Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Tinker King (The Unnaturalists #2)

Title: The Tinker King

Author: Tiffany Trent

Series: The Unnaturalists #2

A year has passed since the destruction of the Refineries which turned Elementals into fuel for the city of New London. Some things have changed for the better, at least for the Elementals, but most of New London is finding it hard to adjust to the lack of their accustomed luxuries. Olivia is pushing hard for peace, but the Queen of the Shadowspiders is rising to claim the city for her own . . .

This improved somewhat on the first book, although not by much. Someone realized Vespa was a mess of a character in the first book, so her powers get a mysterious downgrade where they just stop working randomly to help add some tension (spoiler: I still didn’t care, although it’s worlds better than everyone pretty much worshiping her). And it is totally random. The only attempt the book makes to explain is as growing pains. Vespa’s having troubles with Bayne, too, who–shockingly–still isn’t responding to her interest in him. She thought he was over that whole forcing-him-to-marry-Lucy thing.

I still don’t like Vespa, but she was a lot more tolerable now that she’s no longer the center of the plot.

Syrus has grown up a lot in the past year. In the first book he sounded more like a child. Now he’s definitely more of a man. Interestingly, he doesn’t have any problems with being a werehound (though I wish it had played into the plot a tad more, as that was something I was hoping to see work out); he’s as comfortable in hound shape as man-shape, though the whole losing-clothes bit means he tries to hold himself back most of the time. This time around, Syrus takes the first-person point of view, with the alternate chapters in third person for Vespa. I found the shift in tone a bit jarring—I would’ve pegged him as 13 in the previous book, and somewhere around 17-18 in this one, but only a year has passed.

I was also disappointed by the choice of villains. It felt like bringing those people in again took away from some of the fresher ideas this book went after, and although I don’t mind so much what they did with the girl, I was not at all convinced by the reason why the spider was included. Sure, spare life where needed. But keep in mind that someone else sparing the spider is what led to everyone who died this time around—it’s kind of saying that Elemental life is sacred, but human life is disposable.

So all in all while this was in some ways better than the first book, in many ways it’s the same. I rate this book Neutral.

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The Unnaturalists (The Unnaturalists #1)

Title: The Unnaturalists

Author: Tiffany Trent

Series: The Unnaturalists #1

Vespa Nyx wants to become the second female Pedant, cataloging and displaying the Unnatural creatures at the museum where her father is head. But ominous things are happening. Charles, a Pedant who works for her father, is acting suspiciously, and another Pedant, Hal, is clearly not who he seems. Her family wants her to settle down, get married, and take her place in society. Then there’s the suggestion that she might be a witch, which is horrendously illegal . . .

Syrus, a Tinker who lives outside New London, hates the city. He prefers the company of the Elementals who live in the wilds. But when his family is captured and taken to be slaves, he has to find a way to free them, and to stop the atrocities the gentry inflict on both his people and the Elementals. To do that, he needs the help of a witch. . .

The setting is steampunk, with a bit of alternate history/alternate world thrown in. A few hundred years ago, Telsa somehow opened a gate to this place and dumped a chunk of London with it, stranding the survivors on the other side. In this new place, myths and legends walk (called Unnaturals by most of the cityfolks and Elementals by the Tinkers). Now New London, which runs on myth-powered machinery, is a thriving metropolis. But a dangerous black desert known as the Waste lies outside, and the Waste is overtaking the land.

This story is split between Vespa and Syrus. I really liked Syrus’s side. The Tinkers are despised by most of New London, but the city people take advantage of them all the same. When Syrus’s life falls apart around him, he rallies and does what he can—even if it is reckless. Even if he does get hurt. He’s willing to do whatever he can to help those of his people who have been taken, and those Elementals who need people to help them. I liked what happens to Syrus, and how his stubbornness lands him with something that may be as much a gift as it is a curse. I am very curious where his story will go in the future.

Unfortunately, as much as I loved Syrus, I hated Vespa. She’s in many ways his opposite: passive, reactionary instead of proactive, oblivious as well as blinding herself to what she could see, and allowing herself to be manipulated by a lot of people who clearly mean her no good. Completely rage-inducing. And yet the plot worships her, because she’s a witch and therefore really awesome because witches just ARE (no one ever says why male magic users are somehow not capable, and they are actually available and generally not stupid). So she does boneheaded thing after boneheaded thing, and plot twists like the frog that are completely obvious to the reader totally escape her (even if she gave no credence to Syrus’s warning, her own observations ought to have clued her in at least a LITTLE). And she pretty much falls instantly in love with someone and has a mess of a non-relationship with him before letting herself get taken in by a real jerk and manipulated (Vespa, THINK. If you actually have powers you could have tried to manipulate HER instead of doing what she wanted).

So, it’s hard to recommend this because Vespa is such a huge part of everything and she made me want to throw the book at the wall. I wish Syrus could get his own sequel so I could read his story and forget about the rest of them. I might try a bit of The Tinker King but if it looks like too much Vespa then I’m quitting. I rate this book Neutral.

Icons (Icons #1)

Title: Icons

Author: Margaret Stohl

Series: Icons #1

Doloria can still remember the day her family died. The day everyone died, in her city. In thirteen of the most populated cities around the globe. The day the Icons took over and humanity was reduced to slavery. 6/6.

But out in the Grass, in the old mission with Padre and the others, Doloria doesn’t have to think so much about those things. Even if her way of life is a fragile thing, because both the aliens and the humans who have been allowed to live in their cities have a vested interest in tearing them down. When the mission comes under attack, Doloria will discover far more than she ever wanted to know about the Icons, about her world, about herself.

Having just read another book with a very similar premise, I had to rate this one higher for being much better written, even though I didn’t really care for the tone (depressing, oppressive societies aren’t my thing at all). The book is told mostly from Doloria’s perspective, with snippets of memos and posters showcasing various other things in the world. Doloria can sense the thoughts and feelings of those around her, and tends to get overwhelmed by the bleakness of the world and the struggles she encounters. That said, the book continually pushes forward through the despair to find hope. The ending in particular manages to both raise the threat level and showcase an unimaginable victory.

I did like the worldbuilding. I liked how the fallout of the invasion is experienced, and how it is in some ways completely foreign to Doloria even though she’s living it, because she’s not where most of the people are. I liked the unusual powers in Doloria and the others, and how they unfold, and how the aliens are very alien, right up through the end (with one gigantic hint that the thing everyone believes is nefarious probably has an even worse purpose than suspected). And the alien tech was very cool.

I was a bit annoyed by Lucas. Well, by Lucas and by Doloria’s propensity to believe the best of him despite him repeatedly doing things that betrays her trust. He’s conflicted, sure. But he also seems like worse news than Ro, despite Ro’s temper (though I do appreciate that Doloria sees Ro as way more a friend than a potential love interest). Doloria, Ro, Lucas, and Tima aren’t going to be a team for a long time, if ever; their personalities and desires clash so badly. I did like seeing Tima warm up some and even reach for the more important goals at the expense of her desires (which is more than you can usually say about Lucas… he tries to play both sides for so long it’s aggravating).

Overall I don’t know that I’ll go on in the series, but this was a fairly solid read. It would probably resonate a lot better with fans of dystopia and apocalypse scenarios. I rate this book Recommended if the whole oppressive society angle appeals to you.

Alien Invasion & Other Inconveniences (Alien Invasion #1)

Title: Alien Invasion & Other Inconveniences

Author: Brian Yansky

Series: Alien Invasion #1

No one is prepared for the day alien invaders arrive, which is probably partially why they manage to take over in ten seconds. Jesse is one of the few—lucky? unlucky?—enough to be spared to work as a slave for the conquerors. But as the aliens work on getting Earth ready to be colonized, Jesse and a few other survivors are determined to take their lives back.

I saw the title and read the blurbs and thought this would be a pretty funny read. I finished the book really annoyed and feeling like this is half the book it should have been and none of it was funny at all.

The first and most obvious problem is the way the story assumes you just get what it’s trying to say so it doesn’t need to say it. Like descriptions. Take Michael. Michael shows up on page and is introduced as a football player. No physical characteristics noted. He then has a huge rant/conversation with Jesse about how it’s different for Jesse, and how Michael always felt like what he had would be taken away, etc, etc. This makes absolutely no sense in context, unless by “football player” I am supposed to automatically assume something about Michael’s race (the story later does confirm he is black, but in a really awkward line where Michael is describing what could probably be construed as a sex scene. Or possibly just a make out session. It was really hard to tell). This isn’t a long book, but it should’ve been twice as long if it just bothered to describe things instead of jumping from dialogue to plot and back again.

Or take Jesse. In a stellar example of what it says/what it looks like mismatch, he casually drops the revelation a few pages in that he’s a black belt in tae kwan do, a wrestling pro, and has learned various other things from his dad, who was in the Special Forces. But his actions and his voice rarely line up to that. He doesn’t think like someone trained to attack and defend himself, he isn’t all that disciplined (am I supposed to believe his self-proclaimed “I aim to be neither a leader nor a follower” middle-of-the-road mentality got him a black belt?), and he shows zero interest in actually practicing to maintain his supposed combat prowess, even after deciding to escape. So basically it’s just a magic trick to let him throw out a few punches and kicks when a fight crops up to sound cool.

There were also bits that made no sense to be in the story except to check something off a list. The encounter with the gay painter, for example. This does nothing for the story or the characters. Why is it here? Oh, so we can have a really long description of someone with an oppressive father who came out of the closet. This character then vanishes and contributes nothing at all to the plot. Even the building they’re working on painting isn’t important.

And for a story that seems to be at least somewhat about stereotyping it’s almost hilarious how many of them are in the plot itself. As mentioned above, Michael the football player being automatically black is one. Lauren is supposed to be major awesome because she’s volunteered for everything and wants to save the environment and complains about various historical figures. She doesn’t come across as a CHARACTER. Lindsey, similarly, has her own what-I-did-and-who-I-know (and by the way, the description only goes as deep as “looks like Paris Hilton”. Thanks. And how well is that going to describe this girl to the age range?) Both girls have a really exhausting list of “here’s what I did” as though listing what you’ve done could be a substitute for actually, I don’t know, doing something in the present that would showcase who you are. It’s like we’re supposed to take this list of accomplishments as a substitute for scenes that could help flesh them out.

Then there are the aliens. What a huge disappointment. They’ve got funny-shaped eyes and their skin’s a different color. Sound familiar? Oh, and the whole plot revolves around colonization and greed. The letters the First Citizen writes back to his society are meant to evoke a sort of pathos, I think, but it just underscores how these aliens somehow think exactly like humans. Being able to join minds hasn’t shaped them at all. There’s nothing alien about these aliens except their telepathy.

I’m also bothered by the age range for this book. It’s written like it’s supposed to appeal to middle-grade kids. Then we have Catlin who gets taken as a concubine for the alien overlord (not directly stated but it’s much more obvious than whatever Michael and Lindsey are doing together). But it’s way too simplistic for YA. There just isn’t enough worldbuilding. Things get glossed over all the time, from Jesse’s first two weeks after invasion to any grieving he does for his former life to more reactions from other people (Betty is really the sole human outside their little group that contributes to the plot).

Frankly I’m not sure who this is supposed to appeal to. The writing is extremely barebones and spends longer tossing about various issues like animal rights or racism between people than dealing with the things that could be going on in an alien invasion.

All in all, this feels like a great idea and a great title that got tied to a poor execution. Not Recommended.

Let the Storm Break (Sky Fall #2)

Title: Let the Storm Break

Author: Shannon Messenger

Series: Sky Fall #2

Audra is running. From the Gales she used to work for, from the nebulous threat of Raiden, but mostly from herself. From the reality of her bond with Vane and what it might mean.

Vane is unhappy to lose Audra, but trying to cover for her, to give her a chance to clear her head and come back to him. But this isn’t easy, especially when the Gales are determined to protect him the ways they think best—which includes trying to push his betrothal to Solana. And Raiden isn’t about to give up on gaining control of the last Westerly . . .

This book took a long time to get going for me, as the first half was mostly Audra running away and Vane dealing with Solana (who at least isn’t a bad person, although my utter hatred of love triangles still stands). It’s frustrating because Vane and Audra both could’ve saved themselves a lot of trouble by just telling the truth and dealing with the fallout. On the other hand, once the truth finally outs, we do get a good story with a lot of fighting, some hard decisions, and some interesting twists.

My favorite part of this world remains the winds and their particular magic. I am beginning to suspect now that the winds themselves may be sylphs after they die (which will be interesting to see if that theory holds true in book 3), as the various winds tend to be slightly different even within their own type. And it was really nice to see the peaceful Westerlies get more fleshed out. And that “peaceful” and “doormat” are not the same. It will be a very interesting war if the Westerlies start to participate . . .

Overall this is a good followup to the first book, although still heavier on certain YA tropes which may affect your enjoyment. The end is a cliffhanger, though one with a bit of a pause, and the next book should be out very soon, so at least the end (presumably) is in sight. I rate this book Recommended if you liked the first one.

Let the Sky Fall (Sky Fall #1)

Title: Let the Sky Fall

Author: Shannon Messenger

Series: Sky Fall #1

Vane Weston doesn’t remember his original parents, or his old life. When he was seven, a tornado ripped apart his house and killed his parents, leaving him as the only survivor. Even now, adopted into a new family, years away from that event, he has only questions but no answers. Only a dream of a girl.

For Audra, guarding Vane has become her life, ever since that day. She remembers. That day broke and twisted her around her duty, until the only thing she has let to live for is her mission. But the evil forces that once thought Vane dead have realized he’s alive, and now she has no time left. Vane has to come into who and what he really is if he wants any chance to survive. For herself, she’s always been prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice . . .

Although in some ways this plays out much like a typical teen romance, it sidesteps some of the usual problems I have with the genre (no love triangles, hooray!). Vane and Audra are both survivors from the storm that wrecked both of their families. Audra deals with her guilt over her own role in that event, while Vane is a lot more well-adjusted (partially because he doesn’t remember anything).

I did like the lore. Sylphs and winds, the ties to earth and the ties to air, and most interestingly of all, the way being aligned to certain winds brings out certain traits in their people. For example, the west wind is a peaceful wind—and Vane is physically incapable of handling violence (he can’t even play violent video games). To have someone like him engaged in what’s basically a war is an interesting prospect. I also really liked Audra’s sword.

Overall this is a decent read, and I’m curious to see where the story goes. I rate this book Recommended.

Short Story Roundup for Lish McBride

I’ve read a couple of short stories by Lish McBride and since the reviews are all short I’m posting them together. Some of these are available for free online (Heads Will Roll, Burnt Sugar, and Necromancer) and one (We Should Get Jerseys ‘Cause We Make a Good Team) is part of a book.

Heads Will Roll

This is set in the same urban fantasy world as the rest of Lish McBride’s novels, but it’s about mostly new characters. Lena’s a trainer partnering with a unicorn named Steve, and together the two of them travel to underground fighting rings.

This one’s a lot of fun, too. Lish McBride pulls from all sorts of mythology as she crafts her world, and even the more familiar ones like unicorns aren’t exactly what you might expect. And the story has a good dose of humor. Recommended.

Necromancer

Ashley, the Harbinger of death, hangs out with a friend of hers from life. This is mostly backstory on Ashley and who she was before (and after) she becomes a Harbinger, and the unusual relationship she has with one of her friends from life.

I didn’t care for this one as much, although that’s probably more because I wasn’t all that curious about Ashley to begin with. Still, it’s nice to see more backstory for some of the minor characters that show up in the novels. Recommended if you like Ashley.

Burnt Sugar

Ava, Ezra, and Lock have been sent out as Venus’s enforcers to dish out some hurt to someone who hasn’t been paying Venus protection money. But what starts as an ordinary gig turns weird as they discover the gingerbread house, and what’s inside….

If you haven’t yet read Firebug, this is a great introduction to its main characters. I’m impressed by how well everyone’s personalities shine through in a very short piece, and how the story takes some familiar elements and totally runs away with them (if you didn’t think gingerbread houses were creepy before now, this story will probably change your mind). Recommended.

We Should Get Jerseys ‘Cause We Make a Good Team (part of the Cornered anthology)

Full disclosure: I got this book solely for the Lish McBride story at the end, and didn’t read any of the rest of them. Reading about particularly cruel bullies does bad things to my blood pressure.

This is Frank’s story, set between Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, and Necromancing the Stone. So it’s a bit spoilerish for those who may not have read HMC,N yet, but not too badly. Brooke and Frank go out to get Ramon a welcome-home present and Frank gets an unwelcome visitor from his past, a bully he once suffered under in high school. It’s also the story of how Frank met Brooke, Sam, and Ramon, and why he started working with them at Plumpy’s.

I like how much depth this gives to Frank, who is an interesting side character but mostly a side character in both of the novels. Frank was always oppressed, easily pressured, and a people pleaser. But over the course of this story (and continued in Necromancing the Stone) he grows more confident, more sure of his own capabilities. (And in the novels, Sam, at least, finds him indispensable, though it’s not clear if Frank himself realizes that.) And it’s fun to see how the friends Frank accidentally met one day have been so instrumental in helping him stand on his own two feet. Recommended.