this book – number one being the love triangle. I have yet to see a love triangle done well (i.e. doesn’t annoy me. But that could just be me). It was handled nicely (there’s only so much romance a non-engaged couple can have in Victorian England), but I found it annoyingly obvious which guy Sophronia would pick. And it seemed to be more of a plot device than character development.

My other disappointment was the school, or lack thereof. I’ve mentioned in previous books that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is my favorite part of this series. And Sophronia and company didn’t spend a lot of time at the school in this book. Admittedly, their adventures were just as fun, but I kind of missed the epic dirigible school.

Will I still read book four? Absolutely. Those few disappointing bits were not nearly enough to dissuade me (and besides, I think the love triangle is mostly wrapped up). The good still far outweighs the bad, and I am really looking forward to getting my hands on Manners and Mutiny.

The Finishing School series:

  1. Etiquette and Espionage
  2. Curtsies and Conspiracies
  3. Waistcoats and Weaponry
  4. Manners and Mutiny